Bolton Ferret Welfare

The Tale of the Wild Weasel and the Not-so-Magnificent Seven

by Norma Williams

Long before my ferrets became involved with me I had, like most of us, a great longing to observe animals in the wild. I didn't have much luck. I had never (and still haven't) seen a badger; and hares vanished from our fields about 5 years ago. Sightings of foxes are common, but result in raised blood pressure rather than joy, due to the casual, not to say, kamikaze, attitude of our chucks and ducks towards their personal safety. Trips further afield didn't yield much success either. I tried for bears in the Pyrenees (no luck, wonky ankles and ageing lungs gave out long before we attained any real altitude) and for wild boar in the forests of the Lot and Dordogne. All I got for that effort were massive nettle stings, bramble cuts and gyppy tummy from a dodgy motel in Cahors. I did see plenty of sanglier however, - neatly displayed in the town's butchers at 15 francs a kilo, not to mention the roaring trade carried on in piggy dangly bits which hang from driving mirrors like smelly furry dice. (South Western France is wild and very un-pc, the favourite car sticker being "La Chasse - c'est naturelle". The local attitude being, if it tastes good, then kill it, soak it in booze, eat it, and wash it down with the local red).

I could have saved my money and stayed at home because my one and only sighting of a real wild animal came not so much in my own back yard as in the house itself...

One autumn afternoon about 10 years ago, I saw one of our cats coming towards the house with a catch. He didn't have the usual swagger of a triumphant cat, he was coming in fits and starts and looked terrified. His victim was still very much alive and non too chuffed. It was wriggling wildly and was screaming its head off. Poor Ginger shot into the laundry, victim still in chops, where he stood rigid with his eyes like saucers. He really did have a tiger by the tail, poor puss. Our other four cats promptly leapt skywards and landed, claws out, on my saddles. The two dogs, an ageing lab and a Jack Russell, shuffed into a corner amd began to shake like jellies.

Ginger finally ejected his catch with a mighty spit, and leapt onto the washing machine with every hair at attention. The 'victim' was thus left in the middle of the room, screaming and bawling with rage. I have never seen such fury in an animal, and when you consider that it was only about 4 inches long, and was keeping two humans, two dogs and five cats at bay, you will have some idea of what I mean. If any of us moved it screeched again and leapt at us. When it wasn't screaming it kept up a low, menacing chittering sound. Up until that moment I had had no idea of what the word 'wild' meant - not really. If I had met this creature before my travels I would have had second thoughts about wandering around the Pyrenees in my shorts looking for bears. In my time I have met some stroppy cats, some nasty dogs and some really evil horses, but this creature was in a difficult league altogether. None of us dared move a muscle.
"What is it?" I muttered trying not to draw attention to myself. I didn't really want it at my throat, (and I am not joking here, it seemed a real possibility.)
"It's a weasel." Said my husband grimly
What to next was quite a problem. How long could we stand to attention in the laundry without fainting from hunger? Who would find our remains? (Nine skeletons and one huge weasel.) and when?

Then our visitor made a mistake. It began to investigate one of my Wellingtons which was lying on its side on the floor. It sniffed at the inviting dark tunnel, found it attractive (weasels are obviously a depraved species) went inside and vanished. My husband shot forward and grabbed the boot and closed the top. The screaming began again, the boot heaved and started making spitting sounds. My husband held it at arm's length, with a very strange look on his face. I grabbed Ginger and reached for the door. Ginger obviously misunderstood my motives, he must have thought I was going to make him do his duty, he yowled with terror and launched himself into space, leaving me with three deep, dirty cuts on my arm. (I still have the scars - why do T.V. presenters, etc, all make so much fuss about a ferret having a little nibble? A cat can do much, much worse.)

We marched down the lane to the Woods with the boot, still cussing, held at arm's length. We went alone - seven dogs and cats watched from the back door in a shamed faced group. In the middle of the woods we lay the boot on the moss and stepped smartly backwards. I had to resist a real impulse to shin up a tree. Weasel appeared. A sojourn in my wellie had done nothing for its disposition. It did not run away, as you would expect a wild animal to do, it gave us a look, leapt at us again, swore horribly, then slunk into the bracken and vanished.

And that was that. I never saw Weasel close up again, although I have seen him flying across the path occasionally. So, treat your ferrets with respect. We all have some weird relatives, but believes, but believe me your ferret could tell you tales that would make your blood run cold.

Next time your cousin Nigel comes for Christmas, make the best of it - it could be a lot worse. Think of your ferrets. They're probably having tea with Weasel.

First Published in July 2005

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