When Kids Were Free to Capture Wild Animals for Pets

No one today could get away with publishing The Golden Book of Wild Animal Pets. A popular children’s hardback throughout the 1960s, full of tips on the capture and care of snakes, skunks, hawks, prairie dogs, raccoons, and numerous other creatures, the book enthusiastically encourages kids to perform acts now deemed illegal under state and federal law. “The feathers of the baby screech owl are snow white,” writes Roy Pinney, the book’s author and photographer. “The best time to take one from its nest is toward the latter part of May.”

As a source of instruction, The Golden Book of Wild Animal Pets is obsolete, to say the least. Most kids today don’t want prairie dogs riding around on their shoulders, and most parents would gag if they came upon their son or daughter bottle-feeding a raccoon. Still, the book is a gem, not so much for its teach-your-pet-crow-how-to-talk bouts of enthusiasm (although these are entertaining) as for the disorienting reflection it provides on contemporary American childhood, as well as on how we think—and don’t think—about animals today.

Since this Golden Book was published in 1959, owning exotic pets has been made illegal in many states. Suburban parents are encouraged to check their kids for ticks the moment they set foot past their yard. Eastern bat populations have been decimated by fungal disease, while deer populations have grown exponentially. Raccoons’ numbers have also surged throughout North America, and urban raccoons might be growing even more dexterous and intelligent than their rural counterparts.

In the context of these and other changes, many of Pinney’s sentences sound like ready-made proverbs from a bygone and unimaginable world. “Do not make a part-time pet out of your raccoon if there is a poultry farm nearby,” he warns, writing at the tail-end of an era in which it would be unremarkable to see a person walking down the block with an unplucked, freshly-killed chicken. Later, he advises: “Always ask your dealer for directions on feeding and housing any imported animal.” By “dealer” he means your monkey dealer, a profession that’s fallen out of fashion in the last 60 years.

What’s not in Pinney’s book is as interesting as what is there. There are, for example, several useful types of adults referenced: veterinarians, game wardens, officials at local zoos and animal societies (Pinney tells kids to unload their wild-animal pet on these officials once they are no longer able …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Science

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