Story type: Essay
Since the love of animal and bird pets seems so universal, both amongst rich and poor, it is well that the desire to keep creatures in captivity should be wisely directed, and that young people especially should be led to think of the things that are requisite to make their pets live and prosper in some degree of happiness.
I have often been consulted by some sweet, impulsive child about its “pet robin” or “dear little swallow,” as to why it did not seem to eat or feel happy? and have found the poor victims quietly starving to death on a diet of oats, canary seed, or even green leaves, the infant mind not feeling quite sure what the “pretty birdies” lived upon.
It is needless to say we might as well try to keep a bird on pebbles as give hard grain to a soft-billed insect-eating bird; but this kind of cruelty is constantly practised simply from ignorance. I would therefore endeavour to give a few general rules for the guidance of those who have a new pet of some kind, which they wish to domesticate and tame.
To begin with animals; suitable food, a comfortable home, means of cleanliness, and exercise are essential to their health and comfort. These four requisites are seldom fully attended to. Often a large dog is kept in a back yard in London chained up week after week–kept alive, it is true, by food and water, but without exercise, and with no means of ridding himself of dirt and insects by a plunge now and then into a pond or river. No wonder his piteous howls disturb the neighbours, and he is spoken of as “that horrid dog!” as if it was his fault poor fellow! that he feels miserable and uses his only language of complaint.
One would suggest, it is better not to keep such a dog in a confined space in town, but if he is to be retained he should have one or two daily scampers for exercise, the opportunity of bathing, if he is a water-dog, plenty of fresh water, dog-biscuits, and a few bones twice a day, and a clean house and straw for bedding.
I would call attention to the piece of solid brimstone so persistently put into dogs’ water pans. It is placed there with the best intention, but is utterly useless, seeing it is a perfectly insoluble substance, but a small teaspoonful of powdered brimstone mixed now and then with the water would be lapped up when the animal drinks, and would tend to keep his skin and coat in good condition.
Different animals need treating according to their nature and requirements, and surely it is well to try and find out from some of the many charming books on natural history all the information which is needed to make the new pet happy in its captivity. It is both useless and cruel to try to keep and tame newly caught, full-grown English birds. After being used to their joyous life amongst tree branches, in happy fellowship with others of their own kind, living on food of their own selection, it is hardly likely they can be reconciled to the narrow limits of a cage and the dreariness of a solitary life; it is far better not to attempt keeping them, for what pleasure can there be in seeing the incessant flutterings of a miserable little creature that we know is breaking its heart in longings for liberty, and though it may linger a while is sure to die at last of starvation and sorrow. No, the only way to enjoy friendships with full-grown birds is to tame them by food and kindness, till such a tie of love is formed that they will come into our houses and give us their sweet company willingly.
No cruelty of any kind whatever should be tolerated for a moment in our treatment of the tender dumb creatures our Heavenly Father has given us to be a solace and joy during our life on earth.
The taming of pets requires a good many different qualities–much patience, a very quiet manner, and a cheery way of talking to the little creatures we desire to win into friendship with us; it is wonderful how that prevents needless terrors.
There are no secrets that I am aware of in taming anything, but love and gentleness. Directly a bird flutters, one must stop and speak kindly; the human voice has wonderful power over all animated nature, and then try to see what is the cause of alarm, and remove it if possible. In entering a room where your pet is, always speak to it, and by the time you have led it to give an answering chirp, the taming will go on rapidly, because there is an understanding between you, and the little lonely bird feels it has a friend, and takes you instead of its feathered companions, and begins to delight in your company.
A person going silently to a cage and dragging out the bottom tray will frighten any bird into flutterings of alarm, which effectually hinders any taming going on; but approach gently, talking to the bird by name, pull the tray quietly a little way, and then stop and speak, and so draw it out by degrees and the thing is done, and no fright experienced. A better way still is to have a second cage, and let birdie hop into that while you clean the other, and then it is amusing to see the pleasure and curiosity shown on his return when he finds fresh seed, pure water, and some dainty green food supplied; the loud chirpings tell of great delight and satisfaction, and the dreaded process is at last looked forward to as a time of recreation. It is much best that one person only should attend to the needs of a pet; indeed, I doubt if taming can ever go on satisfactorily unless this rule is observed; a bird is perplexed and scared if plans are changed, and, not knowing what is required of him, he grows flurried, and the training of weeks past may be undone in a single day.
Only those who have tried to educate birds can have any idea of the way in which their little minds will respond to affectionate treatment shown in a sensible way. They have a language of their own which we must set ourselves to learn if we would be en rapport with them. Their different chirpings each mean something, and a little observation will soon show what it is; for instance, my canary fairly shrieks when she sees lettuce on the breakfast-table, and her grateful note of thanks when it is bestowed upon her is of quite a different character. So also is her tender little sound of rejoicing when I give her some broken egg-shell; she seems to value it immensely, and chirps to me with a great piece of it in her bill, quite regardless of good manners. I often think with pain how much birds must suffer when hour after hour they call and chirp and entreat for something they want, which they can see and long for, and yet the dull-minded human beings they live with pay no heed to them, food and water are given, but, in many cases, nothing more all day long, not even a little chickweed or groundsel, or the much-needed egg-shell to supply strength to their little bones. A bright word or two for birdie now and then, and a few friendly chirps as we enter the room, would do much to cheer the little prisoner’s life, and would soon bring a charming response in fluttering wings and evident pleasure at our return.
This state of things cannot be attained in a day or a month; it is only by persistent kindness, exercised patiently, until the little heart is won to a perfect trust in you as a true friend.
Birds can easily be trained to come out for their daily bath, and then go back to their cage of their own accord, but it needs patience at first. The bird must never be caught by the hand or driven about, but if the cage is put on the floor with some nice food in it, and the bird is called and gently guided to it, though it may take an hour to do it the first time, it will at last hop in, and then the door may be very quietly shut. Next time he will know what you wish and will be much more amenable, until at last it will be the regular thing to go home when the bath is over.
I would condemn the practice of making birds draw up their own water; they are never free to satisfy their thirst without toilsome effort, and are much more liable to accident when chained to an open board than when kept in a cage. It is also sad to know that dozens of birds are starved to death or die of thirst whilst being taught this trick–frequently but one out of many is found to have the aptitude to learn it.
It is a great help if some specially favourite food can be discovered by which the pet creature can be rewarded for good conduct. I never take away food or water to induce obedience by privation–a practice which I fear is often resorted to in training creatures for public exhibition–but an additional dainty I much enjoy to bestow, as a means of winning what is at first, it is true, merely cupboard love, but it soon grows into something far deeper, a lifelong friendship, quite apart from the food question.
Cleanliness is a very important item in a bird’s happiness. Whilst kept in a cage with but little sand and an outside water-glass which affords no means of washing its feathers, a bird is apt to become infested with insects; it is tormented by them day and night, and having no means of ridding itself of them, it grows thin and mopy, and at last dies a miserable death.
There should be a bath supplied daily, suited to the size of the bird, and so planned that the cage itself may not get wet, else it may give the bird cramp to have to sit on a damp perch or floor. When its feathers are dry, some insect powder may be carefully dusted under the bird’s wings, at the back of his head, where parasites are especially apt to congregate, and all over the body, only taking care that the powder may not get into the bird’s eyes. The cage itself should be well washed with carbolic soap and water, all the corners scrubbed with a small brush; and, when dry, it might be sponged with carbolic lotion over the wire-work to kill any insects which may yet remain.