Meet Martha, the dog who talks to squirrels
Thinking about Joe Rogan too much lead me to Martha, a dog with better things to think about
Hope your week has been going well. I really enjoyed the response to Humans Can Believe in Absolutely Anything — the piece about Flat Earthers.
As usual there was a lot of spirited sharing of stories under that piece (shout out to the person with Flat Earther relatives), and extra insight thanks to Webworm’s unofficial resident therapist, Paul Wilson:
“We’re a fundamentally existentially anxious species cursed with the realisation of our own mortality due to our self-awareness. The desire to feel special and certain is a very powerful drug. One of the bigger implicit takeaways of science is how it repeatedly de-centres our importance in the universe, whether it’s cosmology or evolution or something as simple as geography.
In psychotherapy, we call that a narcissistic injury in short, an attack on our sense of self-importance. If you’re carrying a lot of shame from your personal life history, you often don’t have the psychological resources to manage and tolerate those injuries so defences against shame become attractive. Often, these defences provoke even more shame (namely, being ‘wrong’), so you get the ‘too much invested to quit’ effect.
We’re also psychologically and emotionally wired to appreciate persuasive stories and are far less convinced by brute facts. That’s part of our cognition having been shaped by our evolution as social beings who need community to survive.”
If you’re not reading the comments under these newsletters — please dig in and feel free to take part. I’m learning so much thanks to readers sharing their stories, and offering various bits of expert analysis from a variety of fields.
As to my week? Well, I’ve been keeping a curious eye on New Zealand’s version of Canada’s Trucker protests. I’d sum it up by saying it was a bit of a mess from an organisational standpoint, reminding me a lot of the Suidlander cult I followed in South Africa in Dark Tourist — you know, the convoy who kept getting lost.
The New Zealand march was backed by Counterspin Media (covered here on Webworm) and saw everything we’ve come to expect from QAnon-esque conspiracy marches overseas. There were calls for arrests and hangings, and at one point the local newspaper office was invaded by protestors demanding they surrender.
It was essentially a Live Action Role Playing game for all involved, but there were no winners. About 122 people have been arrested so far for overstaying their welcome.
Despite the various groups bickering amongst each other about what the hell they were actually doing there, at the end of the day — everyone has to take a shit. And it was that fact that united everyone, more than the disparate ideas they’d driven to Parliament for:
As a small faction of New Zealanders trucked and protested — the Joe Rogan mess continued, as we were all reminded of how Joe Rogan Joe Rogan can be: A clip did the rounds showing all the times Rogan had busted out the N word on his show.
“If there’s ever a video of you saying the N-word that many times, you better pray one of two things: either you’re Black person, or you’re a dead man from history,” Noah said Monday. “Then the worst thing they can do is take your statue down and move it into a museum. And as bad as it was to see Joe Rogan dropping the N-word like he bought it in bulk at Costco, an even worse part of the video is when Joe Rogan told a story about going to a movie in a Black neighbourhood.”
Noah, who previously called out Rogan over his comments on race, was referring to Rogan’s recollection of seeing Planet of the Apes, where he used the movie title to reference the neighbourhood he saw it in, saying he “walked into Africa” when he entered the theater. Rogan claimed in his apology that he was trying to make his anecdote “entertaining,” and now says it “wasn’t a racist story, but it sounded terrible.”
It did sound terrible, Joe — it really did. I wonder why.
And while all that was going on, prior Rogan guest Jordan Peterson — who survives on a diet of beef — decided to pose with a night vision goggles and a gun:
With all this buzzing around in my mind, I went for a walk in the park. And I walked past a woman and her dog that I always see sitting by one particular tree.
The dog is alway sitting dead still, like a statue, staring into space. The dog’s owner is sitting down beside them, reading a book. As the dog stares into space, I noticed something else going on. Squirrels would descend from the tree, and slowly — timidly — creep up to the dog.
I assumed the dog would pounce, tearing the squirrel neatly in half. But instead the squirrel gave the dog a little kiss on the paw — before the two of them just stared at each other for ages.
They were friends.
I’ve always been incredibly curious about what the fuck is going on, but didn’t want to interrupt. But this week — with anti-mask mandates, Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson buzzing around in my brain, I made a gentle inquiry into the statue-like state of the dog.
And I’m really glad I asked, because I got to meet Erin and her squirrel-loving dog Martha.
Hi! I always see you in the park but didn’t want to interrupt because you and Martha always look so peaceful. So first things first — how long have you been coming to the park, and is that where you discovered Martha’s fascination with squirrels?
I rescued Martha in 2015, and we have been coming to the park from the beginning. Many people know Martha as the dog that sits down and refuses to leave when we get close to the parking lot. Griffith Park is her favourite place in the world.
She would be happy to sit and watch people for hours.
We have a backyard with squirrels, and Martha could care less. It is only these squirrels in the area where you see us sitting that she loves. She doesn’t care about any squirrels in any other area of the park.
Okay — rewind. What’s Martha’s story? She got pretty bad scarring down her back, so I am just assuming something horrific.
Martha had been at the rescue for over a year after being rescued from a high kill shelter in Downey.
She had not found a home because she wouldn’t engage with people, and her scar is not something most people want on a dog. She did not like anyone. She is also extremely aggressive with dogs.
