Posted: September 12, 2013, 5:30 p.m. EDT
Randy Belair quickly bonds with any ferret she meets, including this hob at the St. Louis ferret symposium.
Tenacious, colorful, visionary, motivating and inspiring are just a few words that describe a virtual legend in the ferret community, Randy Belair. The pink-haired young lady (I told you she was colorful) lives in Toronto, Canada, alongside numerous ferret souls she has rescued and sheltered. Belair has given an incredible amount of time and energy to ferrets and the ferret community during her life. It was love at first sight when she met a pair of ferrets while visiting a family friend as a small child. Little did she know what destiny lay ahead with this heart-stealing animal.
The Ferret That Started It All
Destiny arrived in 1994 when Belair received a phone call about an abandoned ferret spotted in a garbage dump. Local animal societies and organizations, and the wildlife service were of little help. The frightened animal proved impossible to catch, despite several attempts by Belair over many days and nights using a humane trap. On the eighth day, a caretaker spotted the ferret and alerted Belair to its hiding spot. She mobilized many friends to capture it, but their hope turned to disappointment when it was found dead.
It was a heartbreaking day for all, but a life-changing event for Belair. She named the ferret Lil Hope. When Lil Hope came into Randy Belair’s life, a little hope came to homeless ferrets everywhere. The Ferret Aid Society was born out of this experience; its mission — to rescue ferrets and educate the public about these adorable pets.
"There are hundreds of ferret shelters doing exactly what we do every day. All I can hope is that collectively, we make a difference and keep it that way,” Belair said.
The First Ferret Symposium
Since then her goal has been to combine the efforts and knowledge of ferret experts, shelter operators, breeders, owners and advocates everywhere for the good of ferrets. Belair had a vision of uniting ferret lovers with a forum. The brainstorm for it came to her when the painting Lady With Ermine came to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
"Wouldn’t it be fun to have some sort of ferret meet-up like the Americans do?” she asked her friends. Under the assumption that ferret assemblies were common, she pitched the idea of hosting such an event in Canada.
"My board of directors thought I was nuts. Most of them washed their hands of the whole idea and really didn’t want to participate in the event in a major capacity,” she said.
Belair said her treasurer, Barri Harris, gave her words of encouragement, enabling her to plan the future event. The fact that this had never been done before was not revealed to Belair until the second day of the first International Ferret Symposium in 2000 in Toronto. In subsequent years, she has inspired Americans and the Dutch to do the same.
"I would absolutely love to see this go worldwide on a regular basis. Every five or so years, let’s take this to Europe or some other continent!” Belair said.
A Soul Of Gentleness
It must be said that Belair is much more than her deeds. Beyond her accomplishments is a warm, sensitive and loving young lady who leaves a lasting impression on all who meet her. I know I’ll always remember her tender smile, peaceful demeanor and beautiful brown eyes.
But nothing prepared me for seeing this young lady around a ferret as I did during the 2005 International Ferret Symposium in St. Louis. A breeder brought one of his prized hobs and people took turns snuggling, kissing and talking to the ferret. Everyone clamored around the animal with great excitement.
Waiting patiently in the background, humble and oh-so-unassuming, was Belair. Her turn with the hob finally arrived. The little guy immediately melted into her arms. I witnessed a beautiful joining of spirits that I had never seen with a ferret.
As adults I think we seek magic in our lives — the magic that we believed in as small children. It’s out there, it’s just hard to find. There is only one word that can describe what I saw that day between Randy Belair and that little ferret ... magic.
Rising Above The Pain
Belair’s world, however, has not always been filled with magic. To look at her, you’d never know about her heartbreaks. She survived two automobile accidents years ago and suffers from significant nerve damage. Despite the daily pain, she walks with the aid of a cane to care for the many ferrets in her shelter.
Shelter volunteer Bonita Johnston warmly described Belair’s work with ferrets, "A ferret in Randy’s presence is quickly folded into her embrace. In the guise of cuddling and petting, a new ferret is examined for physical problems. Ears and nails are checked and all the while she is murmuring reassurances for a future life of happiness and safety. We tease her much about kissing the ferrets — while she insists this is their way of paying rent.”
Although Belair suffers other physical ailments that are greatly disabling, she is in constant motion organizing and motivating others, as well as orchestrating efforts in rescuing ferrets.
Asked who or what her greatest inspiration was, Belair said, "This answer has changed many times over the years. But, in the end, my total inspiration has come from and still is my mom. Her tenacity for life is where I pull my strength from.”
Belair helplessly watched her mother suffer from cancer for 10 years. Despite the illness and chemo, she rarely complained. As long as she could, her mother hand-fed the shelter ferrets with special love and care. "That’s one of the things she missed most when she was bedridden,” Belair said. "So I try to be like her, though I’m not that strong. I do complain that I have pain and that I hurt or am tired. I try to be as strong as her but I am not. I’ll never be.” Belair was devastated to lose her mother in 2003.
Jennifer Deschamps, a volunteer who also helps raise funds for the shelter, is amazed by Belair. Obstacles never stop her and she never takes time off. "She gets tired and frustrated just like the rest of us — I mean she is human after all — but she just never allows herself to let up,” Deschamps said. "The consistency she’s shown in running that shelter, not only adequately, but in a way that is above reproach, is constantly amazing to me. She just keeps reaching down and finding more. More energy, more determination, more tenacity, more funding, more volunteers, just more. Well, it’s amazing.”
Time and time again, Belair has come across horrific scenes of animals left deserted in trash bins, garbage dumps, helplessly locked in cages sitting out in the snow and starved to death.
Johnston recalls one of Belair’s large-scale rescues, "I was at the shelter and helped process the 29 live ferrets rescued one Christmas in Paris, Ontario. I cannot even think of that day without choking up.”
Johnston and her husband’s job, along with many other volunteers, was to get the ferrets into a safe place with food and water, to clean the filth off of their bodies, trim nails, clean ears, test for ADV, and to document each arrival with notes and photos.
"Randy brought out the remains of ferrets that had been left in the cages of the living kids we had just processed ... So very sad — this was where I lost it and left the shelter room and sobbed and felt lost. I only see a little part of this side of rescuing ferrets, I cannot imagine having to see and deal with as much as Randy does.”
A Salute To Volunteers
What does Belair say about herself? "I’m not this wonderful, awesome person everyone thinks I am ... Behind every great shelter mom, there are even greater volunteers ... I couldn’t do anything without the love and support I get from these people, who tirelessly help me no matter what.
"I may be the face of the Ferret Aid Society, but they are the arms, the legs and the body that supports this organization and keeps it functioning. For them, I am truly grateful. If not for them, there would not be a Ferret Aid Society. With that being said, there are hundreds of shelter moms and dads out there that do this on their own. Please consider volunteering for a shelter in your area. It’s a truly rewarding job and they will appreciate you as much as I do.”
Note: This article originally appeared in the March/April 2006 print issue of Ferrets magazine.
See other profiles of members of the ferret community by Rebecca Stout, click here>>