By LJ Hodek-Creapeau, Circkles Editor.
I had a ferret rescue for a little over twelve years whereby I took in the ferrets that the other rescues felt could not be adopted out for either health or behavior reasons. In other words, they weren’t adoptable and so would be in a rescue for life. Most of the ferrets I acquired were just plain ssurrendered because they were no longer wanted. People often make the mistake of buying them for their kids and don’t realize how high maintenance ferrets are.
Scrappy was a female sable kit that came to live in my rescue from a pet store that was going out of business. She was one of the most intelligent ferrets I ever had, and was nominated by the other ferrets in my clan to be the matriarch (or she nominated herself.) I named her Scrappy because ever since she was a kit she was a little scrapper that wouldn’t take gaff from anybody. She was one of my favorites and was very attached to me and I her; always climbing up to my shoulder when I was around and sticking her tongue in my ear. I later learned this was some form of identification for ferrets or grooming practice. Or maybe, being the matriarch of the ferret clan, and thus the self-proclaimed caretaker of all, she thought my ears just weren’t clean enough to her standards.
Things with Scrappy were pretty par for the course for my rescue ferrets. She had her stash, like all the ferrets, of socks she stole out of the laundry, squeaky toys, and anything else she could drag away.
A couple years before I got Scrappy, I adopted a male Silver Mitt ferret I named Pretty Boy Floyd because he was such a bully with the other ferrets: a real gangster type. Pretty Boy developed the typical Ferret Tumor Syndrome by the time he was 3 years old. I was extremely distraught over the whole thing as this was the first experience I had with ferret tumor syndrome and at the time, nothing was known about the cause of the condition. I was told by my vet that the local university, Colorado State University, was doing a study on ferret tumor syndrome and that maybe I should talk to them. I did, and when they found out I owned and operated a ferret rescue, they asked me to participate in their study. Since Pretty Boy had developed tumors, I gave CSU permission to use him in their study. He went through 7 different surgeries to remove the tumors. In hindsight, knowing what I know now about the whole ferret tumor condition, I would never subject an animal to that again. But at the time, I really thought I was doing the study a favor and ferrets everywhere. In essence, he turned out to be a guinea pig for their experiments. I know studies need subjects to participate, and without them, medical progress cannot be made, but it was heartbreaking to have him go through all that pain and suffering so they could learn more about his condition and in the end it didn’t help him at all.
After all the surgeries, CSU told me I could bring Pretty Boy home. He had been living in a double decker cage with Scrappy and Elvira – a cinnamon female ferret that was the oldest of the clan after her buddy Rikki died. Their sleeping quarters were on the top level of the cage and their litter box and food was on the floor or bottom level of the cage. This helped a great deal to keep their blankets and sleeping area clean.
Scrappy had never liked Pretty Boy much, and would hiss at him every time he came near her. She would not play with him or have anything to do with him. It was obvious she didn’t like him and didn’t want him around. The only time she didn’t seem to be downright rude to him is when they were sleeping together in the cage.
After his ordeal at CSU, Pretty Boy was very weak and tired when I brought him home, and he had a big 3 inch incision on his stomach from all the surgeries. I was hopeful that once he rested however, he would eventually heal and be fine. I put him in the top of their double decker cage on top of his blankets. He just laid there and didn’t move but tried to sleep, the poor guy had been through hell. I sat on the floor and just watched him for a while to make sure he was comfortable and settling in, and that’s when I witnessed the most incredible animal act I have ever seen.
Scrappy had been outside their cage, I usually left the cage door open when I was home so they could come and go as they pleased. The only time they were ever confined to their cage is if I wasn’t home; for their own safety and so nobody would enter the house and accidentally let them outside.
Scrappy had been hanging around me for about 5 minutes while I was sitting on the floor watching Pretty Boy to make sure he was comfortable, then I saw her go into the cage and up to where Pretty Boy was trying to sleep. I thought the fact that she even went near him a bit remarkable itself since she never liked having him near her. She kind of sniffed him a little, then came downstairs to the bottom level of the cage, scooped up some ferret food in her mouth, took it up to Pretty Boy and laid it on the blanket next to his nose. I was astounded. She had always hated him, hissed at him, didn’t want him around her, and now was taking food to him? I was so incredibly touched that I actually cried at witnessing this endearing act of kindness from one animal to another.
The rest of the ferrets couldn’t have cared less about Pretty Boy after he came home. They just went about their business as usual. Scrappy, being the matriarch, seemed to take it upon herself to be the caretaker of all the members of ferret clan, but I had never witnessed her take such a direct caring role before. It still, to this day, touches me when I think about what I saw her do that day, and I have never seen such an act of caring from one animal to another again with any of my animals -dogs, horses etc.
About a week later, Pretty Boy developed lesions all over his body. I rushed him to a ferret specialist 50 miles away who said there was nothing he could do and Pretty Boy was put to sleep that afternoon. I was crushed and determined that I was going to learn everything I could about ferret tumor syndrome for the rest of my ferrets.
Scrappy developed tumors herself about 3 years later when she was about 5 1/2 years old. I didn’t have the heart to make her go through everything Pretty Boy went through when I now knew it would be a great deal of pain and torture to no avail. So I had her peacefully put to sleep when the time seemed right rather than have her suffer.
There is no cure or surgery for the 90% risk of tumors that ferrets experience. We have just recently finally learned through new studies that the extremely high incidence of tumors in ferrets is because they should never have been domesticated. See an article we did a couple years ago on this new discovery if you are interested.
My heart had been broken too many times by watching my ferrets develop tumors when they were only middle-aged and dying from complications due to them. I eventually quit my ferret rescue and got into rescuing other animals, but ferrets will always hold a special place in my heart. They say everybody has a “spirit animal” that they feel most attracted or connected to. I believe mine is and always will be ferrets. Now days, I use my experiences and knowledge I gained from my rescue ferrets to educate others, and I went on to learn and participate in a great deal of research regarding ferret tumor syndrome which I educate the public with whenever possible.
I later immortalized my dear Scrappy by using her in several designs I created as a graphic designer for greeting cards and posters that I sell to raise funds for ferret rescues. The image at the top of this article of her after she had climbed into a Christmas stocking is one of them. I will never forget, and it often brings a tear to my eye, to think of this generous, caring little scrapper who cared for everyone she knew; whether she liked them or not.
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