Hypothetical about wild pets

Before I start, I want to clarify that this is HYPOTHETICAL. I am not advocating keeping wild animals as pets. I know it’s a Very Bad Idea. Don’t flame me.

That having been said, I was wondering what it would be like if you raised an orphan wild animal as a pet. I’m particularly interested in squirrels, foxes, raccoons and bats, but I’ll take any animal you’re knowledgeble about.

What sort of personality would the animal have? How much would it bond with its human “parent”? How would it react to other humans? What problematic habits would it have? If it would need a cage, how big?

Also, would there be legal problems with adopting a local back yard critter?

In Virginia it’s illegal to adopt or take in squirrels without a wildlife rehabilitator license.

That said, I met someone who had such a license. She said that flying squirrels, although smaller, twitchier, and seemingly smaller-brained than gray squirrels (and nocturnal to boot) bond with humans much better. She said it was always wrenching to rehome them to the wilderness, unlike the regular squirrels.

Squirrels are what got me wondering in the first place. I look out the window at the squirrels playing, and I think they’d be playful and curious, then I think about the chewing damage…

And you certainly know about chewing damage. :smiley:

Any animal can be made to not fear humans if raised from a sufficiently young age.

Most animals cannot be tamed to survive indoors in a human culture and then return to the wild. Squirrels are not unlike rats as pets. Foxes don’t tame well. Neither do racoons. Both are very tempermental and can be very damaging when they are. I’ve never heard of anyone trying to make a bat a pet.

There’s a famous Russian experiment where he tried taming black foxes. After about 30 generations of selecting the least aggressive he got a sort of tame fox. It’s kind of like cavemen might have done with the original dogs; keep the ones that didn’t try too aggressively to bite your hand while tiny. He ended up with animals that looked a lot more like dogs, even getting black animals that developed a white spot on the forehead like some dog breeds.

The usual caution from wildlife experts is that most wild animals have instinctive reactions to agression and distrust. This is innate, they do not learn this behaviour. The ones that do not have it will not survive in the wild, but it means they are not the submissive tolerant and obedient pets that dogs are and cats pretend to be. Instinctive behavour will often be seen as erratic and aggressive.

I had a tame squirrel when I was about ten. We used to feed it on my back porch until the point it would climb into our laps and we could pet it. It wasn’t quite a pet per se as it was always outdoors but I could see easily domesticating one if you had it from birth. From what I understand skunks make good pets (with their scent glands removed) but I’ve had no personal experience. Some pet stores sell them now though they aren’t legal in every state. Foxes are notoriously hard to domesticate and will usually remain aggressive toward humans. Racoons are also bred as pets in some states though a cursory search reveals even well adjusted racoons my bite you if aggitated. As for a bat? Again you can buy some bats at pets stores so I guess they can make okay pets. With all of the above, and any backyard critter for that matter, you’d have a hard time getting it adjusted to you if you trapped it as an adult and tried to make it a pet. You will get bit. I’m not even sure how you’d go about trapping a bat. A net? You’d probably have the best luck with a squirrel but I wouldn’t advise that either. The legality of owning all the animals in question changes on a state by state basis. In some it’s completely illegal, in some it requires permits and others it’s legal. I don’t think it’s legal to breed foxes for pets in any state. There is one kind of fox, a fennec fox, that can be bought through exotic pet dealers but it isn’t indigenous to our backyards.

My father and his sister had a pair of pet raccoons when they were young. A logger found them orphaned when they were tiny. They were free to roam around in the yard as well as come inside and sit on the couch and play. They are very smart and did fairly well as partially wild pets. I have known a few other people that have had them and they say the key is to get them as young as possible like when they are just a few days old and hand feed them.

I had a friend in elementary school that had a pair of indoor pet squirrels. They were very cute but they do chew. One got electrocuted by chewing on a power cord and the other died tragically as well. My pet indoor rabbit did roughly the same thing however with phone cords although she didn’t kill herself.

Skunks can make decent pets and some people trust theirs enough not to have their scent glands removed although that seems way too risky to me. People have all kinds of weird pets and you can buy many of them legally in most jurisdictions in the U.S. Tigers are unusually cheap, cheaper than some purebred dogs, at least initially but good luck affording the meat once it gets big. I knew a man with a full-sized pet alligator that lived in a pond right next to his house and would come when called. He let it in the house sometimes. The alligator’s name was “Baby” but she was anything but that.

