Nicholas Everitt.

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ill-uses or tortures any domestic animal
renders himself liable to a penalty of £5
or imprisonment. Whether a ferret is


within its provisions may be somewhat
doubtful On the one hand the cases
have gone so far as to bring a decoy
linnet within the purview of the Act
(Colam V. Pagett, 1884, 53 L.J.M.C.
64), whilst it has been, and undoubtedly
rightly, held that an ordinary caged wild
animal, such as a lion or bear, is not
within the term " domestic animal," and
so outside the scope of the Act (Harper
V, Marcks, 1894, 63 L.J.M.C. 167); and
more recently it has been held that a
tame sea-gull, kept by a photographer
for the purpose of introducing into his
pictures, was not within the Act.
The mere confinement of wild animals
does not make them domestic, but there
seems a tendency on the part of the
judges that, if so far tamed as to be sub-
servient to the use of man, animals wild
by nature would come within the term
"domestic animals." Apart from the
natural readiness of the judges to extend


the scope of so beneficent an Act as far as
possible, we would hazard the opinion
that ferrets are not domestic animals ;
but bearing in mind the tendency hinted
at, we should rather expect, if ever the
question arise, that some at least of our
High Court judges would be prepared to
hold them to be within the Act.

Leaving an animal without food for a
long time is within the Act, but mere
passing cruelty, such as not promptly
putting to death an injured animal, has
been held not to be. Each case must,
however, depend on all the special cir-
cumstances, and there is no doubt that
what was in the first instance passive
cruelty may, after lapse of time, be held
to have developed into active cruelty.

Kegarding the baiting of animals, in-
cluding ferrets, such conduct is very
properly punishable with fine or imprison-
ment, under sec. 3 of the last-mentioned
Act, which expressly extends to any


animal. Even if the fight is not arranged,
but has arisen accidentally, the same
penalty is incurred by any one who en-
courages or assists in it.

Liabilities under the Civil Law

For the purpose of classifying the
liabilities of owners for injuries committed
by animals belonging to them, the animal
world as a whole is divided into two
classes, viz. domestic animals, in the
sense of animals not usually accustomed
to do injury, as cattle, dogs, cats, etc.,
and animals which are or may be injurious,
as bears, monkeys, etc.

The distinction is most important, for,
with regard to the first class, the owner
is not liable for injuries committed to the
person or property of another (except in
the case of trespass of cattle and the like),
unless he had a knowledge — a scienter,
as it is called — of the propensities of the


animal; hence the old maxim, "Every
dog may have his one bite free" — a
maxim by no means correct, as scienter
may be proved otherwise than by show-
ing that the animal had actually com-
mitted similar damage before. With
regard, however, to the second class of
animals, the owner keeps them at his peril,
and is liable for injuries committed by
them should they escape. Thus the
organ grinder, whose monkey bites any
one, — the menagerie keeper, whose tigers,
bears, or elephants escape and commit in-
jury, — is liable to be mulcted in damages.
In the second of these two classes may
be put ferrets. The readiness with which
one at large will attack the chickens in a
neighbour's hen-roost or coop and suck
eggs in a nest, makes it incumbent on
an owner to see that his hutches are care-
fully barred and free from holes through
which there is a possibility of one of his
ferrets escaping, and also to take care


when rabbiting or ratting not to leave a
ferret lying up in an eartli or rat -hole
without some one being left or some means
taken to secure it when, it comes out,
especially if the spot where it lies is near
a neighbour's land, for the law is that the
owner is responsible for any and every
damage committed by any one of these
animals that is at large, and it is not
necessary to prove scienter or that the
owner knew it was likely to do damage.
It is of no use for the owner to say that
it escaped without his negligence, or even
that he left the hutch securely fastened,
and some evil -disposed person came in
the night and opened the door. He must
pay and look pleasant (if he can), and he
may feel happy if he gets his ferret back
again, for, as mentioned above, his neigh-
bour has a perfect right to shoot or kill the
ferret if he cannot otherwise protect his
own property. So whether it be chickens
or eggs, or tame rabbits that the ferret


has left his marks 011, it will be well for
the owner to "square the case" if the
claim is hona-Jide, and save the expense
of going into court.