The ladies brought out Martha thinking that her lack of interest in me would convince me to take the other dog home! Instead Martha climbed in my lap and sat down. Everyone was in shock because Martha did not do this with anyone.
She picked me and I took her home fifteen minutes after meeting her.
Martha’s scar is from battery acid being poured on her. Unfortunately vets see this a lot in Southern California. Her vocal cords have been severed, but not cut completely — so she can still bark. Her bark is very weak, not the normal bark of a dog her size.
She has a lot of scarring on her hind legs. All of these leave everyone to assume she was a bait dog for dog fights. The scars on her hind legs are from breeding. She had a litter of puppies very young, before the age of two.
Vocal cord damage is so that no-one hears all the dogs barking. The acid was either to make her more aggressive or just a sociopath abusing an animal. That is a lot to digest, I know.
Martha very quickly realised that people were not all bad. She loves attention from everyone now. She will approach anybody that says hello.
She is very protective of me, so I have to be careful that she is sure that the person poses no threat to me. If she does not trust someone she will sit directly in front of me facing the person. Her hind legs stay underneath her because she is getting in position to lunge!
In the beginning, Martha would lunge at any dog that came near her. Martha has gotten to a point that she can walk past most dogs without incident. There are a few dogs she has gotten to know well enough to walk with. Martha will never be let off leash with another dog, because she mistakes play for aggression.
It is okay though — Martha is so happy and playful, she doesn’t have a need to be with other dogs. That is okay, she is perfect.
Take me through what happened when you first noticed her taking her unusual approach to squirrels?
In the beginning Martha would stand perfectly still, as close as possible to trees.
I thought she was waiting for the squirrels to come down to catch them. Gradually, squirrels started coming down to her more and more. She then started laying down by trees. She very quickly learned not to move and the squirrels would not run away.
Now the squirrels come down to meet her and most definitely recognise her.
Were you ever scared this was her way of stalking, and pretty soon there’d be a squirrel blood-bath of some kind?
I know Martha’s body language so well, I could tell if she was going to go after them. I always have her leash in my hand. Mostly because of other dogs that come running up to chase the squirrels.
Martha does not take kindly to that.
After she started to lay down with the squirrels, I realised she did not want to hurt them. She is very careful not to move at all when the squirrels are near her. She knows that movement will make them run.
She’s about nine years old, and the squirrels are much quicker than she is. When she was younger she could have caught them if she wanted to. I think that they are too quick for her now!
What do you think is running through her head? I have never seen a dog be calm around a squirrel in my entire life!
Because it’s only these specific squirrels that she has an interest in, I think there has to be some sort of communication between them. She stays so hyper focused on them, so I think she is just trying to understand something about them, or it is just squirrel TV.
I have yet to meet another dog with the same behaviour. Honestly it doesn’t make sense.
When did you start recording these interactions and putting them online? And what's the response been like?
Her first squirrel video went up about a year ago on Instagram as @boxernamedmartha. The videos have gotten around 5000 views.
Her most popular video was one of her talking to me. Once I added audio on Instagram and posted reels, the reaction changed.
Her most views on one reel happened recently, and that one has 426,000 views. So many people kept telling me to post on TikTok. I finally started on TikTok @boxernamedmartha at the beginning of January 2022.
Her most popular TikTok has 1.4 million views — I had no idea it would be so popular!
I really want to make sure people know that she was the dog nobody wanted, and hopefully change a few minds. If her story can help the dogs that have been sitting at shelters for years find a home, that would make me the happiest.
How many hours a day do you guys spend in a week staring at squirrels? To me it seems like the best form of meditation.
We are there every Saturday and Sunday for two to three hours. It’s relaxing for me, but mostly I do it because it makes her so happy. Also she will not leave me alone until we go. She is extremely pushy
What do the squirrels make of it? I mean, they are talking, right?
There are a few that are more interested in her than the nuts I give to them. I honestly think they are just trying to figure out what she is. They stare into her eyes and seem to just be a little perplexed.
Is there a particular funny interaction you’ve witnessed?
There is one squirrel that loves to kiss or smell her paws. He comes up and touches his nose to her paw and then darts away. He seems to want to see if he can get away with it, like it’s a dare!
Also Martha has made a few dog friends from our hours at the park. You may see us walking with a white German Shepard named Cali.
It’s taken two years but Martha loves to walk with her and gets excited to see her. Cali is still trying to convince Martha to play. Martha is not interested.
Thanks so much. Meeting you guys made my week.
I love that people love Martha’s story so it is my pleasure. And of course stop by when you see us at the park. If you catch us when there are no squirrels, Martha will definitely say hello!
Cool dog, right? She honestly sits dead still for hours. It’s utterly mad.
Have a good weekend, please. If you want to be emotionally ruined, watch the last episode of Euphoria. And if you want to get excited about a film this year, watch the trailer for Alex Garland’s Men.
I am such a fan of Garland’s stuff — from Ex Machina to Annihilation, he really hits a sweet spot for me. One of my earliest Webworm’s was musing on his excellent series Devs, and I can’t wait for his new thing.
Also — the trailer for Jurassic World: Dominion is out, and whilst I think anything past Lost World has been 100% rubbish, I gotta say seeing Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern all back together has me very much on board.
Talk soon — and as usual, see you in the comments.
If you want to share Martha’s story — the link to this Webworm is webworm.co/p/martha. Or click this: