The McNicholas, Ferrets - how it began
by Dr June McNicholas
'NO, you are NOT having a ferret!' My teenage daughter looked defiant but I was adamant. Despite growing up myself in a rural setting and having had very pleasurable experiences with ferrets during my younger years, I simply could not see our family as ferret owners. My two children had already populated the house with fancy rats, praying mantis, African land snails and a huge Giant Millipede called Cedric (usually worn as a macabre bracelet by my then ten-year-old son), plus my own two Doberman dogs. I considered myself justified in declaring our particular Ark closed, so I repeated 'You are definitely not, certainly not; you are so, so NOT getting a ferret'.
So we built a ferret court.
The first occupant was 'Ming', a delightful 10 week-old silver mitt kit, well handled and totally socialised. He was a joy. He endeared himself to the family and never even contemplated eating the pet rats or any of the other livestock, none of whom seemed to object to his presence - with the exception of Cedric, the giant millipede, who emitted a powerfully unpleasant odour much like that of rotting onions. This was much to the delight of my son who, at that rather horrible ten year-old yob stage, found great pleasure in anything that disgusted unsuspecting visitors to the house.
Of course, a ferret court is too big for one ferret so Ming was followed by 'Wombat', another silver-mitt but totally devoid of any operational brain cells. Loveable but completely thick. But when a sister has ferrets it is a law of nature that the son wants in on the game. So enter 'Saffron', a sandy jill, passed on from a former working ferreter. By this time I think I had got to the stage of 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' so I acquired poley hob, Harry. Harry was my choice as a working ferret - he came from good working stock - but his idea of working was to dance and chuckle around a bury, presumably with the idea that the rabbits would die laughing. However, he redeemed himself as an excellent PR ferret.
Sadly, once anyone knows that you like ferrets, the rescues and rejects arrive. And they did in droves! We turned none away, asked as few questions as possible simply because we knew we would probably not get an honest answer, and because the most important thing was to take in the ferret and make him/her fit, healthy and happy.
Over the last twenty years I have dealt with hundreds of rescues. Some are genuine cases where people can no longer keep them. Others are more horrific cases of being dumped in wheelie bins, thrown on bonfires, chucked into the river. I have even had some that were intended as 'bait' for training illegal fighting dogs. Throughout my time in Warwickshire and on my remote Scottish croft ferrets have been a prominent feature. Those that were suitable for going to loving homes were adopted. Those that needed a bit of extra security, peace, quiet, or health care always stayed - plus some of the special favourites, of course! At all times the NFWS members were on hand to help, as I was later (as I became more experienced) happy to help other people and their enquiries.
Amongst the arrivals were some very special ferrets indeed. I could tell of 'Teasel' who won BIS in my very first ferret show in 1995; or 'Ivy', a tiny blind ferret who became a much acclaimed columnist for the magazine 'Ferrets First' (see her articles 'Diary of a Highland Lady' on this website for her critique on my eccentric life with a variety of animals on a remote Highland croft, and how she up-staged me when I was invited to give a lecture at the Royal Institution!); or a host of other dear departed ferrets. However, one ferret truly stands out. This was 'Stonebridge', simply because of the effect he had on so many lives. His story is on this website but I make no apology for requesting it in this newsletter to celebrate both his life and the 100th newsletter of the NFWS. Without the NFWS I would never have met this incredible animal and nor would the people whose lives he enhanced.