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Nuts! Chipmunk gets wild ride

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A chocolate-loving Utah chipmunk ended up in California.

A chocolate-loving Utah chipmunk ended up in California.

Frankie Frost, Associated Press

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — A wayward chipmunk was on its way home to Utah Wednesday after stowing away in a car and hitching a long ride west to northern California.

The adventurous creature hadn't a clue it was bound for the Golden State when it hopped into Dixie Goldsby's Honda while she was camping in Canyonlands National Park. And Goldsby didn't realize she had a stowaway.

On the drive home, Goldsby began to suspect that a chipmunk might have come along for the ride when she noticed a chocolate bar she had left in the car had been nibbled.

Goldsby discovered the furry passenger when she arrived home in Marin County.

On the advice of a pet store operator, Goldsby made a trap out of a shoe box with peanut butter as bait. Luckily the chipmunk was hungry, because when Goldsby checked the box, there it was.

She took it to WildCare, a wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael. After spending three days in Goldsby's car, the chipmunk was "dehydrated, very scared and stressed out," according to Melanie Piazza, director of animal care at WildCare.

The chipmunk could not be released in Marin County because it is important to maintain the ecosystem balance, Piazza said.

"If we couldn't get him back [to Utah], he'd be euthanized," Goldsby said.

But that's not the end of the chipmunk's journey. Bay area pilot Ray Romano offered the use of his time and his aircraft. Goldsby accompanied her furry friend on its journey home. The trip cost $300 for gas, along with food and overnight lodging for the humans.

WildCare is hoping animal lovers will donate money to help pay for the mission. The organization treats some 4,000 injured and orphaned animals a year and provides nature education for 40,000 Bay area schoolchildren each year.

The chipmunk was airborne and Utah-bound Wednesday afternoon.

Contributing: Marin Independent Journal