Keeping Wildlife as Pets
The stories are true, names and locations are withheld. If you feel that one of these stories is about yourself, please do not be offended. Hopefully because of these stories, more wild animals will live a happier and healthier life and there will be less human sadness.
Warning! These stories are not meant for children to read. This article could be harmful to your ears, thoughts and heart.
Within the years of being a wildlife rehabilitator and having a business which pertains primarily of animals, many which are hand raised and often wild animals, the most common question that I receive from people bringing baby animals to me for care (primarily in my field this is wildlife) is, “Can we keep it as a pet?” And the answer is always the same, “No”
Many times I think people feel that I am being cruel or cold hearted with that answer. If I were on the other side looking in I would probably agree with them. Really, what is the harm? If I keep the animal as a pet it will live a longer life, correct? No, that is not necessarily correct. And really the question should be “Will that animal truly be happy being kept as a pet”? Once again the answer in most cases would be “No”. Keep in mind we are not speaking of “Domestic Animals”, you know, the guinea pig, the hamster, or the lop eared bunny you purchased at the pet store, the Pet Store is a whole different subject! That will be in a future article!
We are speaking of the adorable baby squirrel your children found in the yard, or should we say “the squirrel found your children” The squirrel “ loves your children, he followed them everywhere and he didn’t even bite them when they picked him up and cuddled him”. It was like a match made in heaven, this adorable baby squirrel and your children, and now they are bonded for life.
So you thought. Well, let me tell you one story about a child and a squirrel that bonded for a very short life, well, short for the squirrel! Oh, and by the way, the squirrel cuddled with the children because it was cold, and the warmth of their hands felt good to him, and he was also very hungry and dehydrated and would have approached anyone or anything at this point for some help. He had probably already been without mom, food or water for 2-3 days!
One day while I was at work at Chris’s Squirrels and More. (I am Chris.) I answered the phone to a very distraught woman pleading with me for help. Unfortunately I could not help her in any good way. She told me that she had raised a baby squirrel with her children. She felt this was a good learning experience for her children, and would help build responsibility for their young minds. Well, she and her children had done a wonderful job raising this young squirrel.
It was now reaching maturity as a young juvenile of about 9-10 weeks old. He was still a cuddle bug to the children that had raised him, but that wasn’t the case with strangers. Evidently, there are still some grammer schools that have “Show and Tell” I thought that was a 60’s and 70’s thing but I guess not.
Anyway, I bet you can’t guess what this family did with this squirrel.
You guessed it! They brought it into a Public School for Show & Tell! What a cool idea! Who else would bring a “Squirrel” into “Show & Tell” This would be one of the best “Show & Tells” ever!! Think again.
Yes, the squirrel bit a child in the class room. This sweet little cuddly animal actually bit someone with its very long piercing teeth, and of course it happened to have been a child. Well, when a wild animal bites your child what is the first thing you would think of? RABIES!! Don’t you think the parents of the bitten child would be just a bit concerned? Of course they are, and with good reason.
Rabies has been running rampant in the US now for quite a few years. Well what are the chances of this squirrel having rabies? You would think they would be pretty slim, and you’d be right, they are pretty slim, but try telling that to the parents of this bitten child. And keep in mind, there is no cure for rabies, and if not treated within a very short time frame with post exposure vaccines a person really could end up with rabies! And anyone exposed to Rabies and not treated will die from the disease! Now, this is a wild animal that was not vaccinated for rabies and the only way to test this animal for rabies is to test the brain of the animal. Well guess what? You have to kill the animal to check the brain.
So, the child went home with his pet squirrel, and his mother got a phone call from the school. The officials said they needed to pick up this squirrel and euthanize it to test it for rabies.
Well, the mother is livid, how dare they kill this pet that they had raised and loved whole heartedly. The kids will be crushed!! Well guess what? She’s wrong, they’re right. No one is going to take a chance that this squirrel is not rabid when a human life is involved. It’s either take a chance with the child’s life and let the squirrel live or kill the squirrel and know the child is safe. I’m sorry, “Kill the squirrel”sounds harsh, People usually say “euthanize the squirrel”, as though that makes it better. This is a harsh story, but sometimes we have to be harsh and nasty to make a point.
