Groundhogs are small, furry creatures. They’ve earned a spot in American lore courtesy of Punxsutawney Phil and his perspicacious tendency to send us all into six more weeks of Winter. They are also cute, generally speaking. What they typically are not considered is ferocious, or menacing.
Perhaps that’s just because America isn’t acquainted with the groundhogs in Bridgeton, N.J. After a weekend escapade that is apparently more befitting Al Capone than ol’ Phil, the entire image of groundhogs may need to be re-examined. In the span of two days, one very large groundhog terrorized a Little League and youth football squad, was captured, broke free, was re-captured and caged, and broke out of a cage and escaped.
In short, he’s a one animal crime boss taking over a small town in New Jersey. Move over Caddyshack gopher, you've got company in the ferocious rodent world.
The tales of the Bridgeton groundhog were breathlessly reported by the South Jersey Times, which followed its chronicles through regular updates from the administration of the Bridgeton Little League. According to the newspaper, here’s how the entire mad cap episode played out:
- Members of the Bridgeton Midget Football League noticed a cute looking groundhog near the parking lot outside their facility. The animal was directly across the street from where they stood, so they moved over closer to get a better look at the first groundhog they had ever encountered.
- Evidently that angered the animal, with the groundhog charging after the football players. The football players ran, heading directly for the Bridgeton Little League field where a game was ongoing. The groundhog followed in hot pursuit.
- The animal ran on to the field and kept charging after kids. The umpire working the game, Brandon Dennis, put himself in front of a crowd of terrified children as the groundhog “bared its teeth”. The animal responded by chasing after Dennis.
- In an attempt to free Dennis from the animal’s reign of terror, Bridgeton Little League President T. Carl Hemple stepped in. The groundhog immediately began chasing him … all the way to his car.
So far, the incident is a clear cut case of a threatened animal reacting angrily to an unforeseen threat to its environment. But this is the point where the Bridgeton groundhog becomes the stuff of Animal Planet legend.
Take it away, South Jersey Times:
“The groundhog went under the car,’’ said Hemple.
He decided to start the car.
The groundhog escaped the roar of the motor and headed for the Bridgeton Sports Hall of Fame.
“It found a hole in the fence surrounding the air conditioning unit,’’ said Hemple.
Hemple called the police.
“They were there in two minutes,’’ he said. “They got one of those loops on a stick around its neck.’’
It broke the loop.
“I’m telling you, it was big,’’ said Hemple.
Yes, the groundhog was evidently “re-looped” and brought to the nearby animal hospital. Yet the animal, which Hemple estimated weighed 20 pounds (think a large terrier), wouldn’t be contained that easily. Instead, when the veterinarian who runs the Wilwynn Animal Hospital arrived the following morning to care for the groundhog, the animal had escaped from the cage.
Here’s the spooky part: The cage was still locked, and inside it was an empty can of cat food … and no groundhog.
The vet in question insisted that the animal would not be a valid health risk because he did not bite anyone during his afternoon reign of terror. Still, it’s clear that the rodent got the last maniacal laugh in a bizarre encounter that left Hemple and everyone in the larger Bridgeton community completely flummoxed.
“[Little League coaches have training for all threats] But not groundhogs,” Hemple told the South Jersey Times. “Not animals coming out of the woods.”
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