Nutkin is safe.
The little gray squirrel from South Carolina that for almost two years has been at the center of a Pennsylvania court case was pardoned Friday by a three-judge Superior Court panel.
The opinion, written tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek by Judge Joseph A. Hudock, ends the state Game Commission's efforts to confiscate, and presumably liquidate, the second-generation pet of Barbara and Jean Gosselin of Schuylkill County.
Hudock also ordered the return of more than $300 in fines paid by the Gosselins.
''We're just elated,'' Barbara Gosselin said Friday night, praising her attorney, Dirk Berger, for his defense of Nutkin.
Nutkin came to Pennsylvania with the Gosselins, who rescued the animal's mother when she fell from a tree, named her Amy and kept her as a pet. Nutkin was born just before the couple moved from South Carolina to South Manheim Township in 1994.
''Nutkin's captivity and domestication were perfectly legal in South Carolina, possibly a reflection of that state's long tradition of hospitality to all,'' Hudock wrote.
''Life was good,'' he continued, adding ominously that ''dark clouds began to gather in November 2002'' when Jean Gosselin phoned the Game Commission to report illegal hunting on their 77-acre property.
Wildlife Conservation Officer William Dingman cited the couple for keeping a wild animal as a pet when he visited to investigate the hunting complaints.
According to Hudock's opinion, Dingman acknowledged the squirrel was too old and too tame to be released to the wild, ''a situation akin to that of an old appellate judge, like the undersigned, attempting to return to the boiling cauldron of the trial court after being tamed by years of peace and quiet above the fray. Chances of survival of both species are poor.''
Nutkin's future was equally endangered if she were turned over to the commission, which would likely euthanize her.
Hudock wrote that at the Aug. 31 hearing fellow panelist Judge Richard B. Klein ''alluded to the possibility of 'squirrel stew,' but there is insufficient evidence to support this horrific supposition.''
However, ''Nutkin would then learn the shocking truth that the cheery Pennsylvania slogan 'You've got a friend in Pennsylvania' did not apply to four-legged critters like Nutkin,'' Hudock continued.
Jean Gosselin estimated he and his wife have paid more than $5,000 in legal costs over two years to fight the case and appeal two guilty verdicts from a district justice and Schuylkill County judge.
''I know you've probably heard this before, but it's the principle of the thing,'' he said.
Barbara Gosselin said Nutkin was kept by a family friend in another community after the citation was issued, but returned to the couple just before Christmas 2003.
''We were always sweating it out that the Game Commission would get a search warrant and find her,'' Barbara Gosselin said. The couple would scramble to hide Nutkin's cage whenever the doorbell rang or a strange vehicle entered their driveway, she said. ''We were living in fear.''
They appealed the citation, arguing that Nutkin was legal because the animal had been legally acquired in another state and that they were improperly convicted in lower courts under statutes that did not apply to the case.
The Gosselins contended that Dingman and the Game Commission pursued the case to retaliate for their complaints that the officer and commission refused to prosecute illegal hunters on their property.
Barbara Gosselin in 2001 testified before the state House Game and Fisheries Committee complaining about a lack of enforcement from the commission against ''bubba'' hunters, and argued the commission was ''against any landowner who posts their property.''
''While there is no explicit claim of retaliatory prosecution, the stipulated facts show an interesting temporal relationship between the appellant's complaints to both the Game Commission and General Assembly and her present difficulties,'' Hudock wrote.
Nutkin on Friday remained oblivious to the fray surrounding her, according to her owners.
Asked whether the friendly pet would mark her freedom with a special, celebratory meal, Jean Gosselin replied, ''She's fed like a racehorse that's winning, always. She always gets the best nuts and berries.''
Check out Nutkin's homepage to see pictures.