A Tale of Two Ferrets
By L. Vanessa Gruden in Paw Printz, September – October, 2001
Little dark sable Tess was literally left on the doorstep of the Enfield Animal Control facility. You would have to have visited the facility yourself to realize how far someone went out of their way to bring her there. It is down a long and winding road, next to the old town dump, alongside the river. It doesn’t even have an address!
When the ACO (Animal Control Officer) called to ask if we could take in two ferrets, I said “of course.” He hesitated, then asked if we could quarantine them. One had bitten, and under state regulations had to be quarantined for rabies. I assured him it wasn’t a problem, got directions, and told him I’d be by late that evening. Since I was headed north for a rare trip to the big Eastern States agricultural fair, Enfield was on the way home. After connecting with the part-time, evening ACO, I was surprised to find only one ferret at the facility, housed in a small hamster cage. He explained that the other died that afternoon.
From the remaining ferret’s condition, it was clear that the two had not been well kept. The ACOs had cleaned the cage and given them food and water, but the little ferret was terribly small and thin. She was only about a year old, but her hair was thin, her whiskers short, and she was dehydrated. And she had fleas! Yes, she did nip me, but not badly. And she cuddled in the crook of my arm with a big sigh.
She was a lucky ferret – the evening officer explained that the daytime officer was usually not inclined to even bother to quarantine any animal that bit, and normally just had them euthanised. He didn’t even take in cats; it seems that this was an unusual enough case that he took the extra effort to find a place for the ferrets.
I christened her Tess – it rhymed too well with Terrorized Tess, which she became at the first sight of other ferrets, and Teeny Tiny Tess, which she certainly was. Just a little bit of a thing. She was immediately bathed on my return home and the fleas just raced to her face to try to escape the flea shampoo. Yuck!
It’s been two weeks and Tess is just beginning to play like a real ferret. I saw her hop for the first time last night, and she hasn’t learned how to play with others yet, though she will sleep near them. She mostly loves to sleep in people’s arms, on her back, with her front legs curled up in the most adorable way. She seems to feel safe on people.
The other thing she truly loves is the food bowls. Clearly, she is still nervous the food might be taken away, and eats a LOT. I have the feeling she won’t be Teeny Tess for much longer; though her bone structure won’t change, she is well on her way to becoming quite a pudgy little girl.
Gus was brought to the shelter by his owner. Previously, she had been sent information on how to go about seeking a new home for him and his friend, Pete. When she arrived, however, I could see why she had been unsuccessful. Both ferrets were elderly, between 4 and 5 years old. And Gus was almost totally naked. She was fully aware he needed adrenal surgery, but said she couldn’t afford it.
The absolute most she said that she could donate for his care was $100. This was, at least, more than most people who bring in their animals donate, but the reality is that Gus’s adrenal surgery alone will be close to $500. Pete could easily need medical care himself, and the fact that neither is adoptable means that FACT will be supporting them for the rest of their lives.
Neither animal has been mistreated in any way, though they were only let out of the cage for an hour a day. Annual shots had been obtained for them, and they lived in a large cage she had purchased within the last year or so, and must have cost close to $200. It was left along with them; with luck, FACT will be able to sell it for $75 and raise a little more to help with Gus’s bills.
Every give-up has some reason; this one told a common story. She was moving to an apartment that wouldn’t allow ferrets. It did allow pets – she could take her cat – but not the ferrets. If she had tried harder, could she have found a place that would take ferrets? If she had made the extra effort, could she have persuaded the landlord that ferrets were not going to damage the apartment? Maybe. We’ll never know. But her boyfriend didn’t look too unhappy to see the ferrets gone, so perhaps there was a little more to the story than I was told. There often is.
There wasn’t room in the “Oldie” area for the two little guys. They looked terrified, being put in with the youngsters, and didn’t seem to know what to do with all this space and freedom. Mostly they cuddled together or with another quiet ferret in one of the painted wooden cradles scattered around the room. Gus quickly developed a fondness for Riley, a little 2 year old chocolate girl with a bouncy, outgoing personality, and often slept with her and groomed her. He also deeply loves a very silly Santa Claus toy. It’s just a plastic shape covered in some cheap fabric, but inside it has lots of tiny beads and makes a noise like an Aztec rainstick. If you shake it he will pop right out to grab it away. He gives it the “death shake” and put it away under the cradle. Some evenings when I’m working late in the office, I can hear it rattling away and know that Gus is killing “his” toy again.
Both Gus and Pete have lost a fair amount of weight from the ECE virus, though they seem to be over the worst effects. Both are getting some gruel supplements, which they like. But what are the chances of finding them a Foster home together? Right now the best they can hope for is that Tess, who is upstairs with the oldies, finds a home and I can then squeeze them in. There they will get more attention and human interaction, but it’s still not like a real home. There are too many other oldies in residence needing care, and longing for a warm lap to sleep on. I only have one lap, and they need more than I can give.