Bob Ross may have been best known for teaching people to paint happy little clouds and happy little trees on his PBS television show "The Joy of Painting." There was another side to him that viewers were sometimes introduced to on air -- his love of animals. He had a penchant for rescuing wild animals and working to raise or rehabilitate them -- from baby squirrels to baby owls.

Bob Ross and Peapod the Baby Squirrel
Bob Ross and Peapod the Baby Squirrel

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It is hard to imagine but Ross didn't start out to be an artist. First this gentle, soft-spoken man spent 20 years in the Air Force as a drill sergeant. Having to be mean and tough all the time took its toll and he became fed up with military life. While in the service he had taken a painting class and was immediately hooked. He had a natural talent as an artist and parleyed it into a television show and a corporation that sells art supplies and instructional videos branded with his name.

"If we're going to have animals around, we all have to be concerned about them and take care of them."

Ross had another passion that would creep into his television show (aired on PBS) from time to time. He loved helping injured, orphaned, and stray animals. This part of his personality was evident in his childhood, much to the dismay of his mother. He attempted to nurse an injured alligator back to health in their bathtub. That was not the only animal he tried to help as a kid. He was also known to have had an armadillo running around his bedroom.

Bob Ross and Baby Squirrel
Bob Ross and Baby Squirrel

Image via YouTube

As an adult his home in Florida he turned his backyard into a rehabilitation center and it was filled with numbers of animals that he was helping to rehabilitate. In Florida that means that some of the animals could be rather scary.

Bob Ross and Bird
Bob Ross and Bird

Image via Two Inch Brush

"I guess I'm a little weird. I like to talk to trees and animals. That's OK though; I have more fun than most people."

Most of his animal friends were squirrels and birds with broken wings. For awhile he even had an epileptic squirrel living in his hot tub -- empty of course! Perhaps the most memorable of these friends was a little squirrel named Peapod who appeared on The Joy of Painting numerous times. Peapod reportedly liked to hang out in Ross's shirt pocket. We got to see Ross feed Peapod with a syringe or bottle on occasion. Ross loved holding the squirrel in his palm and just watching him sleep.

Bob Ross with Baby Hoot
Bob Ross with Baby Hoot

Image via YouTube

Another of his favorite animals, Hoot the Owl, got some airtime as an owlet. Ross commented that he was nothing but down at the time. Ross also joked that the two of them had the same hairdresser. "We've both got the fuzz top up here." By the way, Ross's signature fro was a perm that had originally been done to draw in more viewers. It worked and so he was stuck with it for the rest of his life. Hoot also appeared on the show as a fully grown bird. Having been rehabilitated, Hoot was eventually released back into the wild.

"People look at me like I'm a little strange when I go around talking to squirrels and rabbits and stuff. That's OK. Thaaaat's just OK."

Ross had a team of friends who helped him care for his home menagerie, including a woman named Diana Schaffer. He referred to her as "the bird lady," and on a visit to her home he got to interacting with sparrows, a hawk, a wild turkey, a baby groundhog, and even a blind robin.

Bob Ross with Hoot All Grown Up
Bob Ross with Hoot All Grown Up

Image via YouTube

A baby raccoon also appeared on The Joy of Painting being fed by Ross with a bottle. He said that these furry critters are sweet as babies but they grow up to be "pretty tough little characters." Anyone who has spent time around adult raccoons know that he was being charitable in his comment. In this episode he mentions having to burp the little guy after feeding but this did not happen on camera.

Bob Ross with Baby Raccoon
Bob Ross with Baby Raccoon

This is a happy place; little squirrels live here and play."

Other animals that appeared oh Ross's painting show includes robins, chimney swifts, a Sherman's fox squirrel, a great horned owl, a sandhill crane, and a fawn. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that Ross had regular pets such as dogs and cats.

Bob Ross and Baby Raccoon
Bob Ross and Baby Raccoon

Image via YouTube

In the early 1990s Ross had begun to think of creating another show for public television. This one would have nothing to do with painting. This one would have been aimed at introducing children to animals and educating them about their care. Unfortunately it was not meant to be. Ross's second wife died of cancer in 1993. Ross himself was diagnosed with cancer in 1994 and he passed away from lymphoma in 1995. He was only 52. He had married his third wife just two months before his death.

"Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is."

Sources: Stormfront, Mental Floss, Grunge, Today I Found Out, Two Inch Brush

Bob Ross and Fawn
Bob Ross and Fawn

Image via Two Inch Brush

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