This lady with the squirrel wanted to know if I could help in any way. Once again the answer was “No” She’s in a different state across the country from me, all I could do was send her to a very reputable Wildlife Rehabilitator in her area for something, I don’t even know what because this really is out of everyone’s hands except for the state officials.
So the moral of this story is hmmmmmm, I can’t think of one. Oh, well the squirrel did not live a long life because it was kept as a pet. The squirrel was put through a very traumatic, stressful death just because a human mistakenly thought a wild animal would make a great pet!
O.K. Wipe away the tears, if you can bear to go on, here’s another heartbreaker!
The summer of 2008 I received a call from a Animal Control Officer a couple of towns over from my town here in Ct. She asked me if she could bring me an adult squirrel that had been confiscated from an elderly couple that had kept it in a small cage in their basement for three years. I was pretty sure I’d be disgusted with what I was about to see. Of course I told her to head right over with this squirrel. When she arrived she had a terrified three year old squirrel in a cage that measured about 24” x 24” x 14” high. The squirrel had been in this disgusting small cage for over three years!!
He was not tame and was scared to death of humans and everything else around him. She asked me if it would be more humane to euthanize him. Since I am an animal and squirrel lover, I feel everything should have the best possible chance for a happy and good life. I told her to leave the squirrel with me so I could try to adapt him to the wild.
I put the squirrel in a very large walk-in enclosure, approximately 4 ft wide, 6 feet deep and 7 ft. high. Because of his lack of proper nutrition and natural sunlight I suspected metabolic bone disease and was concerned about him hurting himself. Because he was an adult, I decided to put him in this cage which abutted another cage that housed several older juvenile squirrels. The idea was to cage him next to other squirrels so that in time he would realize that he is also a squirrel. He needed to learn to identify with the other squirrels so that he would be able to socialize normally once released.
It was time to release the squirrels in the cage next to him and time to move him out to the woods in another large cage so he could adapt to the wild smells, sounds and feel of the outdoors.
Once I move squirrels out to the woods I see very little of them, which is good. The idea is to “Wild them up” This guy was doing well,looking healthy and just about ready to be released.
I went out to feed him one day and I noticed a lot of blood and a piece of flesh outside the cage. There was blood on the nest box that was housing him. I took him out of that cage and back home to put him in a smaller cage so that I could examine him and see what had happened to him.
He apparently had gotten his leg caught in the ½” by 1” mesh of the cage. He must have cried and attracted a predator. The predator took his leg off up to the hip. The squirrel was alive; he probably could have been saved with surgery but would never have been releasable to the wild. I chose to have him euthanized because I could not stand to see him suffer one more moment because of the selfishness of the human race.
The first selfishness was the elderly couple that kept him trapped in a very small prison for 3 years. The second selfishness would have been my keeping him in captivity for the rest of his life with only three legs and still scared to death of humans, just so I could say “I saved a squirrel”.
All I can do is pray that this squirrel truly did go to a better life in heaven, because he certainly lived hell here on earth.
A gentleman called me late one evening with an injured pet squirrel. It was around 11pm and he was very upset. He lived about 3 hours from me and told me that his squirrel could not move her hind legs. I told him to bring me the squirrel first thing in the morning.
Well he did. He showed up at about 6:00 in the morning with a beautiful, healthy looking adult female squirrel. Well, she wasn’t totally healthy; her back was either paralyzed or broken. Overall, the rest of her condition was beautiful; you could tell she was well taken care of and well loved. The man had found my name through my website and decided to call me for help.
He had called veterinarians in his area for help but he got the same answer from all of them. “If you bring the squirrel to us we will euthanize it” No one would help this man with his sick squirrel. The reason they would not help him is because he was not in a state where it was legal to have or treat pet squirrels. I could not nor would not turn him away. I may not believe in having pet squirrels but it doesn’t mean I won’t help them.
Originally the gentleman had good intentions with the squirrel. When he found it as a baby, he tried to find a rehabilitator to take it, but couldn’t find one. He chose to raise it himself. Like many people he didn’t realize that it was illegal for him to raise a wild animal. Then, when he needed help, no one would help him because he was not legally licensed to have wildlife.
