Dead Squirrel Girl’s Parents Defend Video: “We Hoped It Would Touch People”

The Daily Dot, the Internet’s hometown newspaper, is launching this summer—but we’ve already started searching out the best untold stories in the Web’s community. Here’s one from correspondent Fruzsina Eördögh, about two parents who posted a video of their daughter that some viewers found a little too viral.

She’s known on the Internet as “Dead Squirrel Girl”: Thea, a three-year-old dancing in what some see as macabre fashion with a just-killed rodent. The video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times — and the parents have been judged by the Internet and found wanting. But instead of reblogging the video with a snappy witticism about parenting, the Daily Dot actually called Thea’s mom and dad.

Here’s their story.

Three years ago, Sean Leonard, an acupuncturist and artist in Sarasota, Fla., was out walking his greyhound Ivy. They came upon a squirrel and before Leonard could intervene, Ivy snapped its neck with a ferocious shake. Leonard returned home to tell his wife, who suggested they collect the squirrel and bury it in their garden, as a gentle way of introducing their 3-year-old daughter, Thea, to the concept of death.

When the parents re-emerged from the house after collecting a shovel, Thea had picked up the squirrel—and Leonard, who had wanted to document the event, had his camera rolling.

“She was in ecstasy holding the squirrel, snuggling it,” said Leonard. “She was smothering it with love, and at that point we knew nothing would be accomplished by stripping her of it.”

The video of Thea Malik and her dead squirrel experience went viral this week, after hitting the front page of Reddit, the online community devoted to discussing news and images found on the Web. It’s not clear why it suddenly blew up: originally posted in February, the video only saw a couple hundred views before it was posted by Naosalvo.com.br, a Brazilian news site, on Monday, and reblogged by Bestweekever.tv on Tuesday.

Even then, it took a while to get going: Reddit user Metaror posted the video on May 9, but it didn’t take off until another user, Mawla, submitted the video a day later. Then it was off to the races. As of May 12, the video has generated half a million views, hundreds of blog posts, and countless comments — many of them unkind.

“”We’ve been sitting on this thing for years,” said Jenny Malik, Leonard’s wife and Thea’s mother, with a laugh. “I knew it was something different, and I really hoped it would touch people.”

Leonard’s sister insisted he post the video on YouTube, as she wanted to show her friends this funny video the family kept talking about.

“It made my heart soar, seeing the comments of people who were touched by it, that it evoked this much feeling from people,” added Malik.

Leonard was worried that others would be touched in a different way — namely, disgusted by the idea of touching a dead rodent. He also had a feeling people wouldn’t agree with his parenting style.

His trepidation over putting the video online was justified. YouTubers, Redditors, and bloggers have accused Malik and Leonard of being everything from “white trash” to “bad parents” for letting their daughter handle the dead squirrel for three minutes. Hypervocal.com called Leonard “pretty lackadaisical”. BestWeekEver.tv, wrote, “Someone should probably call Child Protective Services and report this.”

TeddyHilton.com, an offshoot of Perez Hilton’s gossip-blog empire, wrote, “How could someone be stupid enough to let their daughter play with a dead animal AND post the bad parenting on the Internet?”

RandomTandem, meanwhile, pulled a racial meme, blogging that “this one is definitely getting filed under ‘things white people do.’”

Sean Leonard, father of Thea Malik

Such knee-jerk reactions were common. Even the Washington Post didn’t bother to do much thinking or reporting in reblogging the video, just asking readers for questions and speculating about the “YouTube-ification of innocence.”

Some Internet commenters have wondered if Thea is the physical manifestation of Elmyra Duff, the Warner Bros. cartoon character known for her borderline-abusive hijinks with pets.

Others asked if Thea will be a serial killer when she grows up, or questioned why the 3-year old-child was topless outside in an age of pedophiles.

Leonard insists the squirrel wasn’t sick or flea-ridden, and Thea took a bath immediately afterward (as he noted while narrating the video). Asked why Thea was topless outside, Leonard retorted, “She’s a 3-year-old and we live in Florida.”

(For the record, government agencies recommend against touching an animal carcass with one’s bare hands.)

Thea’s innocence and unadulterated joy at being able to pet the squirrel is clearly evident in the video, and it is for this reason Malik and Leonard believe the video went viral.

“I think it addresses some of the fundamentals of life,” said Leonard. “It addresses death, but it’s also tempered by the innocence of a child. It’s this juxtaposition of the morbidity of death intermingled with the animation and joy of life, her sheer joy at being able to touch a squirrel. That’s what she was experiencing in that moment: how soft it was, [that] it was yielding to her will, she could pick it up, it wasn’t running away. She just didn’t understand what death was.”

Malik says Thea, now almost 7 years old, still remembers the squirrel though she still doesn’t fully grasp the concept of death. Thea has no negative memories over the incident, “because we didn’t make it a negative experience.”

“Parents guide by their faith and their integrity, and all we can do is strive to be the best parents we can be,” said Leonard. “What was happening for [Thea] was more important than the germs on the squirrel.”

Malik says she and Leonard will show Thea the video when she is “intellectually capable of understanding” what the Internet fascination with the video is about.

The question that lingers over this innocent yet disturbing video, with its echoing themes of childhood, innocence, death, and knowledge: Are we as a culture old enough to understand that ourselves?

