Like 'Groundhog Day,' woodchuck gets unstuck -- again and again

Suffolk County police emergency service officers work on

Suffolk County police emergency service officers work on rescuing a trapped woodchuck in Manorville. They were able to loosen the animal's head by using dish washing detergent, which allowing it to free itself. (July 21, 2013) (Credit: James Carbone)

It was not the end of the story when police on Sunday freed a woodchuck, its head stuck in a Manorville drainage grate in front of the Strimas family home.

A couple hours after Dawn dish soap helped the creature slip out of the grate, the family was going to dine out to celebrate David Strimas' birthday early, when guess who was in the exact same hole?

"Are you kidding me?" the Strimases -- including David, father Robert and brother Ethan, exclaimed to each other.

This time, it took 10 minutes to free the rodent, which again ran into the sewer. Later that night, an uneasy David Strimas mounted a woodchuck watch, checking hourly: "If he stuck his head in the same spot again, he's doing it for a reason."

At 2:30 a.m., that same hole had a stuck head -- again.

The rodent appeared to be the same woodchuck, a juvenile, Strimas said.

"I was yelling to myself about how this guy was driving me crazy because I knew I couldn't leave it that way," Strimas recalled.

For Strimas, who turned 25 Monday and works as waiter, the woodchuck was "the little guy."

Strimas roots for the underdog, he said, because things have never come easy for him, like top-notch grades in college and even getting a full-time job in his field, environmental science. He's been a saver of turtles, stray dogs and the like, joking that animals in trouble know where to find him and his family.

"If I got out of a car and saw an inchworm on the hot pavement, I'd find a stick and move it," Strimas said.

It wasn't a stick but a small pry bar, a brick and some garden stones that were the tools for Strimas' job, alone at night, out in the roadway, a bit over two hours into his birthday.

Bit by bit, as Strimas used all his might to lift the heavy metal grate and placed the stones to prop it up, the woodchuck's eyes were partly closed. His rescuer thought the animal might have felt calmer in the quiet darkness or just been exhausted.

"You could see it in his face: 'Crap. Stuck. SOS,' " Strimas said.

Almost 45 minutes later, he said, the woodchuck's head slipped out, but the rodent just stayed on a concrete ledge under the grate.

Strimas ran to the garage for a wide, flat shovel and used it to block the rodent from going back down the drain.

It crawled onto the roadway, walked slowly down the street and into a garden, said Strimas, who followed it for a bit.

Now, woodchuck and woodchuck rescuer were both free from going in circles, a sort of present for the young man's birthday.

"He was my little buddy," Strimas said. "He still is, wherever he is."

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