PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION: IZABELLA BALCERZAK

Photo-Illustration: Izabella Balcerzak

Eyevestigation: Illegal squirrel fighting in Lake Devo

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By Skyler Ash

A shriek pierces the air and then stops suddenly. Money passes through hands. Some walk away winners. Some don’t walk away at all.

This is Ryerson’s most elite and dangerous club. A club so elite that when asked about it, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said, “the what?”

These are the Ardillas, a group of students who buy and bet on squirrels, forcing them to fight to the death. In operation since 1963, the Ardillas are a highly elite club who are extremely selective in their membership. “You don’t choose the Ardillas, the Ardillas choose you,” says Eye investigative reporter Jevin Donesé.

Working late on a Wednesday night at the Eyeopener office, Donesé is heading home when he notices a red envelope with a wax seal of a squirrel has been pushed under the office door. It says to come to Lake Devo at 4 a.m. the next day. So Donesé does.

Arriving at Lake Devo on an early June morning, Donesé says he had no idea what to expect. “I tried to look up the symbol I saw on the envelope’s seal, but I came up empty handed. I had to walk in there blind.”

Donesé walks an empty Gould Street to find a group of 35 men and women dressed all in black, with small covered boxes at their feet. “I could hear skittering coming from the boxes, but I had no idea what was inside,” says Donesé.

The club’s leader, who simply goes by El Jefe, hands Donesé a cage covered in black cloth. Donesé pulls the cloth away to find a battle-worn squirrel. “He’s yours now,” says El Jefe.

Just like that, Donesé becomes El Novato, or ‘newbie’ in Spanish. After a quick Google search, Donesé discovers that Ardillas means squirrel in Spanish. “I’m not really sure why this club is so heavily influenced by Spanish culture, not a single one of its members are Spanish,” says Donesé. “I’m pretty sure the only Spanish they know is from episodes of Dora they watched as kids.”

For the next five weeks, Donesé works closely with El Trituradora (the crusher). All Donesé knows about her was that she’s been in the club for three years, and she has the club’s top squirrel. “She helped me train my squirrel, whom I named Dennis,” says Donesé.

On July 13, El Trituradora tells Donesé that he and Dennis are ready for their first real fight. “I was worried for Dennis, but I thought his chances seemed pretty good,” says Donesé.

On July 16, Lake Devo went from a weird cesspool where skaters hang out to a fighting ring for Toronto’s toughest squirrels. The ring is encircled by all members of the Ardillas, as well as some of Canada’s top celebrities, politicians and lawyers. “El Trituradora told me that famous people would be there,” says Donesé. “Apparently celebs are really into betting on squirrels.”

Donesé puts his cage down at the edge of the ring. He opens the cage and Dennis emerges, ready for a fight. Donesé’s opponent, El Tigre, opens their cage and releases one of the club’s top squirrels, La Pantera (the panther).

Dennis and La Pantera slowly edge towards each other, circling the ring slowly. It’s La Pantera who makes the first move, lunging at Dennis with the agility and finesse of a seasoned fighter. Dennis fails to dodge the first hit. He’s down, but not for long. Making a swipe at his opponent, Dennis lands a critical hit.

“Dennis was killing it, literally,” Donesé says. “I actually thought he was going to kill the other squirrel.” It seems that Dennis is gaining the upper hand. Until he isn’t.

A shriek pierces the air and then stops suddenly. Money passes through hands. Some walk away winners. Some don’t walk away at all.

“I … I lost Dennis that night,” Donesé says through tears. “I decided that I had to leave the Ardillas behind. El Jefe wanted me to stay, he said I showed promise, but I told him that I couldn’t lead that kind of life anymore.”

Donesé says that he doesn’t hear from any members of the club anymore, but he knows they are still in operation. “Sometimes, when I’m leaving the office late at night, I hear the cry of a squirrel in battle, and I know that the Ardillas are still fighting.”

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