Twiggy, the trained water skiing squirrel who performs as a star attraction at boat shows across North America, is no longer welcome in Toronto.
The city’s animal services department notified organizers of the Toronto International Boat Show, which ran for a week in January, that municipal regulations prohibit keeping an Eastern gray squirrel in captivity. Alex Burke, a communications adviser for the city, said organizers agreed to comply with the bylaw in the future, but show director Linda Waddell said a decision has not yet been made.
“We’ll review everything … and talk about next year once we get through our [other boat] shows,” she said.
Twiggy is performing this week at the Vancouver International Boat Show, which is run by the same company – Canadian Boat Shows Inc. The city told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail that it would be launching an investigation. Rodents are not prohibited as pets under Vancouver’s bylaws, but it is against municipal regulations for businesses to use rodents in competitions, exhibitions, performances or events.
Twiggy Inc., the company behind the attraction, did not respond to requests for comment. According to the company’s website, the act is already booked to perform at several boat and sportsmen’s shows across the United States in 2020.
The trained squirrel’s entertainment act began in 1979, although there’s been about 10 different Twiggys since then. The act got its start in the Sanford, Fla., home of Chuck and Lou Ann Best, and after an appearance on Good Morning America, Twiggy’s career took off.
After Mr. Best’s drowning death in 1997, his wife continued the show with an educational water safety focus, even sewing the little squirrels their own life jackets. In 2018, after Ms. Best announced she was retiring the act, U.S. media mourned the end of Twiggy.
But the couple’s son, Chuck Best Jr., soon restarted Twiggy Inc. with two squirrels of his own and a dog lifeguard.
The Toronto Wildlife Centre, a veterinary and rehab clinic for wild animals, had urged supporters to contact the city to complain about the squirrel’s performance, which was advertised as a “triumphant return” from retirement.
“Using a wild animal in a ridiculous display as a public attraction is archaic and cruel, and very stressful for the animal,” the wildlife centre said in a social-media post.
Ms. Waddell, the show’s director, defended the performance, saying it helped raise awareness about water safety.
“This is one small educational component related to life jacket safety and being safe by the water,” Ms. Waddell said. “It’s an educational platform like one of our other 150 seminars in Vancouver or 350 seminars in Toronto.”
Twiggy is a partner of both the Canadian Safe Boating Council and the National Safe Boating Council in America, promoting boating and life jacket safety.