Do You Remember?
Does anyone remember the good old days of attending events with ferrets before we had all the hassle of filling out Risk Assessment forms, having to have Public Liability Insurance cover to the tune of 5 million pounds, plus the 'Now wash your hands' notices?
I started attending events back in the mid '90s. My first event was at Arley Hall as a helper with Liverpool Ferret Welfare. In those days I had just one ferret, Fritz, a disabled sandy hob that Ron and a friend found wandering in the front street - we couldn't find anyone to take him off our hands so we kept him. He lived in a cat carrier for a few days until Ron and Ian built a cage for him. He was a really friendly little chap and an excellent PR ferret.
Left: Fritz with Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards at Arley Hall
We quickly ended up with two more ferrets, an albino jill, Inga, a polecat coloured hob, Kurt, both adopted from Liverpool Ferret Welfare. We later took in our 'second' rescue, an albino hob: he was another excellent PR ferret.
Our second event was at a Living Heritage Craft Fair at Wollaton Park once again with LFW. By the way the only warning signs were: "Please donâ€™t poke your fingers in the cages as the ferrets may mistake them for food". The other notice was "Stroke a Ferret 10p"... Children were invited to cuddle and stroke a ferret and were given a stick-on badge which proclaimed "I've Stroked A Ferret" - the kids loved it and wore their badges with pride!
There were no signs giving instructions "Now wash your hands" and we didn't have to supply hand cleansing facilites. Mind you, in those days kids had the chance to build up immunity - none of this anti-bacterial washing-up liquid, no working surfaces in the kitchen swabbed down with bleach and anti-bacterial cleaning agents every five minutes!
The ferret racing at the Living Heritage events took place in the arena. We dragged the pipes out into the centre and set them up whilst other helpers walked round selling tickets to spectators at 20p each which would get them a return of 40p if they won. There was a maximum bet of one pound on one ferret per punter to keep within the law. Once the pipes were set up children were invited into the arena to help with the racing. There weren't any starting traps so ferrets were just introduced straight into the pipe by a child handler: the other children gathered at the other end of the pipes to catch the ferrets as they emerged. Can you imagine such a scene occurring these days? The pipes weren't coloured; however, the ferrets wore coloured collars instead.
After doing a few events with LFW we branched out doing events on our own. Just a few local ones before eventually travelling all over the UK. Ah happy, blissful days before the spectre of PLI and some organisers asking to see PLI certificates, at one time they'd just ask if we had cover and didn't insist on seeing the cover note - plus in those days it was just for two million.
The PLI - the warning notices were changed to "Do Not Poke Fingers in the Cages". Nothing about fingers being mistaken for food! Then came the dreaded Risk Assessment... things were going from bad to worse. The PLI demand was upped to five million and now most organisers were insisting that proof of PLI and a Risk Assessment being filled in and sent in with every booking form.
Warning notices became a blunt "WARNING! These Animals May Bite". There's also the "No Smoking" sign and we mustn't forget the "Stroked a ferret? Now wash your hands before handling food." notices - the regulations say something about soap and warm running water... excuse me! We are in a marquee/tent in the middle of flipping field! The best I can do is provide a hand cleaning spray for the public to use, many of whom look at you in blank amazement when you draw their attention to hand cleaner. The majority of members of the public are of the opinion that things have really got out of hand. (It's amazing that we've managed to live for so long before 'elf 'n' safety came along to take such good care of us!)
Barriers erected between the public and the cages to prevent them from getting too close to the ferrets. However, it doesn't stop members of the public from leaning up against the barriers to get closer to the ferrets. It doesn't stop them from trying to touch ferrets when they are out in their playpen, even though there is a barrier to try to prevent them from doing so.
These days I won't let female wearing a suntop hold a ferret, too much of risk of them being scratched by sharp nails. You also have to be careful about anyone wearing a knitted top or a garment with loose weave where a ferret could get its nails caught.
Ferret walking is no longer covered by PLI. In my own opinion this is not a bad thing either as not only is the person walking the ferret at risk of being scratched or nipped but the ferret could be at an even greater risk of being trodden on, attacked by a dog (especially at a country fair where there are a lot of dogs) plus not many ferrets enjoy being dragged around on a harness and lead.
No matter how many notices you display and how far the distance is between the cages and playpen there is always someone who will try to pick up a ferret saying, "I've had ferrets all me life and I know how to handle them." CHOMP!!!. Ah well, they weren't his ferrets were they? He didn't have a clue about picking up a strange ferret, and the correct method of picking up a ferret where it's impossible for it to nip. Plus he could have been eating a burger and have the scent of that on his fingers: first thought in a ferret's little brain, "Wow, food, smells good, I'll have some of that!"
Now a days you have to have eyes in the back of your head to make sure that no member of the public is about to put one of your ferrets at risk.
Sheila Crompton, Bolton Ferret Welfare