Bolton Ferret Welfare

Ferdinand, My First Ferret

I went to a pet shop looking for a tasty treat for Joshua, my black gerbil, 20 years ago and saw someone doing Ferret PR. Something drew me to them and I looked at the ferrets in wonder and held a few. What fantastic little animals! I went inside and saw a little book called 'My First Ferret' which had beautifully posed ferret pictures and straight away bought it. A week later I went to Cambridge with book in hand to visit my parents. I proudly announced to them holding the said book 'look! this is my next pet'. Well, the response I got was very different from what I thought. "Don't be so ridiculous, so stupid. No you can't have a ferret - put that book away" was the response from my dad. I was 31 at the time lived in my own house and worked as a police officer! Parents out there be very careful how you tell your children 'No' whatever their age!

Well you guessed it, a week later I went to a pet shop and looked at a pen of kits. At that stage I didn't know anyone else who had a pet ferret and did not realise the rescue problem. I looked at them and they looked at me, the shop assistant was not very flattering about ferrets and made the comment that they were like tigers in a cage. Despite this, I eventually asked if I could hold one and I pointed at a silver mitt hob kit. He was not the flashiest of the bunch but I was drawn to him. After 30 minutes of holding him, we had both made our choice. I couldn't take him straight home as I had no hutch so I had the shop make me a hutch and one week later Ferdinand and I went home. I was absolutely thrilled and Ferdinand and I bonded quickly. When I was at home he was allowed to run around my whole house. I'm surprised I didn't get any visits from a man with a white coat as we would regularly play chase in the lounge in full view of neighbours and people passing by. He was the most fantastic sweet gentle hob and I loved him.

What about my parents I hear you say!! My mum liked the look of him but alas my dad was not at all keen. After a couple years of happy bliss I had to go abroad for 2 weeks so what to do with Ferdinand? None of my family or friends were keen to look after him especially as most had dogs and were very nervous of ferrets. I contacted the National Ferret Welfare Society and asked if there was anyone near me who boarded ferrets and that was how I first met June McNicholas.

Ferdinand and I went to visit June, and was greeted by Dobermans at the door and a conservatory of what seemed like hundreds of ferrets running around like hooligans and the place looked like a bomb had hit it. (Sorry June). I suddenly realised how much they loved the company of other ferrets and decided to try Ferdinand with one of June's ferrets to see how he got on and to find him a friend. June got out Robin the tiniest albino jill who loved everyone and just wanted to groom anything she could get her paws on. Ferdinand was very spooked by this and buried his head in June's lap crying. This was not a good start. I had got the ferret bug and was determined that Ferdinand would have a friend or two so I got a polecat jill called Chutney. Ferdinand seemed to like her.

June also had a few male rescue hobs who needed a home and as I had the space and after a lot of thought as Ferdinand was quite nervous with other ferrets we decided to try a mild-mannered sandy hob called Henry, who had been found nearly dead in a wheelie bin. This did not go well, Ferdinand just walked up to him and leant on him repeatedly, no biting or fighting but a mean leaner and poor Henry bottle brushed skunked and shit himself. Puzzled by this response we tried 'Beech' a very big laidback sandy hob but the same response happened. Eventually June and I decided Ferdinand was obviously a ladies hob and tried the sharpest minxy coloured jill called Porsha, who was a right handful but very beautiful and she was instantly accepted. Poor June didn't want her to go but we all left her house together.

You can imagine my poor dad's thoughts as the family grew. I was so desperate to get dad to like the ferrets that they came visiting for an hour. Dad was sitting on the couch reading his newspaper when Porsha jumped on the couch, onto his lap, under the newspaper and... attached herself to his chin. I nearly dropped the cups of coffee I was carrying. Oh my god!!!!!! Disaster! Porsha was prised off him, told off and put back in the hutch. The visit only lasted 5 minutes and poor dad was equally unimpressed when I told him he would look really youthful with spots for a few days. Dad never did like the ferrets.

