Posted: September 5, 2013, 9 a.m. EDT
Part of a pair, Sandi is thin but otherwise in surprisingly good shape after her ordeal in the wild.
The Labor Day holiday is a time for many people to relax and enjoy fun activities, but for a few dozen people in southeast Michigan, it included a frantic four-day search to find two ferrets in a heavily wooded park. The search was sparked by a simple post to Facebook.
A couple visiting Hines Park in Westland, Michigan, were surprised when two ferrets wandered up to them. They took a photo and posted it on Facebook. A friend of theirs saw the photo and alerted them that a local ferret shelter should be told about the ferrets. The couple, Leo and Debbie Benchich, then contacted Motor City Ferrets on its Facebook group.
Nanci Frazier, co-founder of Motor City Ferrets with her husband Alex Oeming, feels lucky that she saw the message, as she was just on her way to bed when it arrived sometime after 8 p.m. Ferrets are domesticated and ill-equipped to survive in the wild. Frazier said she organized about a half dozen volunteers to go to the scene of the sighting off Hines Drive east of Middlebelt Road. They fanned out from there and posted updates to Facebook with Frazier monitoring progress.
The search halted around 11 p.m. because it was very dark and insect chirps and other forest noises were drowning out the squeaky toys volunteers were using to lure out the ferrets. But Frazier said the search resumed Friday morning, despite the continuing hot, humid weather. And more volunteers were joining the hunt.
The Benchichs returned to mark the exact spot they sighted the ferrets the day before.
"People went forth, again starting at the marked location, and fanned out in either direction along the river,” Frazier said. "Many were posting into the Facebook messages along the way, but otherwise it really didn't matter how many people or if they were together or not. The area is so heavily wooded, [the ferrets] could have been anywhere. Varmint holes were everywhere you looked!”
In addition to being a large area, it is also wild. Hines Park runs for 15 miles along Hines Drive by a river. "I never saw a trail,” Frazier said. "When we searched, at a few points I really could have used a machete to hack my way through some of the thickest areas.”
The second ferret of the pair was also thin, but had a large swelling on her jawtoo. She's now known as Carmen.
Volunteers not only battled brush, but also heat, humidity and other hazards, as mentioned by Kristen Bledsoe in a comment on the Motor City Ferrets Facebook group. "My two little girls and I went out there on Friday from original sighting to sled hill with no luck — just bites, a snake sighting and some webs in the face!” They left out food for the ferrets. Frazier said that many volunteers left out food, treats, carriers, etc. to lure out or comfort the ferrets.
Efforts to find the ferrets weren’t limited to physically searching the woods. Other people were using Facebook and other methods to alert friends about the ferrets’ plight.
"On Friday I got the word of the missing babies and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out a way to get out of work early from Pontiac so I could join the search,” commented Eliza Kindall on the Motor City Ferrets Facebook group. "I got home, grabbed my husband and hit the road. While all we managed to do was scare a bunch of fat groundhogs, I was so impressed with the amount of people out there looking. The ferret community in metro Detroit is the best!”
Going low-tech, Frazier designed a flyer to alert passersby about the ferret search. A volunteer printed and posted them at numerous spots around the park with protective, plastic covers.
"When I went to hang up flyers, I couldn't walk a hundred yards without running into another volunteer who had been out searching for hours or days already,” commented David Collins on the Motor City Ferrets Facebook group.
A thunderstorm that evening brought a halt to further searching. Frazier said the heavy rainfall had she and others worried that the river would flood and the ferrets face more danger. But the storm left without causing major damage.
Saturday brought another day of searching, but no sign of the ferrets. Sunday dawned, and the searchers went out again. At 3:30 p.m., Frazier got a call from a man who saw one of the flyers in the park. Some searchers detoured to the new location about a half mile east of the original location. But no ferrets were found.
Denise Rea was one of the volunteers who searched on Sunday. "I arrived at the hill today on my way home from Canada completely unprepared to lure ferrets,” she commented on the Motor City Ferrets Facebook group. "I called my kids and told them where to show up with a carrier and squeaky toys. As I was wandering around the hill waiting for my kids, I thought I bet there's an app for squeakers. Sure enough there was, squeaky toys. Love my iPhone!”
Soon after 8 p.m. Sunday, Frazier posted a simple message, "Converge on original location.”
Sara-Liz Bliss was in the woods when she got the message and described the scene at the rendezvous. "I had no idea there were that many of us there! I ran up and cars were whipping in, people were in the woods emerging, it was like a movie scene!”
The ferrets had been found. Udon Omee and his wife, Kim Gooch, had spent the day searching in the park and were at the original location of the sighting when the ferrets emerged. They used treats to lure them and catch them.
After a quick celebration where the volunteers got to see the ferrets and perhaps pet them, the two rescuees were whisked off to Motor City Ferrets.
Frazier estimates that 30 to 50 people went to the park to search, some for an hour, some for several hours or multiple days.
"The volunteer effort was amazing,” she said. "The networking and sharing on Facebook was incredible and the conditions couldn't have been more miserable. After 10 minutes in those woods, in that heat and humidity, I looked like I'd been through a car wash.”
Frazier was surprised by the condition of the ferrets, who are females that seem to be about 3 years old. Both are a little thin, but neither have fleas or ticks. One has a swelling on her lower jaw. Because neither seemed to require emergency care, Frazier waited until after the holiday to take the ferrets to her regular veterinarian for a checkup. The initial diagnosis of the swelling is a blocked salivary gland, and treatment is already being discussed.
After soliciting name suggestions in their Facebook group, Frazier and her husband have named the ferrets Carmen and Sandi, after the game Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. Frazier thinks it’s apropos, as she’s sure many of the volunteers were wondering where the ferrets were during the hours they searched.
What does the future hold for Carmen and Sandi? "I think the future is bright,” Frazier said. "I wouldn't dream of splitting them up, so they'll soon be on the hunt for a new home together — as soon as we get Carmen's lump under control.”
Follow their progress at the Motor City Ferrets Facebook group. Motor City Ferrets has rescued about 950 ferrets since the shelter opened in 2000. Although Frazier appreciates the role Facebook played in getting the word out and communicating with volunteers, she said that relying on it for an important first contact is risky. She might have missed that first message.
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