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17 Comments on “Dead Squirrel Girl’s Parents Defend Video: “We Hoped It Would Touch People””

  1. John Lehmann says:

    The internet is full of jerks and idiots, who verbally act out under the veil of anonymity.
    @jplehmann

  2. Clare says:

    Finally, a sane perspective!! Thank you, Fruzsina, for pointing out the absurdity of so many comments out there. Yes, the video is shocking. And it’s adorable. And it’s jaw-droppingly icky to those of us who know better than picking up a dead animal and rubbing it on our bodies. But the girl is 3 years old, she has parents who are patient with her, who let her explore her curiosity without making her feel scared or embarrassed. And, after all is said and done, her life goes on, unscathed.
    Over three years later, we find she didn’t get rabies or “squirrel AIDS” or parasites. She is, in fact, a healthy 6 and a half year old who has a family that loves her supports her learning and growth.
    I am appalled by all the people who post ignorant and hateful remarks just to be funny or cause a stir or for whatever other ridiculous motive they have. It makes me seriously question human nature.

  3. Chez Us says:

    Why I think the dead squirrel is disgusting, I don’t disagree with the style of parenting. If more parents would relax, put away the anti-baterial soaps that are breaking down their immune systems, and let their children learn from life’s experiences, the world would be in a better place. Thea’s compassion is so joyful. Most people are freaked out by death. She doesn’t understand death but is not freaking out, as her parents are screaming at her to “PUT IT DOWN”. All Thea feels is joy, love, and compassion for her dead little friend. More of us should be this way.

    As far as a topless 3 year – she is 3! Lives in a hot climate. Has not learned to be ashamed of her body. What about the 16 year olds who are flashing on YouTube, that should be more of a concern. There are more weirdos hanging out on the corners of parks, schools, walking the streets, and living as your neighbor. These are the people we should really be protecting our children from.

  4. Kiwi Girl says:

    The Reason this video went viral is Kim Kardashian posted her disgust at it last week on her twitter account. Kim K has 7 million twitter followers! It then went from 200 views to nearly 1 million in 1 week. I love the video and Thea is adorable, hope they post more videos of her, even though she is 7.

    • C... says:

      Kim Kardashian is disgusting … what about her videotaping her sexual activity. ?? seriously – she should just shut up.

  5. cynccook says:

    I say good for the parents. They did things exactly right here. What makes the video irresistible here is little Thea’s adorable voice, sense of humor and joy at (finally) being able to pet and play with the formerly unattainable squirrel. I have 4 children and we currently have no pets. My 6 year old daughter is obsessed with the idea of catching a squirrel, a chipmunk or a bird and keeping it as a pet. People should stop being so nutty about stuff. I grew up on a farm and life and death were all around us then, I assure you.

  6. whatafiasco says:

    How to keep your little girl safe on the internet:

    1. upload a video of her in her underwear. When the video accidentally goes viral, leave it up so that every pervert, child molster, deviant and dead animal fetishist can watch her.
    2. Say her first name in the video.
    3. Give an interview providing your last name, thus giving every above-mentioned sicko easy access to: your facebook account
    4. and the town you live in
    5. and a map to daddy’s work
    6. and links to videos that show where mommy hangs out and hula hoops.

    You say you wanted to “touch people” with this video. I don’t think you wanted people to touch themselves. How are you going to keep her safe after this?

  7. Whatanincompoop says:

    How to be an asshole on the internet:

    1. Believe that the only way to be safe it to avoid all risk.

    2. Retreat from real life and its experiences, including potential happiness.

    3. Let thoughts of a stranger’s inappropriate sexual arousal torment you.

    4. Ignore the fact that most abuse is not caused by strangers.

    5. Let this disproportionate fear overwhelm your life.

    6. Go on the internet and loudly voice your irrational fears in a judgmental, patronising, borderline hateful manner, offering unasked for advice that would make no difference anyway.

    It’s not Thea’s parents that society has to worry about, it’s people like you. Obsessing over a problem that may or may not be there, and over which you ultimately have no control, but letting it suck the happiness, innocence and joy-of-life out of every occasion.

    Addendum:

    7. Act surprised when someone calls you a dick, claim it adds proof to your original bogus assumptions.

    • amy says:

      You are BOTH right! Every single point whatafiasco made and yourself. Personally, it is an interesting dilemma to delve into. What would you do? I would not have taken this so far and would not want my little girl all over the internet. But, again, to let fear dictate your life is not an option either…Did I hear the mom drop the F bomb?

  8. nxsus6 says:

    Oh no, what a bunch of poser hippies. Go look at the rest of their videos…hahaha wow, a little – scratch that, a bunch crazy.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/hoopeverlasting#p/u/1/2ASe8p-fDy4

  9. Courtney says:

    My husband works in a funeral home. Our 2 year old daughter sees people who have passed away all the time. She doesn’t understand why little old ladies or grampas aren’t moving and are “a sleep” and that is what we tell her is that they are a sleep. Unfortunantly in our society death is a taboo. It use to be that by the time someone turned 25 you would have buried at least one family member. Now a days a 25 year old wouldn’t even know what to do in that situation. statistically 1 out of 3 people won’t make it past 50.

    Kids don’t know about death. They don’t even know about death. They think they will live forever. In fact they don’t even know about death until they are around 10 years of age and even then they don’t think it will happen to them. We as humans don’t start thinking about that until 25 years of age. That’s why kids to stupid reckless things that sometimes ultimately and unfortunately gets them killed.

    A dead squirrel isn’t going to make this child sick just by holding it for a couple of minutes. Letting a child hold a freshly dead squirrel doesn’t make them bad parents. people who say it does don’t have kids. That’s like saying don’t play outside because you can get hurt or don’t play in dirt because it’s full of dead animals and feces. Totally non-realistic.

  10. [...] get the parent’s side of the story, Fruzina Eordogh, corrospondent for The Daily Dot called the two parents that posted the video of their daughter playing with the dead squirrel. The parents reveal that [...]

  11. Bo says:

    Whats wrong with telling her to put down the dead animal or taking it off her? I wouldn’t say that was damaging, hysterical OR negative. Just sensible and for the sake of her health.


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