Alvin the Celebrity Squirrel of Hailsham, Sussex

Alvin the squirrel
Alvin the Squirrel

Appearing fairly high on a list of “words you’re unlikely to hear in a Sussex town” is the phrase “Look – a squirrel on a lead.”

It’s a normal Saturday afternoon in the market town of Hailsham and I’m at the Nostalgia Fair at the Cattle Market when said squirrel runs past in the species’ characteristic jerky movements.  Doing a double-take, I notice he’s clad in a cute miniature harness attached to a long lead.  On the other end of the lead (the end opposite to the squirrel) is Mehmet Onal, a local businessman and, I discover, Hailsham Squirrel Hero.

Ever on the lookout for an interesting story, I sprint over (what? in these shoes!) to Mehmet where I’m introduced to Alvin the Squirrel.  At this point, Alvin, exercising advisable caution, has scampered onto Mehmet’s head where his little claws grip easily onto the ‘Alvin the Squirrel’ branded baseball cap that I suspect is in situ more as a squirrel perch than a head-warmer.

Alvin peers over Mehmet's hat
Are you still down there, Dad?

Mehmet, and Alvin, are used to people approaching them and Mehmet’s happy to share the full story while Alvin performs acrobatics up and down his Dad’s limbs, in and out of his pocket and occasionally requesting a kiss and cuddle.

I used the term “Dad” to describe Mehmet because he is Dad to Alvin, both in his eyes and Alvin’s.  It was September 2021 when Mehmet found Alvin as a baby, dragging an injured back leg and clearly orphaned. Left alone, there was no way Alvin would survive.  It was unlikely he could feed himself at that point and his inability to run away would have left him vulnerable to predators.  What to do?  Mehmet was in no doubt. He took Alvin home.

Of course, the baby squirrel wasn’t called Alvin at that time.  It was one of Mehmet’s staff who christened him after Alvin the Chipmunk, and the name seemed appropriate.  Mehmet made enquiries with a local vet who gave the advice that vets are directed to euthanise grey squirrels rather than rehabilitate.  This is as a result of their success as a species since humans introduced them into this country.  The greys get the blame for ousting the native red squirrels but, as usual, the story is more complex than this.  Greys are hardier and hence less susceptible to disease.  But, as usual, it’s the animals who are made to suffer for man’s interference with nature.

Mehmet decided he would nurse Alvin back to health and, once fit and eating independently, release him back where he was found.  He bathed the baby rodent to remove parasites and fed him baby milk from a dropper before progressing to solids and all manner of nuts.  Daily hydrotherapy sessions in the sink helped Alvin’s injured leg to heal and gradually he regained his strength.  Mehmet invented games to train Alvin to find his own food and when the day came that Alvin was strong enough to battle Mehmet for a share of his breakfast bread, our squirrel hero knew the time had come to return Alvin to the wild.

First Photo - Baby Alvin
Alvin’s First Photo

Mehmet revisited the churchyard where Alvin had been found about 3 weeks earlier.  He set the little squirrel on the ground and watched in satisfaction tinged with sadness as Alvin scampered up the nearest tree.  With a heavy heart, Mehmet said his goodbyes and turned to walk away, hoping his boy would stay safe.  But Alvin had other ideas.  Mehmet had only gone a few steps when he felt Alvin running up his leg onto his shoulder.  And that’s where he’s stayed.

Alvin can leave any time he wants, but he chooses to stay with the man who undoubtedly saved his life. And it’s definitely two-way traffic.  Seeing them together, this is quite apparent that the two share an incredibly strong bond.  They’re inseparable.  When Mehmet recently had to leave the country for a while, Alvin sensed he was going and acted very strangely.  Mehmet video called him every day and the two were overjoyed to be re-united on Mehmet’s return.

Alvin still enjoys his weekly bath – just like a child, he doesn’t want to get out – he gets brushed daily and the pair go on long walks together along the Cuckoo Trail with frequent stops to chat with fascinated passers-by, like me.  Alvin purrs like a cat when he’s happy (often).  He nibbles Mehmet’s finger when he needs something, to use his litter tray, for example.

Alvin with an Oreo biscuit
Anyone for an Oreo?

He’s got his own bed (with his name on it), located up high in Mehmet’s room.  He still eats all kinds of nuts, but also enjoys treats like Custard Creams, Oreos and jacket potatoes.  He likes a frozen king prawn – as an ice lolly!  Despite the occasional transgression into the biscuit tin, Alvin’s clearly healthy as well as happy.  Well, he has a doting Dad in Mehmet.

As unusual as it might be to see a squirrel on a lead, I guess it’s not much different to having a pet rat, hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, degu or ferret.  Alvin makes a loving companion and brings joy to strangers who stop to photograph or stroke him.  And we need to spread as much happiness as we can these days.

Alvin’s already enjoyed a fair amount of press coverage and he has his own website where you can watch a YouTube video of his story, view some rather cute photos, download free Alvin mobile phone wallpaper and click through links to follow him on social media.

Mehmet is currently working on a 2024 Alvin calendar.  He created one last year, only for family and friends.  If you’d like one for next year, get in contact via the website to place your order.

If you’re out and about in Hailsham and you happen upon Alvin (Mehmet might be tagging along) be sure to say hello and tell him you read all about him in Unknown Kent and Sussex magazine.


  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

3 thoughts on “Alvin the Celebrity Squirrel of Hailsham, Sussex

  1. ,The picture of the baby squirrel,, Alvin, enjoying his biscuit, is so delightful, Every time I turn to ‘his’ page, this close-up picture of him makes me laugh. Please can his Daddy find us a few more pictures of Alvin, as this little chap would brighten everyone’s days.

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