So, this squirrel became very ill, she most likely had metabolic bone disease, which is very common with squirrels kept in captivity and on the wrong diet. This illness is a calcium deficiency and most times results in paralysis or broken bones before death. I did feel the squirrel had a broken back but I couldn’t be sure of it. I told the man that I would get her to my vet first thing Monday morning for an x-ray. I told him that if the back was broken she would need to be euthanized but if the back wasn’t broken that I would proceed with treatment for MBD. I had no intention of euthanizing this squirrel just because it had been made into a pet. (Please keep in mind, I am a wildlife rehabilitator, I am not the police, I do not get paid for what I do and even if I did get paid, I would not be running around looking to kill pet wildlife.) The man agreed with me and went back home on his 3 hour journey.
After the man left I went back to check on the squirrel, put her on a heating pad to keep her warm and comfortable. When I went back a short time later to check on her, she had died. I could not reach the man by phone until he had gotten all the way back home,( I didn’t have a cell phone number for him) but when I finally reached him with the sad news he asked if he could drive back and pick her up so he could bury her. Of course I told him that would be fine. I felt so bad for this man. It is always so hard to see a person crying over a lost beloved pet, and this man did cry.
As a wildlife rehabilitator I was mad at the situation. I was not mad at the man. It was not his fault that no one would help him initially when he got this squirrel as a baby. I was mad as heck at the veterinarians that didn’t care enough to take the time to send this man to a wildlife rehabilitator. Had he been given the right information to begin with, I’m sure he would have brought the squirrel to a rehabber, or better yet, like many of us wildlife rehabilitators possibly he would have become one himself. We can never have to many reputable wildlife rehabilitators in the world!
I could go on and on with discouraging stories about pet squirrels and wildlife. And to be fair, not all pet wildlife stories are nightmares. There are some cases of happy animals in captivity but in most cases they are not normal, healthy animals. They are usually animals that have had a head trauma or another disability and are not releasable due to health reasons. Most normal wild animals have normal wild instincts that kick in at maturity and they will long to be out in the wild. The males live to mate and the females live to bear their young. When we try to take that away from them than we usually have a pretty unhappy animal.
Many times the animals that are kept as pets end up dying prematurely due to circumstances such as:
Falling in the toilet and drowning- this is very common, especially with flying squirrels
Fatal injury by the family cat
An elderly parent accidently stepping on a small animal and breaking his back
Children accidently let the squirrel out of the house and it was never acclimated to the wild and never returned- don’t know what happened to that squirrel but it probably wasn’t anything good.
Children bring their friends over to show off a wild pet, and a friend was bitten. The squirrel had to be euthanized due to state laws and the “rabies fear”. That’s a pretty common story with wild pets.
The dog ate the squirrel – not all dogs are like the Finnegan photos we see on the internet where the female dog nurses the squirrel with her puppies. A dog eating a squirrel is common and the dog nursing a squirrel is very uncommon.
A pet squirrel viciously attacks a husband, the husband says “the squirrel goes or you go” In most cases you choose for the squirrel to go and it usually results in premature non-acclimated release – Not a very good success rate for the squirrel.
Don’t worry ladies, I’ve had many a call where the wife was viciously attacked and the husband had the same warning.
Being a wildlife rehabilitator I have regretfully seen much more bad come out of people keeping squirrels and other wildlife as pets than good. I am not negative because I want to be mean to people, because I really am not a mean person at all. I just want what is best for the animal and what’s best for us humans. It’s not good for the animal to live a unnatural life and it’s not good for us humans to have to read stories like the above. All of these stories are true and sad. I do not promote pet wildlife but I do promote the need for people to help the animals by being a temporary caregiver until the animal is ready to be returned back to its natural environment. That temporary caregiver would be called “A Wildlife Rehabilitator”. And if you are an animal lover and want to become a Wildlife Rehabilitator or would like to volunteer with a Wildlife Rehabilitator, let us know - we’ll be happy to steer you in the right direction.
Sincerely, Christina Clark
Owner of Chris’s Squirrels and More, LLC
Animal Lover and Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator – State of Connecticut
Since I wrote this article a 14 year old Chimpanzee named Travis was killed in the State of Ct. after severely injuring a woman in Stamford. The Chimp had been kept as a pet for several years, and was even a famous animal commercial star. He attacked this woman in a violent rage, left her without a face, no eyes, no hands and now no life probably worth living. This Chimpanzee just went nuts one day. It is said this woman had changed her hairstyle and Travis didn’t recognize her even though he had known her for years. Regretfully for this woman and this chimp, he did not make a very good pet!