At Penn State, one student's collection of photos of squirrels wearing costumes has gotten four-times as many likes on Facebook as the school's mascot.
That student is Mary Krupa. You can often find Krupa beneath a massive elm tree that flanks Penn State's administrative building, Old Main, and watching for her favorite squirrel.
“ See how she walks?,” asks Krupa. “She just kinds of trots over here. That one's Sneezy. Hi, Buddy.”
As the brown squirrel comes closer, Krupa reaches into a paper bag to get Sneezy a peanut.
“Oh, yeah. She sneezes pretty frequently,” says Krupa.
The Penn State junior is also known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.” This squirrel is clearly her favorite. But Facebook friends of Sneezy the Penn State Squirrel could actually be “oohing” and “ahhing” over a few different squirrels - any of the ones who let Krupa dress them up. After just a little coaxing, the squirrel is in Krupa's lap.
“She's getting hungry again,” says Krupa. “Peanuts are her favorite. I buy them in, like, five-pound bags.”
While Sneezy is busy with another peanut, Krupa balances a tiny ball cap made of paper on the squirrel's head, and snaps a picture with her cell phone. Krupa figured out she could pet some of the Penn State's squirrels freshman year, so she started putting hats on them and posting pictures online - straw hats, cowboy hat, beanies with propellers.
“I started realizing that she'll do props now, too,” says Krupa. “I borrowed a little doll tea set from my aunt. And I put a little peanut butter on the cup. And I have a nice picture of her. She's having a fancy English tea.”
People couldn't seem to get enough of Sneezy. Her Facebook page has more than 17,000 likes. And she's gotten news coverage around the world. Sneezy is a quirky novelty that Krupa says she uses to cheer people up. She doesn't mind if that makes her seem a little odd.
“Yeah, I mean, putting hats on squirrels is not exactly normal behavior,” says Krupa.
But Matt Spencer thinks it’s pretty cool. “Just the amount of trust that, like, they have with her.”
Spencer likes seeing Krupa around campus dressing up the squirrels.
Grad student Annie Klodd checks Sneezy out on Facebook.
“That's adorable,” says Klodd. “Are those real pictures?”
Klodd says she thinks it's a good idea and would consider making it a hobby. But she says she'd do one thing Krupa doesn't - she'd wear gloves. But Krupa's done her research. It turns out squirrels are very unlikely to carry rabies. Still, Sneezy is a wild animal. And like most wild animals - and celebrities - she calls the shots.
“I can never force her to do anything she doesn't want to do,” says Krupa. “I mean, if she gets tired she'll just go up the tree, and it's all up to her.”