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Xavier - A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund Fights Distemper In Ferrets In Surprising Way

The fundraising organization raises money to help ferret shelters combat deadly canine distemper virus by offering dressed, plush ferrets for sale or to visit.

Marylou Zarbock
Posted: November 14, 2013, 4:25 p.m. EST

traveling ferrets meet
© Courtesy Xavier - A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund
Several of the traveling ferrets "met" in the United Kingdom.

Canine distemper virus is a relatively rare but very real danger to ferrets, as contracting it usually results in a painful death. When a pet ferret gets distemper, it is tragic. When a ferret at a ferret shelter gets distemper, that tragedy can be multiplied many times as the virus sweeps through the facility taking one life after another. This has happened a few times at ferret shelters in the past several years.

The Xavier – A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund aims to assist ferret shelters in preventing an outbreak or to save as many lives as possible if one occurs.

This is not your usual fundraising organization, as plush ferrets play a major role in the fundraising and some of them travel. People who wish to have a plush ferret visit either them or a favorite ferret shelter pay a small fee, which is where the fundraising comes in. But why plush ferrets?

"Why not,” said Ann Gruden, who is a founder of the group and stylist for the plushies in the United States. "The idea is to engage people across the world. Canine distemper is a disease that knows no borders. It can strike anywhere, at any time.”

Gruden said that live ferrets can’t be shipped around as ambassadors, and plush ferrets are a perfect substitute. She said they are light, inexpensive, expressive and engaging. The traveling ferrets bridge cultural differences and strengthen bonds among ferret enthusiasts. "We have also shared our experiences with people who do not own ferrets at all but who have enjoyed the experience of sharing the cultural aspects of the traveling plush ferrets and their charitable mission,” Gruden added.

The fund had eight traveling ferrets at one time: Xavier and Baldrick in the United Kingdom, Xander and Aiko in Australia and Xara, Xia and Xena in the United States and Canada. Each region also has a ferret named Zinan, who strictly visits groups. Zinan participates in vaccination clinics or events and visits shelters. Xavier and Xara are now retired. Gruden said their designs of plush ferrets are irreplaceable, but they might be used for special occasions. Anyone wishing to foster a traveler should post on the Xavier Facebook fan page to get details.

As much as the traveling ferrets helped raise funds in the beginning, the pendulum has swung a bit. "At $8 or equivalent in international funds, it was going to take a lot of time to raise our initial goal of $1,000 for the emergency CD fund,” Gruden said. "So with a kind grant from the William and Barbara Podann Foundation, we purchased a group of plush ferrets that two of us started dressing in a variety of outfits to sell. Some are offered for sale at a fixed price of $17 plus shipping, and other more exotic designs are offered on auctions with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the CD fund. This has allowed us to increase the balance of the fund far faster than expected, which was crucial when it came time to help the Greater Chicago Ferret Association this year.”

plush ferrets for sale or auction
© Courtesy Xavier - A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund
King Arter and Queen Qwen are part of the November 2013 auction; the three ferrets on the right are for sale in the Xavier - A Ferret Abroad store.

An auction is currently running on Facebook that ends on November 17, 2013, at 5 p.m. EST. It features mostly dressed ferrets, such as a king and queen, knight, Red Sox fan and guardian angel, but also ferret product packs and other items. Special events like the auction will be done as needed to replenish the fund. Gruden said they like to keep a minimum of $1,000 in the fund to respond if a ferret shelter gets an outbreak, plus they like to have $500 or more ready to give vaccination grants.

Although there were previous efforts to aid ferret shelters suffering from a distemper outbreak, the fund in its present form was established in the fall of 2012. Gruden said that the fund grew out of recognition that ferret shelters are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of distemper because of the unknown vaccination histories of the ferrets they rescue. She added, "While quarantines and vaccination protocols help prevent outbreaks, they are not 100 percent foolproof.”

The fund is administered by the Ferret Association of Connecticut, a ferret shelter and 501(c)3 nonprofit. FACT itself experienced an outbreak of distemper at its shelter in 2011. Fifteen of the 39 ferrets exposed lost their lives. The cost of treatments, hospitalizations and more came to approximately $4,000. FACT had an emergency fund that cushioned the unexpected expense, but most ferret shelters do not.

"An available emergency fund would give a shelter and the ferrets in that shelter a fighting chance at survival,” Gruden said. "Thus the idea for the Ferret Emergency Canine Distemper Fund was born.”

In addition to raising funds to help ferret shelters in need, the Xavier – A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund also gives grants to eligible ferret shelters so they can obtain distemper vaccinations for the ferrets in their care. Preventing an outbreak is always preferable to dealing with one.

The group continues to grow, and not just by adding the vaccination grants. Seven people currently volunteer their time to the fund – three in Australia, three in England and one in the United States. Gruden said that more volunteers are welcome. In October 2013, the group expanded its presence on the Internet by adding a website in addition to its Facebook groups.

An unexpected benefit of the fund is furthering communication between ferret shelters. "No shelter that has an outbreak of canine distemper should suffer in silence!” Gruden said. "We can all learn so much from one another.”

She said that each outbreak teaches more about treatment and recovery, which will help the next shelter that suffers an outbreak.

two plush ferrets dressed up
© Courtesy Xavier - A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund
The ferrets above, Lady Fifi Ma Tia and Mr. William Davies, are the creations of Sheryl Murray, who is the stylist for the Australian plush ferrets.

Gruden summed up the mission of Xavier – A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund. "The goal is to allow people to enjoy themselves, raise money to combat canine distemper and raise awareness,” she said.  And this is done while helping shelters. "It’s amazing what people can do as a common-cause community!” she added.

In case you’re wondering about the name of the fund, it was so named in honor of a kind donor who has a son named Xavier.

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Posted: November 14, 2013, 4:25 p.m. EST


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Xavier - A Ferret Abroad Canine Distemper Fund Fights Distemper In Ferrets In Surprising Way

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Reader Comments
I had one of the USA ferret ambassadors, Xara, two times during the past year. I also adopted one of the Australian plush ferrets, Barry. I had great fun taking pictures of them in various places and posting them on the Facebook page with captions. I also enjoyed reading all about Xara's great adventure when she got to go visit a Black Footed Ferret project in Montana!!! It is great fun for everyone!
Tillie, Springfield, MO
Posted: 11/14/2013 5:37:03 PM
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