There is but little danger, owing to
the natural timidity of the ferret, of a
claim being made for personal injuries
sustained, but an instance has been
mentioned in the earlier pages of this
book of one attacking a baby. For
such an injury the owner would also be
liable, as he might too if a neighbour,
finding one in or near his hen-roost, and
having no other method of securing it,
tried to seize it with his hand in the
ordinary way, and without negligence on
his part was bitten in the attempt.

What is law for the tame rabbit,
however, is not law for the wild one, and
though the person owning the land, or
the sporting rights over the land, on
w^hich an escaped ferret is at large may
shoot the ferret if such a course be neces-


sary to protect the rabbits, he has no
right to redress for any rabbits that may
have been killed, though, of course, if a
man go ferreting rabbits on another's
land, he is committing a trespass in search
of game, and liable accordingly.

It might be mentioned that pheasants
under a hen or in a mew, or partridges in
a coop, would fall under the same rule as
tame rabbits, as would also game eggs,
though laid by wild birds.

In this connection it may be well to
notice the liabilities of the person who
hires or borrows ferrets. It is, of course,
a very common practice to borrow ferrets,
as well as to hire a man to bring and
work his own ferrets. Both the hirer
and the borrower of a ferret are liable
for loss of it or injury to it owing to
their negligence, though the amount of
care required to be taken of a borrowed
article or animal is said to be greater than
that required from one who pays for its


hire ; in other words, a greater degree of
negligence is necessary to render the hirer
liable than is required to charge the
borrower. It is difficult to give defini-
tions of the degree of care required. It
is common practice to take more care
of a borrowed thing than of one's own,
and it is this extra care that is usually
bestowed on borrowed articles, whatever
they may be, that is demanded by the
law of a borrower ; whilst it may be laid
down as a general rule that a hirer is
only responsible if he uses less care than
an ordinary man uses about his own

Either a borrower or a hirer would be
liable if the ferret was shot whilst being
worked, or if it was lost owing to the lid
of the ferret box being carelessly left un-
fastened ; but, on the other hand, neither
would be under liability for its loss if the
ferret was stolen from the hutch in which
it was temporarily kept, supposing the


liutcli was placed in a reasonably secure

If a borrowed or hired ferret lays up
in a burrow or hole, the borrower or hirer
must use all reasonable means to recap-
ture it, and he may be liable for its loss
if he fails to do so.

It might be added as a word of warn-
ing that if a ferret is borrowed expressly
for rabbiting, and is used for ratting and
gets killed or injured, the borrower will
be liable for the loss or injury, however
caused ; so, if a man borrows for his own
use, and then lends to another without
the ow^ner's knowledge and consent, he
will be liable for loss or injury happening,
from whatever cause arising ; and the
law seems to be the same if a man ex-
pressly borrow a ferret for one day only,
or to work one warren or one stack, and
keeps it beyond the day, or uses it for
another warreu or stack. He becomes in
such cases an insurer.


The hirer or borrower will incur the
same liability for damage done by an
escaped ferret he has hired or borrowed
that (as has been seen above) the owner
would do if it escaped from his custody,
each being considered for this purpose
the owner jpro tern.

For the above reasons it is always
more advisable to have the owner or
some one actino; for him come with ferrets
that are hired or borrowed. In such
case the hirer or borrower gets rid of all
liability, as the ferrets are always in
charge of the owner or his agent.

It is a curious and somewhat difficult
question to say whether ferrets can be
lawfully distrained for rent. It is laid
down by Lord Coke that distress ''must
be of a thing whereof a valuable property
is in somebody, and therefore dogs, bucks,
does, conies, and the like, that are fercB
naturw, cannot be distrained " {Coke
upon Littleton, 2nd ed., p. 47) ; and upon


his authority apparently all subsequent
writers, down to and including Black-
stone, have stated that dogs are not dis-
train able, as not being the subject of
valuable property ; and yet these same
writers {e.g. Yiner's Abridgment, pre-
viously quoted) have expressly laid it
down that a man can have a property
in hounds.