Google “buy exotic pets online” to see what is available. Some of the things you would think be illegal aren’t and some rather mundane animals are illegal. It often has to do with whether they are native animals or not.

To answer the OP, the major problem with wild animals as pets is that while their innate fear of humans can be overcome by conditioning, they are still wild animals and their reactions remain those of wild animals.

Perhaps a different example will help to illustrate. Consider making a pet of a deer. Deer can be bottle raised quite successfully, and they “imprint” to humans easily. This means that they accept humans as their own species, and as members of their own social group. This works fine as long as they are small. Sexually mature deer though have a complex social structure which is maintained by ritualized combat. Female deer fight by rearing up and striking with their forefeet. Male deer fight by engaging antlers. Since your hand-raised deer accepts you as a part of his/her own social group, he/she will include you in social interactions, including tests of dominance. If your pet is a doe, you will get some bruises, maybe some lacerations. If it’s a buck, you might be fatally gored. But the animals have no desire to hurt you, and still accept you as a valued member of their own family. They just are not able to drop innate behaviors and replace them with human equivalents. In the case of the species you name, the same would apply, with such “problematic behaviors” as are built into each species.

Personal possession of wildlife can be acceptable for a number of reasons, but the “pet” designation carries a lot of unrealistic expectations such as those above. Rabies is also a concern, especially for two of the species you name. Both raccoons and bats can be “asymptomatic carriers”, meaning they may harbor and transmit the disease while never showing symptoms themselves. Neither captive origin nor vaccination of the animal can overcome this truly frightening possibility.

Caging and permitting of wild mammals held for personal possession is the province of the individual states and whatever designated authority (perhaps but not always a Fish & Game or maybe a Wildlife agency) is chosen by that state. There is amazing diversity in these regulations, some states having many regs, some quite few, and some states being very restrictive while others are not. Note that “having lots of regs” does not necessarily equal “being very restrictive”. My state is very explicit and spells out exacting requirements for possession of many species, but is not overly restrictive in who or how many people may meet those minimum requirements.

Besides having an exotic pet store for several years, I also raised an orphaned raccoon as a personal pet. ANY, and I do mean ANY animal can be tamed if you are willing to make reasonable allowances for the natural behaviours of the species. Raccoons for example are extremely intelligent and have little hands that are quite effective at undoing latches. They also climb as well as many primates and need a space of their own to retreat to. Raccoons go through a turbulent puberty that can be calmed considerably by spaying or neutering. If you are willing to adapt your home and lifestyle they can be just as rewarding as any domesticated animal.

It depends on the species, of course.

As has been said, many animals can be tamed if raised by humans very young. But you have to restructure your lifestyle to meet the needs of the animal. A parrot needs lots of stimulation and socialization, makes a lot of noise and mess. A goat will butt. A monkey will be almost impossible to housebreak. Rodents will chew and burrow.

Plenty of people keep exotic pets. Plenty of other people get an exotic pet, and then find out that they can’t meet the needs of the exotic pet, and the pet ends up euthanized, if it’s lucky.

Lemur866, does this reflect your personal feelings towards your owners and do you fear euthanasia or do you wish for it?

All I can say is that if I were an exotic pet, my OWNERS would be the ones praying for death.

Also see this thread: Would humans make good pets?

I guess what I’m asking is what accomodations you’d require. And I guess I didn’t make it clear, but our hypothetical wild pet was raised as an orphan.

My brother had a raccoon he found as a baby and kept for a while (can you guess his name - of course you can). He was a great pet as a baby. Got along with cats and dogs for the most part, lived in the house and seemed to enjoy humans. At about 6 mounths he got out and didn’t return until a month or so later when he was caught in the hen-house. Oops!

The family across the street from when Iwas growing up kept a lot of crazy stuff. They had a goat, Geese, a monkey AND a chimp and my dad said they had an alligator once. The goat died from being feed trash all the time (goats will eat anything is the joke). The geese attacked people. The monkey and chimp stunk so bad nobody ever went in their house. I could barely stand by their door to collect after I cut their grass.

