On occasion, attorneys are asked about the most unusual or unique case that they have either encountered or heard about during their career. Although Williamson, Friedberg & Jones, LLC was not involved in this particular case, one unusual local court case involves that of a squirrel named Nutkin, as reported in Commonwealth v. Gosselin, 861 A.2d 996, 2004 Pa. Super. 426 (2004).
Nutkin the squirrel was born in the wild in South Carolina, after which she fell from her mother’s nest. The Gosselin family, which lived nearby, brought the squirrel into their home, nursed it back to health and built it a room-sized enclosure in which it could live.
In November of 2002, after moving to Schuylkill County, the family contacted the Pennsylvania Game Commission to report a possible deer poaching incident. A representative from the Game Commission traveled to Orwigsburg to investigate. Upon arriving, the officer apparently declined to conduct any further investigation into the deer poaching, but took interest in the fact that the family was keeping Nutkin the squirrel as a pet. The Game Commission demanded that the squirrel be turned over to them, at which time it would presumably be killed. The family, seeking to protect the rights of its pet squirrel declined to turn the animal over to the authorities.
As the court later noted, “Nutkin’s captivity and domestication were perfectly legal in South Carolina, possibly a reflection of that state’s long tradition of hospitality to all.” However, when the family subsequently moved to Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania and brought Nutkin with them, the Gosselin family and the squirrel quickly learned “the shocking truth that the cheery Pennsylvania slogan ‘You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania’ did not apply to four-legged critters like Nutkin.”
Subsequently, the Game Commission issued a citation for “unlawful taking or possession of game or wildlife.” A trial was eventually held in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, in Pottsville, PA at which time the Defendant was convicted. Dissatisfied with the result, the Defendant appealed the case to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Appeals to the Superior Court are not very common. Nevertheless, the family realized that it was the only way that they could save Nutkin.
Judge Hudock, writing the opinion for the Pennsylvania Superior Court, noted that there was an exception to the law that the defendant was accused of violating. The exception to the law allowed individuals to possess wild animals and birds if those creatures were lawfully captured outside of the Commonwealth. Accordingly, the Superior Court noted that it was undisputed that Nutkin was a wild animal captured in South Carolina, and that the taking of live squirrels in South Carolina was legal. Accordingly, as Nutkin was a South Carolina squirrel, and was captured lawfully in South Carolina in accordance with the laws of that state, the law prohibiting the capture and domestication of Pennsylvania squirrels did not apply.