When I was a young woman I left my parents' home and moved away to another city to seek my future. I suppose we all do that eventually, and while I had a very difficult time leaving my parents what I must admit I missed terribly was my cat. I had grown up with pet cats, and being a young adult without a pet seemed wrong. My husband had grown up with dogs, and thus he felt the same way. We were two young adults, married, without children, and our home seemed empty. We knew we weren't ready for a dog, and a cat was out of the question due to my husband's allergies - so, what to do? Well, dear friends, enter the ferrets(or, as we playfully called them, "the weasels").
Ferrets are not your usual pet, perhaps, but then my husband and I have never really been usual people, either. When we first encountered a pet ferret we were enchanted, and it wasn't long before we decided we needed one. They seemed the ideal pet - small, kept easily in a cage when we were working, and yet also playful and engaging.
We found him in a pet store. A tiny little sable ferret kit, he seemed friendly and curious. He was all that and more, dear friends. He became the first pet we'd ever owned on our own, and he was perhaps the most wonderful animal I've ever known. Affectionate, intelligent, playful, mischievous - he was everything we could hope for, and we quickly became attached to him.
It wasn't long before another ferret entered our lives. This one came from a very different source, though. She was found at the side of a road and brought into a vet clinic. She had been attacked by something, and as a result was missing one ear and blind in one eye. My husband heard about her from the clinic and they asked if we wanted her. How could we say no? We knew ferrets, we knew our resident ferret would not mind - and so she came home to us, this little red-eyed albino ferret. She was perhaps the most affectionate of all our ferrets, and she loved to gently groom my eyebrows and eyelashes, tugging gently at them as she made soft clucking noises of love. She and our little sable ferret became attached to each other very quickly, and would sleep in a little ferret pile. Frankly, it might seem anthropomorphic but any fool could see this handsome sable and this little albino were in love.
A year or so after that yet another ferret joined the family. A man came into the vet clinic where I was working and asked if we would put his ferret to sleep. I asked for details and it emerged that he wanted us to euthanize an 8-week old ferret because it was biting. I told him that kittens, puppies, and small children bite and that we didn't put them to sleep, but he was unmoved in his determination. I then told him to hand me the ferret, get out, and never darken the door of my clinic again. He did as he was told (I suspect he knew the look on my face meant he wasn't getting out the clinic door without giving me the ferret, and that the ferret wasn't the only biting creature he was currently dealing with). My husband was home sick that day and I recall going home, putting the pet carrier on the bed, and saying "we have a new one!". And so the largest, goofiest, most playful, and least inhibited of our ferrets entered our lives. Our original sable male welcomed him, but the little albino female saw him as an interloper and while she tolerated him her occasional screams indicated what she really thought of his antics. The new arrival had to be caged separately as the little albino had no intention of sharing anything with him.
These three were our pets for many years, dear friends. Because of them I appeared on CBC radio twice (once to discuss ferrets as pets and once on Morningside to hold a ferret race, which was quite the spectacle - shame it was radio!). Because of them I began writing for a small local pet newspaper (which was the first time I was paid to write). Over the years they moved with us to new apartments, and eventually to a new city. In the new city things quickly changed, though, as their age became apparent.
The little albino female, the one who was so very attached to me, developed liver cancer. I nursed her through months of illness, and she lasted far longer (and in far better shape) than the vet treating her predicted. I hand fed her for weeks, and one day, when the cancer overwhelmed her, she died in my arms. It was the first time something I had loved so much, and cared for so deeply, died. It was a devastating moment.
The little sable male, our original ferret, followed soon after. He too had some health issues, and after the death of his little albino friend he seemed to lose ground quickly. He was euthanized when it became clear he would not recover, and the loss of them both in such short order was very difficult to accept.
The last little ferret, the one who came into our home last, was also the last to leave it. He developed a common form of cancer in ferrets, lymphosarcoma, and while I nursed him as best I could eventually he succumbed to a disease for which there is no cure. He too had to be euthanized, and thus the last ferret was gone.
We went on in future years to own a dog, and then to have a child. The original dog developed cancer and we said good-bye to another beloved creature, and over time we acquired another dog. As my daughter grew older she began to agitate for a pet of her own - again, we couldn't have a cat, but what about a ferret, she asked.
What about a ferret indeed? We told her that if she showed diligence in caring for our dog that we would consider a pet ferret for her twelfth birthday. She has not yet turned twelve, but sometimes fate has made other plans for us. Last week the man who owns the local boarding kennel (where we often board our dog) called. One of his employees had a ferret, about a year old, that wasn't getting enough attention. She was thinking about rehoming it, but the only person she would ever consider giving it to was someone who had owned ferrets and knew them. Dear friends, she was offering it to me. There were quiet discussions between my husband and I, not wanting to get our daughter's hopes up. In the end, though, I think we all knew what the end result would be. This is my daughter's new pet ferret, Abu. He is a little sable male, much like the original little guy that we bought from a pet store over 20 years ago. Dear friends, a weasel has returned to our house - and with him comes memories of those other weasels and how dearly I loved them all. I hadn't realized how deeply I missed them, but when Abu hops out of his cage to play I remember days gone by. I think about how your life just seems fuller when something you didn't even know was missing comes back into it.