The law that these old writers applied
to dogs they would undoubtedly have
also applied to ferrets, for it seems to
have been held that no animal that could
not be the subject of larceny — a question
which is referred to above — was capable
of being distrained for rent. The better
opinion seems to be that at the present
time dogs are distrainable for rent, but
that such animals as ferrets are still

In addition to distress for rent, there is
another class of distress, viz. of animals
taken whilst doing damage — damage-


feasant, as the law has it. No class of
animals is exempt from this kind of dis-
tress, so that a man finding a neighbour's
ferret in the act of sucking his hen eggs,
or attacking his chickens, is justified in
keeping it (if he can catch it) until the
damage is paid for. As, however, this
kind of distress confers no power of sale,
but merely a right to keep the thing dis-
trained until the damage is made good
by its owner, the right may not be a
very valuable one.




Vermin Traps

Traps which are used for catchmg and killing
vermin may be objected to by the reviewer as
irrelevant to the present work, but it must be
remembered that when a ferret is lost on a
rabbit w^arren it must be retaken by fair
means or foul, otherwise it will cause great
havock and destruction on the warren.

The traps now placed before the reader are
the best for the purpose of catching polecats,
ferrets, stoats, weasels, or rats, that have come
under the author's notice during a number of
years' practical experience.

Fig. 37 is perhaps better known under
the name of " The Dorset Trap." It is a very
strong and well made spring-fall, capable of
being used for almost anything.

Fig. 38 shows a simple cage trap, made



of wire netting, for taking vermin alive. It is
baited inside, and, as a rule, when one has been

Fig. 37.

caught, others are sure to follow
light and effective.

Figs. 39 and 40 illustrate another

It is very-



which has been used with considerable success.
It is " Everitt's Patent Safety Humane Vermin
Trap." It should be set in the middle of


bridges connecting two coverts, or the covert
to the pasture or arable land, at the mouth of

Fig. 39.

drain pipes, channels, or small tunnels, where
stoats are in the habit of frequenting, and, as
it is well known they prefer to go through an

Fig. 40.

opening in preference to climbing over any
obstacle or making a detour, they fall ready
victims. The great advantage of this trap
over others lies in the fact that it will only


catch vermin, and it can be set on feeding
grounds or anywhere in the open poultry-yard
with impunity.

The trap is shown both set and sprung.
It was invented by the author's brother, and
the idea was suggested to him by the short
tunnels made by rats in the corn straw, on
the pheasants' feeding grounds in the coverts.
He thought that if something could be in-
vented which could be placed in these short
runs, which would catch or kill the vermin,
but would not catch young pheasants nor full-
grown ones, it would prove not only successful,
but would be a boon and a blessing to all
game preservers. This trap was the outcome
of his experiments.

That it has been as successful as was
anticipated by its inventor is best answered
by the very large sale it has had and is still
having ; but to all inventions there are small
drawbacks, and in this (if it can be called a
drawback) there is a little difficulty which
one unskilled in the art of trapping will meet
with ; it is in the setting, though this remark
applies equally to all traps.

For stoats and weasels it is unrivalled.


Rats and ratting— The black rat, the brown rat,
and their origin— Rats addicted to cannibalism —
Rats in France — Tame Japanese rats — Ratting
from stacks— Habits of rats in September,
October, November, and December— Their tunnel-
lings in stacks— Ratting from hedgerows and
fences— Shooting rats in and under water—
Ricochetting shots — Ferreting rats from old
rabbit burrows— Rats standing at bay— The
danger of drains and under-drains — Ratting from
barns and buildings— Fate of lost ferrets in
buildings — Ratting with poison — Different
poisons and how to use them— Capitation grant
for killing rats.

Eats and Ratting
Eats are so common with us that a description
of their appearance is not required, but a few
general remarks by way of preliminary may
not be thought out of place.

This f^enus of rodent mammalia is amongst

1 68 FERRETS $

the greatest of animal pests in dwelling-houses,
ships, storehouses, magazines of provisions,
granaries, farm buildings, game preserves,
agricultural districts — in fact, in almost any
part of the habitable globe. It is fortunate,
indeed, for us that we acclimatised ferrets, so
that we can in a measure combat with rats
and drive them from places which might
otherwise be inaccessible.

