When Europeans first began settling North America, they brought with them dogs, cats, and other standard domestic farm animals that were a necessary part of eking out an existence in this New World. Such animals typically served dual roles as both workers and pets—or “favorites,” which is what pets were called in the 18th century.
Yet by the early 1700s, colonists were not content with these traditional pets, and they began to develop a widespread fondness for adopting and taming wild animals. European visitors were stunned to observe deer, clad in gold collars and colored neck-kerchiefs, peacefully roaming village streets and wandering through houses.
But, by far the most popular pets were squirrels.
Squirrels were sold in markets and found in the homes of wealthy urban families, and portraits of well-to-do children holding a reserved, polite squirrel attached to a gold chain leash were proudly displayed in homes. Most pet squirrels were American Grey Squirrels, though Red Squirrels and Flying Squirrels also were around, enchanting the country with their devil-may-care attitudes and fluffy bodies.