Susan Werbacher is the first to admit it: She's nuts for Henry.
And she wouldn't have met him or his squirrel friends if it wasn't for the coronavirus quarantine she says.
Before the shutdown, the mom of two woke up at 4 a.m., and spent two hours at the gym. But when the stay-at-home order was imposed, she spent that time taking walks around her apartment complex, and at-home workouts, instead.
One day in late March, Susan was doing cardio outside when she saw a squirrel with half a tail scampering across her apartment complex's courtyard.
"I wanted to get a closer look to see if I needed to take him to a rescue," said the local mom, "or get him medical attention."
But the squirrel followed Susan across the lawn to her apartment without food. He waited outside on her porch as she got bread -- then set it on the ground for him to eat as she examined.
Since then, Henry has been showing up to Susan's place every day at 6 a.m. -- sharp. She knows he's there because her cats will jam in the front window to get a look. If she calls him like she's calling one of her cats, he comes running from across the courtyard.
A few weeks into getting to know Henry, Susan wanted to see if he'd take food from her hands. She got some pieces of cereal, then sat and waited.
"After about a week, he came around," Susan said, noting she washes her hands before and after each encounter. "Now, he'll sit on my lap for a moment."
Lately, Henry has been bringing a friend: Matilda, who has a black marking on her hip.
"Most of the squirrels at this apartment complex tend to be very socialized," Susan noted. "There are a lot of bird feeders that they feed off of, and they’re coming to me getting a few peanuts.
"If I give a few too many, they bury them. I’ve seen them in the afternoons digging up the nuts that they’ve saved for later."
Feeding the squirrels has become part of Susan's morning routine. She works out, sometimes in her new garage gym, then returns to her porch to hang with the neighborhood squirrels.
She recently bought a squirrel picnic table from a seller on Etsy for her new friends to enjoy.
"When I ordered the table, I commented on the Etsy post that this would be for Henry," she said. "The seller messaged me he was excited as I was, and asked for a few extra days to make a better table."
What Susan got was a tiny, personalized picnic table, with a small container for peanuts and a post for corn on the cob.
Susan and the squirrels aren't the only ones getting satisfaction out of their new kinship: The neighbors love it, she said.
"One man who works the night shift said the one good thing about doing that is he gets to watch me feeding the squirrels when he comes home in the morning," Susan said.
"Sometimes if kids are outside, I'll tell them if they stay where they are, they can watch me feed Henry and Matilda. They think it's hilarious."
Susan's love for the squirrels is undeniable. As a birthday present, her son bought her a tattoo of Henry, which she got done last month at Our Lady of Ink in Secaucus, the day after tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen.
Hanging with the squirrels has given Susan something positive to focus on during the one part of her day that was most affected by the COVID-19 quarantine, she said.
"My squirrels are like a 'stop and smell the roses' thing," said Susan, a Paterson native. "I grew up in an urban area where there wasn't really an opportunity for this.
"They’ve always been here I just wasn’t paying attention."
Follow Susan on Instagram for daily squirrel updates.
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