Two species of rats are found in Britain
and in most temperate countries, the black
rat {Mus rathis), and the brown rat (Mus
deumanus). The first is the oldest inhabitant
of this country ; the other, which was intro-
duced from Asia (and not, as is commonly
supposed, from Norway), is amazingly prolific,
and has multiplied at the expense of the black
rat. M. de Buffon, writing at the commence-
ment of the present century, entered into much
visionary theory and fruitless speculation re-
garding this animal (with others), which the
Rev. W. Hutton is supposed to have abridged
in his 1821 edition, from which latter work is
appended a short extract ; it will in a measure
interest, if not amuse, the reader : — " In old
houses, in the country especially, where great


quantities of corn are kept, and where tlie
neighbouring barns and haystacks favour their
retreat, as well as their multiplication, they
are often so numerous that the inhabitants
^YOuld be obliged to remove with their
furniture, were they not to devour each other.
This we have often, by experience, found to be
the case when they have been in any degree
straightened for provisions ; and the method
they take to lessen their numbers is for the
stronger to fall upon the weaker. This done,
they lay open their skulls, and first eat up the
brains; afterwards, the rest of their body.
The next day hostilities are renewed in the
same manner; nor do they suspend their
havock till the majority are destroyed. For
this reason it is that, after any place has for a
long while been infested with rats, they often
seem to disappear of a sudden, and sometimes
for a considerable time." It might be added
that it is a singular circumstance in the
history of these animals that the skins of such
as have been found, presumably devoured by
others of their tribe, have been curiously
turned inside out, every part, even to the ends
of the toes, being completely inverted.


Before the brown rat was imported, or,
rather, of its own accord visited our shores, as
we cannot believe that any one would introduce
such a nuisance, the black rat reigned supreme.
Now the black rat has become comparatively
rare. The last instance we heard of a specimen
being obtained was by an undergraduate at
Cambridge from a slaughter house about
November 1895. He was fortunate enough
to secure both a male and a female, but dur-
ing a temporary absence one of his terriers
obtained access to them and spoilt both the

The sagacity of rats in avoiding the traps
and snares laid for them is astonishing, and
the many means they employ to outwit their
enemies is only equalled by their amazing
fecundity. They often breed several times
during the course of a year, and bring forth as
many as from twelve to eighteen young ones
at a time. Hence the difficulties of effectually
exterminating them. M. St. Pierre informs
us (it is given for what it is worth) : " In the
Isle of France rats are so extremely numerous
that at sunset they may be seen running about
in all directions, and frequently destroy a


whole crop of corn in a single night. In some
of the houses they swarm so prodigiously that
thirty thousand have been killed in a year.
They have also subterraneous magazines of
corn and fruit, and even climb the trees to
devour the young birds." In a London
journal we recently read a most interesting
article on the cultivation of rats and rat-
farming in France, and now regret that we
neglected to keep a cutting. Kaempfer gives
a different experience of rats, for he says : '' The
Japanese have a method of taming rats, and of
teaching them a variety of entertaining tricks,
which are occasionally exhibited for the amuse-
ment of the populace." Similar exhibitions
have also been eiven in the streets of London.

Katting from Stacks

In the country we find the rats begin to
draw out from the winter haunts and to dis-
tribute themselves all over the fields as soon
as the corn and grass commence to grow up.
They make their burrows everywhere, and
nest and bring forth their young.


In September, when the corn and grass has
been cut, the rats get into the spinneys and
fences. They still find plenty of food from
the stack of the cornfields, and are partial to
turnips and swedes. Later on, as the food
supply grows scarcer, they draw nearer to the
stacks, farm buildings, and root hales. They
do not take up a permanent abode in these
places, but still prefer to have their lodgings
in banks and such-like places, taking nocturnal
ramblings in search of their food. It requires
no keen observer to locate the paths or runs
they make when travelling to and from the
places named. On first visiting the stacks
they climb to the roof and burrow under the
thatch, making a road or tunnel all round
under the eaves, with short runs under the
roof, gradually extending their ramifications
downwards towards the bottom of the stack,
where they intend to locate their abode during
the coming winter.

