On a cold, dismal January afternoon a large container lorry arrived at its destination in Bedford. It was inbound from France and trading standards officers were present to supervise its unloading.
Nothing untoward occurred until partway through unloading when a small, sleepy, dishevelled creature appeared, blinking in the half-light and wobbly on its four legs. Work halted while a brief discussion took place.
The small stowaway was classed as an illegal import, probably French in origin. A Ministry vet was called and this worthy deemed it to be "a polecat of French origin, definitely a rabies risk". Instant death or quarantine for six months the only options.
Fortunately the trading standards officers felt the former option to be unpalatable, therefore the latter was decided on. Arrangements had to be made for a space to be found in a quarantine kennels. Although there is apparently one quarantine establishment in each county, only a few are licensed to hold anything other than cats and dogs. Fortunately a space was found for our little French friend in Cambridgeshire. He - now christened "Eric" - settled in.
It was February before BFW became aware of this problem when the local press decided it would make a good story and a picture of "Eric" was published, together with the news that around £1,000 was needed to pay for his quarantine. Although, the paper did not actually say so, the inference was that unless this money was raised Eric would be no more!
How can you claim to be involved in ferret welfare and turn away?
Certainly the team felt we had to make an effort, although I must stress that £1,000 is a great deal of money to any of this team.
Local radio, Anglia and BBC Look East television took up the story and with a little help from the general public the cash began to come in. Our vets and their staff were among the first to contribute, other ferret welfares asked how they could help . Members of the N.F.W.S. committee gave help in cash or kind and because of the information published on the Internet, American owners offered help too.
Gradually we collected enough to pay for the quarantine and the day - July 22nd - arrived when Eric could be released into our care. Mike and I had been able to visit him in quarantine and found a small, coloured hob with one damaged eye, a large cyst on his left shoulder, in need of a good clean up. He was very relaxed and not bothered by television cameras and reporters. A radio was left playing in his quarantine quarters - sometimes tuned to a French station - and he was well cared for while there.
Our own vets, well used to dealing with all aspects of ferret care, were unable to see him. Only the Ministry vets can go in and out and, although his general health was checked, nothing was done about the cyst etc.
Eric came back to Bedford and was able to have his first mooch around on grass in the fresh air. Again he was followed by a T.V. crew, but seemed quite content and unfazed by all the equipment.
After a short while he sensed the presence of other ferrets and began to venture near the runs. Most of the **'Guard ferrets' were already out and watching and others began to appear - curious as usual when anyone or anything new or different arrives here. Once the media had left us Eric was settled down into a large cage with run and provided with some food. He had certainly not been starved while in kennels, having been fed on high protein dry cat-food with some dry ferret food. A large water bowl was investigated and after a check round his quarters, he decided a sleep was in order.
For the next few days we let him stay quietly in or close to his run. He showed great enthusiasm for his chicks or rabbit, but refused - and in fact has refused ever since - any form of dry food. He enjoyed being petted and played with and, when allowed out in the garden, he loved rolling on the grass.
An appointment was made for a vet check, but before that I decided he needed a good bath. This is not something we do often here as the ferrets are generally very clean and we change their bedding regularly. Occasionally we have given them baths when they have had a skin problem, but it is by no means a regular occurrence.
Eric enjoyed his contact with warm water and the remains of the dog's lanolin shampoo. Two good doses of shampoo followed by warm water rinses and a large rough towel produced a much different looking animal. His fur, which had been lank and greasy, now seemed fluffy and silky and he walked with a more confident air.
His visit and thorough examination at the vets provided no real surprises. He was booked in for castration, removal of the cyst, thorough dental overhaul etc. etc. Our vet felt Eric was probably between 3 and 4 years old and, although one of our vets is fluent in French, the other in German, neither - so far as I know - speak ferret.
Since his vet attention Eric has settled down happily as part of our ferret family. He now lives with Perrie, an albino jill brought to us in April of this year. Soon we hope they will be integrated into a slightly larger group but that is for the future. For the present Eric, who is probably as British as the rest of our gang, is settled. He seems happy to accept all the attention he gets and won his first ever ferret race, Mike once left a catch off the cage shared by Eric and Perrie and was only alerted to the fact that something was wrong when other ferrets started to stir. He found Eric frantically digging - he was digging to get into the inner compound, not out!
Let's hope he enjoys the remainder of his life with us. Perhaps, he did come over the channel or via the tunnel, more likely he was dumped by some caring owner here in Bedford, whatever happened he is now content.
** Guard ferrets: In case you haven't heard this expression it refers to one ferret in each of our groups. Every time something happens here i.e. visitors arrive, boarders come in, workmen descend on us, one ferret from each group makes a speedy appearance. Because this happens so regularly the team have christened them "Guard ferrets" which seems much more interesting than simply referring to them as "nosy".