Jun 25, 2023

Family rescues squirrel, builds it a tiny Whataburger burger shack

Keith Morgan and his daughters rushed to their front yard when they saw their cat, Cindy Lou Who, batting her paws at the ground.

“We didn’t want her to be eating something she wasn’t supposed to,” said Morgan, recalling that spring day in 2021.

They were surprised to find their cat was pawing at two baby squirrels beneath their pecan tree. The squirrels seemed to have fallen from the tree and were helplessly curled up on the ground, said Morgan, who lives in Victoria, Tex., south of San Antonio.

He and his daughters, Riley and Gracie, then 12, gently scooped up the tiny furry animals with long tails and placed them back in the tree, thinking that the mother squirrel would show up and carry them back to their nest.

“Thirty minutes later, they had fallen again, so we again put them back,” said Morgan, 42. “And then they fell out again. Riley remembered seeing a dead squirrel earlier that day in the street, and we began to think that was probably the mother.”

“We decided the babies were orphans,” he said.

Morgan, his wife, Annie, and the girls decided to place the squirrels inside a rabbit cage on the porch and care for them for a while until they were old enough to live on their own. They named the babies Chip and Dale, and they researched online what to feed them.

“We learned it was best to give them Pedialyte [for dehydration] for a while, then eventually move them onto nuts and fruits,” Morgan said, noting that they used eyedroppers to feed the squirrels liquids several times a day.

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Chip was the smaller of the two and died about two weeks after he was rescued, he said.

Morgan said he made the baby squirrel a tiny wooden coffin, then the family held a short ceremony before burying him under the pecan tree.

His daughters were upset to lose Chip, though their sadness was tempered as they watched Dale grow and thrive.

“After a couple of weeks, he’d be let out to run around the porch for a bit, then he’d come back to his cage,” Morgan said. “And then one day, he ran up a tree. Everyone was okay with that, because the ultimate goal was to get him out on his own.”

Still, Dale continued to make daily trips to the porch, he said, and he always expected treats.

Several months after his rescue, the young squirrel was eating nuts and grapes out of everyone’s hand, Morgan said, and he would scamper down the tree when they called his name. Sometimes Dale would hop up on their shoulders to devour his snacks.

About nine months later, the Morgans decided that Dale, as a member of the family, needed a house.

“Riley is a huge Whataburger fan,” said Morgan, referencing the fast-food chain that has more than 700 locations in Texas. “So we thought, ‘Hey, let’s build the little guy a Whataburger house.'”

Morgan, a high school teacher who does woodworking as a hobby, headed to his shop with Riley, now 14. She had raised several rabbits and had eagerly volunteered to take over the task of looking after Dale as he grew up, he said.

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Riley was excited to help her dad design and build a squirrel-sized Whataburger shack.

They painted the house in the Whataburger colors, orange and white, then added Dale’s name on the front, in case there was any doubt that it was his place. They also added the iconic Whataburger sign. Then, after Dale had completed a brief home inspection, the burger shack was placed in his favorite tree.

Friends and relatives started making special trips to the family’s front yard to watch Dale race in and out of his burger shack with nuts he had collected, as well as store-bought pecans left by Riley and Gracie, Morgan said.

“The Whataburger house was a big hit — everybody got a kick out of it,” he said. But his family never expected it would become a sensation.

Last month, almost two years after he built Dale’s fast-food pecan joint, Morgan came across a Whataburger Fanatics page while scrolling on Facebook.

“We’re not much of a social media family, but when I saw people were posting Whataburger photos and stories, I thought I’d post a picture of Dale’s house,” he said.

“My daughter took in an orphaned squirrel for about a year, so we had to build it a proper house,” Morgan wrote on Facebook on July 9.

A few hours later, comments started pouring in. “Now the squirrel has a place to store his/her whatanuts,” one person wrote.

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Soon, Whataburger fans started messaging him, wondering if they could hire him to build them squirrel burger shacks, too.

Despite multiple requests, Morgan said he politely declined.

“One Whataburger squirrel house was more than enough,” he explained.

Still, he and his family were thrilled that the photo of Dale’s cute house was shared widely on the internet, and they enjoyed laughing at some of the Facebook comments, Morgan said.

“New menu nuts and pecans,” one person suggested to the burger chain.

“Lowkey jelly,” another person wrote, using slang for the word jealous.

“At least this squirrel gets his own Whataburger,” wrote another person, saying they wished there was one near them.

“We loved seeing that people were having fun with it,” Morgan said. “But we all agreed that Dale is way more cool than his house.”

His daughters, who already had Cindy Lou Who, four short-haired rabbits and one longhair rabbit as pets, were thrilled to dote on Dale.

“He’ll climb up your arm and he loves to be held,” Gracie said. “It was always a lot of fun to wake up and see him waiting for us outside.”

Earlier this year, Dale started coming by less frequently, Annie Morgan said, and now several months have passed without a sighting.

But her family isn’t worried.

“We were all surprised that he hung around as long as he did,” she said. “We’re thinking now that maybe he found a nice female squirrel and they have a nice little squirrel family.”

The Whataburger house was built for one, but if Dale does return at some point with a bushy-tailed crew, Riley said she’d consider building a bigger burger shack with her dad.

“I miss Dale sometimes, but I think he probably moved on and I’m fine with that,” she said. “Our goal [when we rescued him] was that he would go back to the wild someday and have a happy life.”