Uncharitable-minded types know squirrels as rats with bushy tails. A Northumberland rodent named "Elvis" has done little to assist his species' public relations.
Elvis, an injured red squirrel, attacked a pensioner who came to his aid at the weekend, leaving the man needing hospital treatment.
Ernie Gordon, 75, a squirrel fanatic who wrote a children's book The Adventures of Rusty Red Coat, was called out last Friday to rescue the creature after staff at a local timber yard said they had seen the animal dragging its hind legs. Mr Gordon, a retired civil servant, is known locally for spending each day at Alnwick's Hulne Park, studying and hand-feeding the squirrels.
The animal was caught, after several attempts, by a girl who threw a towel over it and it was contained in a picnic basket. Mr Gordon took Elvis to the vet, where X-rays revealed he had a broken pelvis – hence the name. The six-month-old went home with Mr Gordon, who built it a small den in a straw-filled lawnmower box.
But when he picked up Elvis, he sank his teeth repeatedly into Mr Gordon's hands. "It hurt not a little bit, I can tell you," said Mr Gordon, after having a tetanus injection and a course of antibiotics. "You cannot believe the strength or pressure a little squirrel has in its jaw.
"A red squirrel can crack open an almond nutshell with its teeth so you can imagine how it felt."He took a little bit of persuading to let go but the fingers are fine and there's no hard feelings."
After the disagreement, Elvis moved out and is staying in the garage of a mutual friend in a nearby village, Rennington, where the author used to live.
Mr Gordon continues to nurse him, with promising results – contradicting the vet who had initially doubted the squirrel's ability to remain inactive enough to recover and survive.
Mr Gordon and his friend plan to release Elvis back into the local woods in four weeks. The author said: "This story is just absolutely lovely for the kids. It is a true tale."
An RSPCA spokesman said anyone who found a sick or injured squirrel should call the RSPCA or a local vet: "Anyone who finds a sick, injured or orphaned squirrel should resist the temptation to pick it up. Remember that squirrels use their teeth to crack open nuts, so they have a very strong bite."