In October their stack workings are in full
swing, and then, as the old Suffolk poachers'
song (slightly revised) has it —

'Tis our delight, on a moonlight night,
With a terrier to be there.


Eatting — not iu the political sense intended to
be conveyed by Lord Campbell — on a bright
October night round the stacks, with sticks
and good dogs, is excellent and exciting sport.
Two can go in a party, but four or six is
the best number. Silently and cautiously an
approach is made to within a hundred yards,
when the quicker that last part of the journey
is negotiated the better. By ten or eleven
o'clock the rats have finished their evening
meal, and are busily engaged in tunnelling
operations. Most of them are high up in the
sides of the stack, or just under the roof. As
before said, they complete their roads to the
roof first, so that they can get easy access to
moisture in the evening, early morning, or at
other times when the elements give them
opportunity. Deprived of this, they would be
compelled to sally forth in search of drink,
which, their sagacity suggests to them, is not
altogether unattended with danger, and, like
Masterman Eeady's — a hero in the literature of
our youth — that journey may one day prove to
be the last. Barley stacks are the best for choice,
but at this time of the year a find is almost
certain in any corn stack. On hearing a noise


the rats will endeavour to make for the bottom
of the stack, where they know they are safe.
On arrival, the ratters take up their positions
at the corners of the stack visited. The dogs
require no guidance in sport of this kind, they
being, as a rule, keener than their masters.
More often than not, the dogs arrive first, and
a squeal and scuffle announce the first victim
before any one else is within twenty yards of
the stack.

Watching the dogs, one is often able to
locate a rat. The eager little canine shows
unmistakably the whereabouts of the quarry,
and open-mouthed waits his chance to get at
it. Listening intently, a slight rustle in the
straw is heard. Immediately the long sticks
are brought to bear on the place, and prodded
well into the stack. If the thrust is a good
one, and the stick goes anywhere near the rat,
it so frightens it that it springs out on to
the ground, where the dogs soon make short
work of it ; or it scrambles on to the roof,
whence it is dislodged by the sticks of the
party. A light, active little terrier is some-
times hoisted on to the roof, where he materi-
ally assists in adding to the number of the


slain, but in his excitement he cannot contain
himself, and rarely stops there long, which
necessitates extra attention on the part of
some one to constantly replace him. After a
rat has been located, prodded out, and killed,
the strictest silence is maintained, until an-
other is heard and similarly treated, and so
the game continues until it is thought advis-
able to move an adjournment. Fifty to a
hundred rats per night killed in this manner
is by no means an uncommon record in East
Anglia. The brighter the night the better,
although on dark evenings good bags have
been made with lanterns, working in a similar
manner to what we have described.

In November, especially after an early fall
of snow, which drives rats to the stacks
quicker than anything, this night ratting
perhaps surpasses that of October, but the
later it is the more the rats have extended
their tunnellings, and the more difficult they
are to secure.

Towards the middle of November they
will have tunnelled almost all over the stack,
and ferreting is had recourse to in order to
kill them. Sometimes ferrets are used at


night, but this is unsatisfactory, and not to be
advised or recommended.

When ferreting stacks, always use sticks
and dogs in preference to guns. The reason
should be obvious. In shooting a rat running
along the straw or roof of the stack, there is
nothing to stop the shot, which penetrates
far into the stack, and most probably kills or
wounds a ferret at the same time. It is
always advisable to start ratting early in the
season, as the later it is put off the more diffi-
cult it is to get at and to kill the rats.

In December rats are very partial to root
hales, from which they are at all times most
difficult to drive out, and in order to kill them
poison is generally used, concerning which a
few remarks will be made in another paragraph.

Eatting from Hedgerows and Fences

Having referred to ratting from stacks, we
will now turn our attention to the hedgerows
and fences. Dogs and sticks, or dogs and

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Online LibraryNicholas EverittFerrets : their management in health and disease with remarks on their legal status → online text (page 6 of 8)