Stowaway squirrel surprises North Carolina professor as she’s driving

A squirrel stowed away in a professor's tote bag and crawled up her leg as she was driving (WRAL Photo)
A squirrel stowed away in a professor's tote bag and crawled up her leg as she was driving (WRAL Photo)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WRAL) — Driving home from her job as a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Lynn Owens felt a surprise.

“In my car, I feel something moving on my foot. A squirrel is walking up my leg,” she said. “There was initial shock of, ‘How did a squirrel get here?’ I was going 75 mph on the highway, so I was trying to keep cool, and it just relaxed on my lap like it was a cushion or something. So, I just kept driving with the squirrel there.”

Lynn Owens said she thinks the squirrel may have gotten into her tote bag on campus, although how that happened remains a mystery. Since the squirrel came from campus, she wanted to take it back, but the release didn’t go quite according to plan.

“It sat there and looked at me and then ran right back up my leg like I’m its momma or something. So, I take the squirrel out again and said, ‘You’re free, buddy.’ It ran right back up my leg, so I’m thinking maybe this squirrel isn’t ready to be back out in the wild.”

Lynn Owens said she couldn’t leave the squirrel outside, so she took it to her office, where it sat on her shoulder during office hours.

When news of the squirrel spread, she became the most popular person on campus.

“I had more students come to office hours today than all of last semester combined,” she said. “They were begging me to keep it.”

Lynn Owens’ students weren’t the only ones who wanted to keep the squirrel. Her two young daughters were disappointed when it didn’t come back home Wednesday evening.

“They named him Mr. Nuts. They’re like, ‘Mr. Nuts can live with us. He can live with us, he loves us.’ He’s a great squirrel, but I don’t have that kind of time,” she said.

Instead, Mr. Nuts was taken to a rehab center where he will be bottle fed and have the opportunity to meet other orphan squirrels.

“It’s been a wild 24 hours. I think it’s a happy ending for the squirrel,” Lynn Owens said.

The wildlife rehabilitator said fall and spring are the most common time for orphan squirrels to need rescuing.

Mr. Nuts is only about four weeks old and will be taken care of until he’s ready to return to the wild. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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