Historically, the squirrel is America’s most popular pet. In fact, in the 18th- and 19th centuries, squirrels were fixtures in American homes. Sorry, dog and cat lovers, I am not joking.
In fact, January 21st was Squirrel Appreciation Day.
HISTORY OF AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR PET
Squirrel ownership was in full swing by the 1700s. Acquired in markets and pet shops, the animals were found in homes of wealthy urbanites. Portraits of their children with a squirrel on a gold chain leash were not uncommon. Literature abounded to assist the pet owner in care and feeding of the creatures.
Putting squirrels in urban parks was done intentionally. By the mid-1800s, squirrels were nonexistent in cities. Then, urban areas began to build parks and plant trees. A few releases of squirrels into the parks occurred as early as 1847 in order to beautify and add interest to the landscape. The parks movement claimed that nature in the city was crucial for health and sanity as well as to provide opportunities for those who couldn’t leave the city. What’s more, feeding squirrels became a way to encourage children to adopt humane behavior. Even President Warren G. Harding kept one.
But, alas, tastes changed. By the 1910s, they were increasingly viewed as pests. From the 1920s to the 1970s, many states began to adapt laws that prohibited keeping wild animals at home.
WEIRD FACTS ABOUT AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR PET
According to the National Wildlife Federation:
- Squirrels can find food buried beneath a foot of snow.
- A squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing.
- Squirrels may lose 25 percent of their buried food to thieves.
- They zigzag to escape predators.
- Squirrels may pretend to bury a nut to throw off potential thieves.
- A newborn squirrel is about an inch long.
- Squirrels are acrobatic, intelligent, and adaptable.
- They get bulky to stay warm during the winter.
- Squirrels don’t dig up all of their buried nuts, which results in more trees!
MY PERSONAL FEELINGS ABOUT AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR PET
OK, I must confess. I have a love/hate relationship with the creatures. The low points are:
- My first husband offered a squirrel a peanut while we camped at a state park. Instead of the peanut, he latched onto the poor man’s finger. Screaming, my ex threw the squirrel over his shoulder. It sailed in a wide arc into the air, then ran off. We wasted time in the emergency room getting shots.
- One of the beings attacked me while I was sitting on a bench at the University of Houston eating a snack. Scared the bejeebbers out of me.
- Not content with all the acorns scattered over the ranch, the fiends constantly torture my bird feeders despite my attempts to outwit them. Finally, in desperation, I pulled out my BB rifle to scare it off, only to hit the poor thing in the jugular. Instant death. Then, I had to dispose of the carcass.
The high points are:
- I have a pecan tree from my Houston home growing in my yard, thanks to the squirrel who buried a pecan in one of my flowerpots.
- They entertain me, jumping from tree to tree, running across the fence. Occasionally, one comes to my office window and peers in.
Notice a trend, here? More negatives than positives.
Sorry, squirrel friends. I know you can’t help it. In honor of National Squirrel Day, I filled my bird feeders so you could get some exercise performing a few aerobatic stunts and enjoy the crumbs the birds dump on the ground.