Because of Ferdinand, I went on to having numerous more ferrets, meeting my best friend June, helping her with ferret rescue, doing Ferrety PR, being the Secretary of the National Ferret Welfare for 4 years and judging ferret shows in this country and abroad. I have so much to thank Ferdinand for and I still miss him dearly.

20 years on.....My Last Ferret

My last group consisted of two albino hobs brothers Bartholomew and Benjamin; two brothers sandy hob Lawrence, and polecat hob Zackary, and a silver hob, Hamilton. These were much pampered ferrets and lived in the study, they seemed much happier there and it meant I could have an extra hour in bed in the mornings before work! They were all big characters, some were gentle, others nervous and Hamilton was just a class on his own.

Unfortunately Bartholomew died at five years which was very sad, but the four others all seemed to get on well and grew older together. They had their preferred sleeping partners and sometimes I would have to look in several places to find them.

As with any group of ferrets who are roughly the same age the sad times come together. Hamilton died at the age of seven, followed in quick succession by Zackary and a month later Lawrence. This left Benjamin alone at the age of eight. I had decided not to get any other ferrets as my parents were in need of more support and help from me.

Benjamin was a lovely gentle ferret who just wanted to lick and groom you. I didn't want him to be on his own so I got his bed and put it next to mine so he would have company and the run of the whole house. The first night I picked him up and put him on my bed to have a cuddle but he had other ideas. He went under the quilt and curled up with his head on my pillow!!! I was not convinced of this new sleeping arrangements so once it was time for bed he was duly placed in his bed. Oh NO! This was not on his mind - he had de-cided my bed was now his. He was not tall enough to climb onto to bed so for 30 minutes he jumped up and down desperately trying to claim his rightful place. Like all mad ferret owners I relented and reached my hand down and he clung on and I lifted him onto the bed. Within seconds in was under the quilt and curled up touching my leg. What harm could it do, I thought to myself. It was the worse night sleep I have ever had! Usually my ferrets were in the cage or in the study so what I didn't realise was that they get up about eight or nine times in the night to eat a biscuit or go to the loo. Well, this is what happened - he would jump off the bed run to the study and then about 10 minutes later he would be back jumping up and down trying to get back on my bed so my arm would go down and he would again cling on and I lifted him onto the bed and under the quilt and sleeping by my leg.

The next morning up I got for work and I was so tired and left him sleeping soundly on his bed on the floor. During work I thought long and hard about how I was going to resolve this problem. The answer came in a flash a hot water bottle in his bed. Ferdinand I had a nice cream fluffy hot water bottle which I filled for him and put in his bed and when he was in the study I crept into my bed and pretended I wasn't there. Unfortunately this was not a suitable option for him and he then spent about an hour jumping up and down trying to get onto my bed. I felt awful but refrained and eventually he went to sleep in his bed. The next morning after a good night sleep I looked at him and he looked like death, I was so concerned that I was late for work.

I explained this situation to one of my big burly police colleagues and was not prepared for the response I got. 'How could you be so selfish, you are his only family, if he was a cat or a dog you wouldn't think twice about him sleeping in your bed'? This made me think he was right, if it had been Hamilton I'm not sure it would be an option but Benjamin was the sweetest ferret out. I went home with a new plan. I found a couple of boxes which were perfect for stairs, I put fleecy material so it was not slippery and put them by the end of my bed. It only took him seconds to figure them out and we had a new arrangement that we would both be happy with. He slept at the bottom of my bed day and night with a constantly warm hot water bottle. Ferdinand The cleaners were a bit bemused at this arrangement but they were also mad animal lovers and would give him a bit of a pat when passing. Towards the end he had a breathing problem and would have coughing fits usually in the middle of the night and I would put him on my shoulder and rub his back which usually did the trick but he would then sleep there and do his heavy breathing in my ear which at 2am sounds very LOUD. He lasted about a month then the sad day came I hope I made his last month a happy one. It's one of the worse decisions, I know it is your last act of kindness but it never comes easy. I was heart-broken this was my last ferret after 18 years of always having these fun naughty mischievous animals I was ferretless. That was two and a half years ago and I still miss not having them around, I will never say never to having more but, for now, I have to put my parents first.

by Fran George

(First published 2014)

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