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Pensacola, Florida (PNJ) -- With beady black eyes, a bushy tail and an appetite for anything nutty, Junior Hale might seem like a typical squirrel.

Butthis furry little guy is more of a human than a wild animal and enjoysdressing up, meeting new people, eating Snickers bars and taking naps inthe car with his "Dad."

Butthis furry little guy is more of a human than a wild animal and enjoysdressing up, meeting new people, eating Snickers bars and taking naps inthe car with his "Dad."

"Hedoesn't even know he's a squirrel," said Karen Hale, who has raised theanimal since he was about 2 months old with her husband, John. "He'sjust part of the family."

Afterthey found Junior at the T & W Flea Market in West Pensacola abouteight months ago and were unable to locate his mother, the coupledecided to take him in and raise him as their own.

He's been a member of the family since day one.

"I hold him and spend a lot of time with him, so he's bonded with me and thinks of me as his dad," John Hale said.

Inthe spirit of Christmas, the Hales recently dressed Junior up in aSanta costume (which came off a Chick-fil-A stuffed cow) to have hispictures taken with Santa at the flea market where he was found.

"I'veseen a lot of things, but I don't know if I've ever actually seen areal live squirrel wearing a Santa outfit," John Hale said.

And even Alvin the chipmunk has nothing on this little guy's ability to spread joy and Christmas cheer this holiday season.

"He definitely spreads love, there's no doubt," Karen Hale said. "I think that he would put smiles on everybody's faces."

Don'tjump to conclusions, though - Junior's favorite Christmas song doesn'tinvolve chestnuts roasting on an open fire or squeaky chipmunks singingabout wanting a hula hoop for Christmas.

"Probably'Here Comes Santa Claus,' " Karen Hale said. "I think that if I have tothink for him, that would be his favorite song. When he comes into aroom, he is the center of attention - most definitely the center ofattention."

Adorable little guy

TheHales said that even though he can be a little nutty, Junior is lovedeverywhere he goes because of his curious personality and sweet nature.

"He's just a real sweet little guy," John Hale said. "He gets plenty of love from everybody. He's cute. He can't help it."

Buteven Junior's adorable nature can't keep some critics away, and some ofthem question whether the Hales should keep Junior captive and walk himwith a leash.

"Peoplealways say, 'How do you teach him to be tame?' and I say, 'They don'tlearn to be tame. They learn to be wild,' " John Hale said.

StanKirkland, spokesman for the Northwest region of the Florida Fish andWildlife Conservation Commission, said it isn't illegal to keep a graysquirrel in captivity in Florida and it doesn't require a permit. But hesaid the FWC recommends releasing the squirrel or transferring it to ananimal rehab facility until it's able to survive in the wild.

"Withany animal that can be rehabbed, it's just a good idea that once thoseanimals are capable of survival on their own that they be returned tothe wild," Kirkland said. "That's just a recommended practice."

Butthe Hales said they have done a lot of research about raising asquirrel in captivity, including what to feed Junior to give him theproper nutrients, and they have no plans to release him into the wild.

"Seeingas how we raised him from a baby, I think it would be in his bestinterest to stay with us," Karen Hale said. "He just doesn't have thatwild nature."

SusanLeveille, director of education for the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refugein Fort Walton Beach, said that she would highly recommendrehabilitating the squirrel to be released into the wild.

"Youcan never really quite provide for them the kind of life they wouldhave in the wild," Leveille said. "You're never able to achieve that incaptivity."

Part of the family

Butthe Hales said that Junior is a rambunctious, happy squirrel who lovesplaying, going on outings and just being affectionate with his humanfamily.

"I didn'tknow when we got him that squirrels have such a personality, with theirfacial expressions and their mannerisms," John Hale said. "They'll rubon you like a cat when they're affectionate."

KarenHale said that Junior even has his own climbing tree in the house, andthey make sure he has plenty of pecans, nuts and pine cones to chew onand keep his teeth in use.

"You want to keep his natural instincts," Karen Hale said. "You don't want to take everything away from him."

One thing's for sure - Junior's family and almost everyone he meets go nuts for him.

"He'svery, very loveable," Karen Hale said. "He'll give love. He receiveslove - I can't even imagine how much love he's received. I couldn't askfor anything better."

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