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Ferret Information Takes Center Stage At 2014 Alaska Gathering For Ferrets This June

Thanks to Renee Downs and other volunteers, the Alaska Gathering For Ferrets debuts this June in Anchorage, and it will be packed with information for veterinarians, vet techs, ferret owners and ferret shelter operators.

Marylou Zarbock
Posted: February 25, 2014, 8:20 p.m. EST

ferrets outdoors in Alaska
© Courtesy Sierra Winter Blue O'Connor
Some Alaskans take their ferrets on trips with them within the state.

Alaska is known for breathtaking vistas, wild animals, glaciers and many more amazing things — and this June Anchorage, its most populous city, will be the site of the 2014 Alaska Gathering For Ferrets. The Alaska Gathering For Ferrets is the brainchild of longtime ferret owner Renee Downs, who moved to Alaska in 2008. Downs found several veterinarians in the Anchorage area who could treat her ferrets, but the veterinarians were not always available. In addition, Downs noticed another concern.

"I realized that the problems I saw that occurred in my ferrets that were common outside Alaska were often not commonly treated here,” Downs said. And because local veterinarians are not always able to travel far to medical conferences, especially those focusing on only one species, Downs decided to bring a ferret conference to them. "I really hope that the vets and vet techs in Alaska will attend. The lineup is fantastic!”

The event takes place June 27 and 28, 2014, at the BP Energy Complex. More than a dozen talks are scheduled, with six of the eight speakers being veterinarians. But the Alaska Gathering For Ferrets is not only for veterinarians and vet techs. Downs believes ferret owners can contribute a great deal to their pet’s health, as can ferret shelter operators.

"We spend more time with our ferrets than anyone, and if we are able to recognize the problems they develop fast enough, we may be able to get them help before a problem becomes critical,” Downs said. She pointed out that one of the talks is about caring for a sick ferret at home. "This will focus on supportive and palliative care the ferret owner can provide. I hope it will also help vets see how much help the ferret owner can be and the contributions this will make to bettering the care the animal receives.” She said ferret owners who attend will not only learn something, they will meet other people who may become a support group.

Downs served on the committee of the International Ferret Congress and is currently on the board of both the Ferret Emergency Response, Rescue and Evacuation Team (F.E.R.R.E.T.) and Support Our Shelters. She has great experience organizing and helped with past IFC symposiums. But she is not doing the Alaska Gathering For Ferrets entirely on her own. "I have help from Melanee Ellis, Bill Gruber and Helen McLean of the IFC and Sharon Bearden of SOS, as well as from locals.”

What can attendees expect at the 2014 Alaska Gathering For Ferrets? Registration includes attending the talks on both days, lunch both days, a DVD of the talks and a free T-shirt. A speaker dinner on Friday, June 27, is an additional cost, and a shelter benefit dinner on Thursday, June 26, requests a donation.

The agenda currently has seven one-hour talks and one half-hour talk on Friday, June 27, and five one-hour talks and two half-hour talks on Saturday, June 28. Topics range from adrenal gland disease to cancer to emerging diseases and more. The website lists all topics.

Downs pointed out that the IFC is co-sponsoring the Alaska Gathering For Ferrets so that RACE credits can be offered to the veterinarians and vet techs in attendance. RACE stands for Registry of Approved Continuing Education. Although RACE credits have been applied for, as of this writing they have yet to be approved. "I will post everywhere as soon as it is approved,” Downs said. "When the wording changes from ‘has been submitted’ to ‘has been approved’ I will dance!”

Might there be any surprises in the schedule? "There is always the option available. The time constraints on Saturday are the big limitations,” Downs said. "Some of the sessions may be moved. However, ALL of the vet talks we have scheduled will be a part of the conference.”

With the event taking place at the BP Energy Complex, where to stay is a key question. Several hotels are listed on the Alaska Gathering For Ferrets website, with those in walking distance being noted. Downs said that all of the hotels are on the bus route and taxis are readily available.

"Most everything is walking distance, really,” Downs said. "Weather may be fantastic, unless it is not. I have been here four summers and all were different. We are due for another great one. Don't worry about an umbrella. Winds blow them away. A poncho is a good idea. It will be cool enough to enjoy and not hot at all, but not cold. However, I always have light gloves, even in summer!”

Downs is hoping that everyone completes registration by May 1 or May 15 at the latest.  "I would prefer not to have a walk-in option,” she added, but  "I live in Alaska now and recognize that is unrealistic! I hope that vets and vet techs will feel free to show up. I do have only 130 seats, so it may become a problem only if we go over that. I have talked to several people who said that they know of the speakers and are anxious to meet them.”

And, of course, booking flights earlier usually means better rates.

The deadline to submit ads for the program is May 1.

Note that although it is named the Alaska Gathering For Ferrets, no actual ferrets are permitted at the event itself. Also, at this time no vendors of ferret products are scheduled to participate. Downs mentioned that the cost of shipping items to Alaska might be a factor. But anything can happen between now and the event, and anyone interested in selling ferret items can contact her.

Downs said that sponsors are donating items to put in the goody bag handed out to attendees. She added, "I am opening up the hospitality suite for people to share their wares and will plan on having some locals sell authentic Native-made items.”

Downs has been talking about this event for more than a year. Now that the countdown is on (the website has a ticker), she is still hoping to get submissions for the In Memoriam section (name and photo), product donations (for door prizes, silent auction and goody bags) and sponsorships (various levels are available). Totally Ferret is already a sponsor, and she thanks them and all who have already contributed. She could also use volunteers to help with projects like burning DVDs of the event.

"I hope that veterinarians around Alaska will attend and increase their knowledge and comfort level with ferrets,” Downs said. "Most veterinarians here see all species, but it is not uncommon for the ‘ferret vet’ to not be in. I hope that all vets will become comfortable enough that any ferret in distress can be seen at any vet clinic and be stabilized or receive a good enough assessment to determine if it is in a life-threatening situation requiring euthanasia. No animal should suffer.”

In addition to the website, the event also has a Facebook page.

For more ferret-related events, check out our calendar of events, click here>>

Posted: February 25, 2014, 8:20 p.m. EST


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