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Squirrels as Pets

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Helping Squirrels or Playing God?
Once again, we are on the topic of whether or not it’s bad to have squirrel for a pet. We already know that in many states it’s illegal by state law. Anybody who has been in this club for any length of time also knows that I am very much opposed to these laws. I don’t feel that a loving relationship between a human being and a squirrel is any of the government’s business, especially in a country that touts itself as being the “Land of the Free.”
However, my purpose in writing this article is not to discuss the legality of having a pet squirrel, but to discuss the morality of it. Regardless of the legality of any given state, is it morally wrong to keep a squirrel as a pet? I don’t believe that it is, however I will put some stipulations on that statement.
Just like it is morally wrong to neglect, poorly care for, or outright mistreat a pet dog, cat, hamster or any other “legal” pet, so it is morally wrong to neglect, poorly care for, or mistreat a pet squirrel.
Another important factor in this issue is how the pet squirrel was obtained.  As I have stated before in this newsletter, I would never advocate anybody grabbing n adult squirrel out of their yard, bring it in the house and try to make a pet out of it. IT JUST WON’T WORK! The squirrel will have been torn out of the only world it knows and be forced to live in a new foreign environment. For this reason, it will never be happy.
Also I would strongly frown upon anyone deliberately taking a baby squirrel away from its mother to make a pet out of it. I feel this WOULD BE morally wrong.
What about the person (licensed rehabilitator or not) who takes in an orphaned, sick, and/or injured baby squirrel that desperately needs help, saves its life, then falls in love with it and keeps it as a pet? If this squirrel that has never gotten to know the wild is happy in its home and its owner feeds and care for it properly (so as to raise a healthy happy pet) is this so horrible?
Many if not most, of the injured or orphaned squirrels taken in (whether by licensed rehabbers or other people) can and maybe should be released when they are ready. However, there are some squirrels that are never ready. These are squirrels that, because of either physical problems or inappropriate attitudes, could never survive on their own in the wild.
A good example of a squirrel with an inappropriate attitude is one, a rehabber I know, raised. It had been orphaned at a very early age when its mother was killed by a car. The rehabber raised it in a cage in an animal hospital. Every time she let it out to get some exercise it would head for the first cat it saw, trying to make friends. It had the misguided impression that every living thing wanted to be its friend and playmate.
Although this rehabber had raised hundreds of squirrels and taught them to fear predators, she couldn’t get it through this one’s head. It was just an extremely friendly squirrel and nothing was going to change it because that was its nature. The choice for this squirrel was to spend the rest of its life as a pet being cared for by humans or be released to become dinner for the first predator it ran up to and tried to befriend.
We have a lot of rehabbers in our club. Many of them agree with me that there is nothing wrong with keeping a squirrel as a pet that, for whatever reason, could never survive on its own in the wild, as long as it is properly cared for. However, some of them believe that squirrel should never be kept as a pet, no matter what.
Although I disagree with them, I do believe that most of them have their heart in the3 right place. ON of them is Becky Cardinal, whose letter on this subject appears in “The Chatter Box” of issue #14 of this newsletter. She and I have talked about this subject and she believes that there is no such thing as a squirrel that can’t be rehabbed to survive in the wild. Although she and I believe differently in this subject, we have “agreed to disagree” and each of us respects the other’s viewpoint. I really do believe that Becky, and most of the others like her, really do have the squirrels’ best interest in mind.
 
I did have an experience that bothered me. After an article titled “If You Really Love Them” ran in In a Nutshell #15, I received a call from a rehabber that complained about the viewpoint expressed in the article. She felt that a squirrel should never be a pet under any circumstances because they shouldn’t be deprived of the right to be wild.
I asked her what she thought about the occasional squirrel that is too friendly and would not survive if it were released in the wild. She told me that in that case, the squirrel should be euthanized.
I couldn’t believe my ears! “Are you saying,” I responded, “that in order to keep them from being deprived of the right to be wild, you would instead deprive them of the right to live? Isn’t that playing God and is that really the mission of a rehabber? After all, if we applied the same line of thinking to people, we would euthanize all crippled, blind, deaf humans, so that they wouldn’t be deprived of the right to walk, see, hear, etc. Besides what makes being too friendly a crime deserving of the death sentence?”
As a result of my response, she softened a little on the euthanizing idea and told me that she would put squirrels that couldn’t make it the wild in cages for educational purposes for children, etc.
This is pretty much where our conversation ended. However, her last solution to squirrels that can’t survive on their own left me with more questions. If making a pet out of a squirrel and giving it the run of a whole house is bad because it deprives it of the right to be wild, how is confining it to a cage a better alternative? Animals in cages for educational purposes don’t get the loving that pets usually get. Is this really looking out for the squirrel’s best interest? 
Maybe I’m missing something here, but her solutions for squirrels that can’t make it in the wild doesn’t make any sense to me; especially coming from someone who supposedly loves and wants to help squirrels.
It seems to me that she is so hung up on her belief that squirrels should never be pets under any circumstances that she is willing to accept alternatives that are much worse for the squirrels, rather than give in to the idea of someone keeping and protecting one as a pet.
This borders on fanaticism and is an example of someone who may have been well meaning at first, but crosses the line between helping squirrels and playing God.
Gregg Bassett
  
 
 

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