So wild pets are just like tame pets at first - soft and cute. When tame pets get older they can be a lot of trouble if not trained properly, more so with wild pets. Dogs and cats have been breed for centuries and they don’t always make good pets (read the “Pit Bull” threads). If you have a wild pet it is going to take a lot of time and effort just to keep it from being, well, wild. Unless we are talking about a wild pet rock.

I don’t know about the legalities, but my neighbor when I was a kid had a penchant for taking in animals, and it sometimes included wild animals that were hurt or abandoned.

There was a squirrel, who was kept in a cage outside once he was old enough to be sort of on his own. He’d run right out to people, and climb on them. Eventually, the neighbor opened the door and left it open, but he always came back to stay in his cage, especially when it was cold. He grew less tame as time went on, and wouldn’t hang out with people except for my neighbor, though he’d still eat out of her hand.

She did a similar thing with a bluejay she found wounded. He was older though, so he was never as tame as the squirrel. Still, he’d sit right next to people and eat, though he wouldn’t let anyone touch him.

Like I said, the accommodations necessary would vary by species. A non-venomous snake can be kept in an aquarium with appropriate food, moisture, and temperature, and live very happily–but it’s never going to be “tame”. An alligator can be kept in a pond and thrown chunks of meat, but it’s never going to be tame, and when it’s small it can take off a finger, when it’s bigger it can take off a hand, and when even bigger it can rip your leg clean off.

A wolf can be raised just like a dog. Except your tame wolf will challenge you for dominance whenever it senses weakness, so you better know how to play alpha, and you better have plenty of room for your wolf to exercise, and leaving your wolf chained up in the backyard for 10 hours a day while you go to work is a bad idea. So you need a lifestyle where you’re home all the time, you’re engaged socially with your wolf all the time, and you’re mentally and physically tough enough and savvy enough to head off most dominance games, and win the ones you can’t head off.

Likewise, a tiger can be raised just like a housecat, and will be almost as tame as a housecat. I’ve gotten clawed by plenty of housecats, and nipped painfully. A claws-out swipe from a 10 pound moggie leaves a nasty scratch. A swipe from a 300 pound big cat can leave you with a broken neck. The tiger will see you as a surrogate parent, and probably doesn’t want to kill you, any more than Mr. Bigglesworth wants to kill you when you rub his ears wrong and he swats at you. Except when Mr. Bigglesworth does it you don’t go to the ER. And you can get surplus tigers easily, if you want one you could easily get rescue tigers for free–if you can prove you have the facilities to care for it, and prove that you’re not a nut who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And a monkey is very much like taking care of a hyperactive two year old human, who can run like the wind and climb anything, and can never be housebroken. And will require just as much supervision as a two year old–for the rest of the monkey’s life.

A squirrel would be pretty easy–kind of like taking care of a rat, but a rat that likes to climb.

And a shark will require—well, you get the idea.

Every different kind of exotic pet will require a different lifestyle adjustment. If you’re not willing to make the sacrifices to give that exotic animal a decent life, it’s crazy to become an exotic pet owner.

What about emus? They are less agressive than Ostriches or the cousin with the 'tude, the Cassowary, plus being from Australia, they speak English. :slight_smile:

I’ve raised many odd creatures: the ones my Dad would bring home by default being a biologist repository of, “Here, you take it now” to the ones we’d then take to feed the above mentioned. Weird critters collected in South America, strays that found our way to us, injured wildlife, on and on.

In a lifetime of that, and working for awhile as a fulltime wildlife rehabilitator, I think that keeping wild creatures as pets is profoundly unfair to animals. Raised by people as young, they are dependent, so malleable with their needs, and can exist with humans for those needs. But, reaching adulthood, they want their independence, and hardwired instincts take hold. You can thwart that to some degree, but in doing that, you make the animal into a clown of sorts, and might well then have painted it’s face in unlikely colors that will make it an oddity with it’s own species.

An animal painted that way will then have a hard time finding it’s own way as a member of what it’s supposed to be. “If it would need a cage, how big?” Never big enough, really. And they would never know the comfort of their own kind, mating with their own kind, and being allowed to live in the way Nature intends.

To be honest, I’m wrestling with words here. We keep pets, beyond the long time domesticated ones, in order to observe and have some wonder at them. In having a lot of experience seeing wild animals caged and raised, it’s just a no-go for me. Though a caged life might be “safe”, it’s not a good life, mainly for the alienation from one’s own species.