Furry, frisky ferrets make frolicking friends
(Page 2 of 2)
''They're very different from any other domestic pets,'' Mrs. Hutchinson says. ''They're more intelligent than cats, and just as independent. They're affectionate and very funny; kind of clowns, they play like otters. . . . The verb 'to ferret out' has real meaning'' to anybody who owns one, she says, because the animals are relentlessly curious searchers. The dictionary definition of ''to ferret out'' is ''to find or uncover with keen, diligent, crafty, or shrewd search,'' and this points up the quality that's made these animals useful to man.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In England and Egypt, Mrs. Hutchinson says, ferrets have been used for rodent control; in the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has used them to thread wire through difficult spaces, and during World War II the military used them to run communications lines through pipe. In Great Britain, she says, poachers put them into their hunting-jacket pockets to flush out rabbits.
Everything you've ever wanted to know about ferrets is included in Wendy Winsted's book ''Ferrets,'' which includes among its full-color pictures one of the author with a satchel full of pet ferrets wearing leather collars and bells. She travels with them. Ferrets, she points out, are a domesticated strain of a Eurasian weasel, the polecat - and sniffing cousins to the mink, ermine, badger, and skunk. They can be trained to use litter boxes and taught to walk on leashes , but as pets they also have a few drawbacks:
Baby ferrets regard everything as potential food, biting everything in sight with needle-sharp teeth. Owners recommend buying ferrets bred for gentleness, and then not until they're past the very young stage. Ferrets must be trained not to bite; an untrained adult ferret can inflict a vicious wound, one owner warns.
Ferrets also have a distinctive musky odor, stronger in the male than the female. Though not in the skunk's league, their scent is offensive to most people. Ferret experts recommend that the animals be de-scented, since even frequent shampooing doesn't keep them smelling like lilacs.
Female ferrets tend to breed continuously, too, so spaying is recommended. If you don't, you'll end up with a ''business'' of ferrets, as a group of them is called.
Ferret owners recommend cages for the pets if you're away from your house during the day and expect to see it standing when you return at night. They also suggest wood shavings on the floor of the cage, something for them to crawl into , and a hanging water bottle. Ferrets consider bowls of water just damp toys. Ferrets thrive on commercial cat food, though they've also been known to develop a taste for watermelon, spaghetti, and chewing gum.
One of the first ferret pioneers in Virginia was Cathi Radford, who became interested in them as pets when a neighboring child found what she thought was a funny-looking, muddy cat and brought it into the Radford family's pet shop for care. Ms. Radford named the ferret Saturday, gave it the run of the store, and found customers so intrigued they wanted to buy one. She estimates she's sold 800 ferrets as pets in the five years since then.
Ms. Radford is also the founding mother of the Ferret Fanciers of Virginia, which last year held a ''ferret frolic.'' It included contests for beauty, digging, running mazes, and yawning (if patted on one area of the neck, ferrets have a yawn reflex). Over 100 members' families attended, and (as each family has at least two ferrets and often many more) quite a business of ferrets.