This is a very comprehensive title, and might fairly be supposed to comprise ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, poultry, and pigeons; but this article will be confined to animals kept in the house, and will especially relate to those which may be legitimately called Pets, the care of them devolving entirely upon their owners. Out-of-door pets must necessarily be left in a great measure to the care of servants, and cannot be so essentially home friends.
Squirrels, dormice, and white mice are sometimes kept in captivity by those whose lives are chiefly spent in towns, and who have no knowledge of the wild frolicsome creatures in their native haunts; but they appear to lead very unnatural lives in confinement, and are not very desirable pets for the house: it is difficult to keep their cages quite sweet and clean. All may be domesticated, however, and are, we believe, capable of attachment to their owners. We have never kept any ourselves; but our brothers had donnice from time to time, and several small families were born and brought up under their care, but most of them came to an untimely end.
The squirrel seems so delightfully free and happy, playing about on the tops of the tallest trees in the woods, launching himself boldly into the air, and taking tremendous leaps from branch to branch, that after seeing the pretty little creature at his ease, one does not feel inclined to deprive him of the liberty he seems so thoroughly to enjoy; but if he is captured, his life ought to be made as happy as possible, and he should be allowed as much exercise as he can have in the house. His cage should be at least 3 or 4 feet long and 3 or 4 feet high, and instead of the revolving cylinder, which is very injurious to the little prisoner, he should have a good-sized branch of a tree, to form perches for him, and be able to frisk about at pleasure in his little parlour. A little sleeping-box must be attached to this, with a door at the back, and the board forming the floor should be drawn out like that of a bird-cage. Every part of the cage must be kept as clean as possible, and the moss and cotton wool, which must be put into the squirrel's bedroom, must be changed nearly every day.
The active little creature does not often live long in confinement; but if taken young, and very carefully managed, it may become a very tame and a very engaging pet, and may sometimes be trusted to frolic about out of doors when tame enough to return at his owner's call. His cage should, however, be lined with tin; for he is apt to gnaw the wood with his sharp little teeth when impatient of confinement. He should be fed on nuts, almonds, filberts, beech masts, walnuts, acorns, wheat in the ear, and fir cones; and he is fond of milk, cold tea, and bread-and-milk. A little bit of boiled potato, and even a tiny morsel of cooked meat, may be given as a treat, and a stale crust of bread to gnaw. All creatures require variety in their food, and in his wild state the squirrel gets animal food by robbing birds' nests of their eggs occasionally. He lays up a store of food for the winter in various holes and crevices, and is much too acute ever to put by a nut in which a maggot has been, or to miss the place where his treasure is concealed, even when several inches depth of snow covers the ground.
The female is a very affectionate mother, and will remain with her young in the nest even while the tree in which it is, is cut down, or will carry them, one after another, in her mouth, to a place of safety. She generally builds on the topmost branches of the fir tree, and the nest is made of dry grass and sticks, very slightly yet firmly put together, and lined with fur, which she scratches off her body before the young ones are born. This is generally in the summer, and the young squirrels remain with their parents till the following spring, when they are able to manage for themselves. They have a substantial winter's nest, to which they appear to add every year fresh layers of hay and moss, to make their habitation more and more warm and comfortable. I have been told that the best time to buy a squirrel is at the end of September, when it is fat and vigorous and its fur is in good condition; but it is never safe to purchase those which are sold in the street as "wonderfully tame," and which will allow themselves to be handled by a stranger, and pulled about, without showing any disposition to bite.
The probability is that the poor little creatures have been stupefied by some drug, and that they will either recover their natural ferocity in a few hours, or die - poisoned by the narcotic which has been given them.
Ordinary Squirrel's Cage.