Squirrels Were Struggling in a Heat Wave. She Made Them a ‘squirrel Spa.‘

Breyana Elwell
A squirrel cooling down on Breyana Elwell’s front porch in June 2023.

Breyana Elwell’s husband put a fan on their front porch to keep mosquitoes away last summer. The fan did its job – while unexpectedly serving another purpose: It gave the squirrels in their yard a place to cool off in the sweltering Texas heat.

Elwell forgot to turn the fan off one morning after playing on the porch with her toddler. Next thing she knew, a squirrel was splooting on its belly in front of the fan, savoring the breeze.

“We were in the middle of a drought; it was so hot,” Elwell said. “He stayed there for quite some time.”

The temperature inched up over 100 degrees.

Elwell had never been a fan of squirrels, but she empathized with the furry critter who was clearly in need of a cool down.

“He looked like he was just in so much relief,” she said.

The next morning, Elwell – who lives on a five-acre property in New Braunfels with her husband and their two young sons – decided to pop new batteries in the fan and flick it on again.

“This time, two squirrels came,” Elwell said.

She realized she was onto something. She started making ice cubes with fruit in them as a frozen treat for the squirrels to nibble. Her bushy-tailed friends responded enthusiastically.

“They were coming every single day,” Elwell said.

She was surprised by how much she and her boys enjoyed them.

“I’m not too fond of rodents,” she said. “They can be dirty; they can be destructive.”

But during what was an unbearably scorching summer, Elwell said, she was happy to give the squirrels a little break from the punishing heat.

Slowly, the rodents won her over. Soon she was delighted as she watched them eat the food that she put out, and found their interactions with each other and the environment fascinating.

“They are very determined little guys,” Elwell said.

Breyana Elwell
A squirrel resting on the dollhouse.

She decided to add to her offerings. She put out multiple battery-powered fans, as well as a variety of snacks: nuts and seeds, dried cranberries and corn. Since it was a drought, she put out a small bucket of water, and – just to amuse herself – a sign that said: “welcome squirrels.” She even built what she called a “courtyard” for them to hang out in.

When she posted a short video about her squirrel setup on social media, people started calling it a “squirrel spa” and a “squirrel B&B.” A few companies also contacted her to send free fans. She now has 10.

Before she knew it, she was all in. Elwell decided to build a full “squirrel resort” – a place where hot and hungry rodents could come for some nourishment, rest and relaxation. She placed logs between the trees for the squirrels to travel on, “almost like a highway for them,” Elwell said.

Over the course of last summer, looking after the squirrels became her favorite hobby.

“As much as it is for them, it’s for me as well,” Elwell said, adding that her sons, ages 3 and 10, love watching the squirrels. “It’s very therapeutic.”

Elwell spends about two hours each morning setting up the resort – which she and her husband moved from their porch into the woods, about 50 feet from their home. Her morning routine involves putting batteries in the fans, preparing several types of treats and lugging out the various resort components. At night, she takes it all down – as she has two dogs and doesn’t want them wrecking it – before setting it back up in the morning.

The resort is complete with a vintage dollhouse she found at a thrift store, mini picnic benches, a water fountain, decorative squirrel statues, several fans and feeding vessels. Occasionally, deer and stray cats stop by for a snack.

“That’s just the start of it,” Elwell said, noting that she has done extensive research on best practices for wildlife feeding and is particular about what food she puts out. “I have so many more ideas.”

Elwell and her husband spend between $100 and $300 a month on upkeep and adding to the squirrel resort.

“It can be pricey,” Elwell said. “It brings joy to me and others, so it’s just worth it.”

Her squirrel sanctuary has attracted some criticism on social media, though most people seem charmed by it.

“There’s always going to be negative, I just try and stay away from it,” Elwell said. “The positive outweighs the bad.”

Elwell hopes her story inspires people to give new hobbies a try, no matter how unusual they may seem at the start.

“I never thought in a million years this would be something I would turn into a hobby,” she said.

Squirrels are considered pests and can be destructive, but fortunately for Elwell, “they’ve been pretty respectful,” she said, adding that they have not damaged her property at all. “I actually feel like we have a mutual understanding. Squirrels are very smart.”

Elwell keeps a safe distance from the squirrels. Whenever she gets close, they typically scatter.

“I just like looking at them. I like watching them, and I like providing for them,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll peek out the window and they just look at me.”

The squirrel resort is busiest in the hot summer months – with sometimes a dozen bushy-tailed visitors at a time – but Elwell keeps it stocked with food year-round.

“It’s something we’ve committed to, and the animals are here for it,” she said. “We don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

Breyana Elwell
Elwell’s squirrel resort that she built with her husband.