Posted: June 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Ferret Buddy/© Courtesy Tommy MacLellan
Is your ferret a little angel or a little devil?
Some things are taken for granted in my house. Did someone dig in the cat’s litter box, scattering little, gray, recycled pebbles far and wide? It was my ferret Caff-Pow. Is something alive and scratching in the kitchen trash can? Caff-Pow. I can’t find the bathtub plug! Ask Caff-Pow. Who emptied the bathroom wastebasket all over the floor? Caff-Pow. Why is the plumber’s helper capsized in the living room? Caff-Pow. Who ate the baseboard trim off of the wall? Caff-Pow.
By contrast, Caff-Pow’s companion, Todd, is well-mannered and considerate. It is true, he steals Croc shoes and rubber squeaky toys, but we know all about these quirks and can anticipate him. He always leaves his stolen goods in the same place so that they are not too hard to find. He steals butter when he can, but again this is a known behavior. He has a routine, and he sticks to it. Caff-Pow is capable of anything, anything that you can possibly imagine a ferret doing and some things that you can’t.
I have seen families in which one child is regarded as the angel and another the devil. What usually happens is that the angel finds clever, cunning ways to drive the devil absolutely nuts. The devil acts out and gets reprimanded while the angel, not quite as angelic as a first glance might suggest, snickers quietly in the background. I think that we have all seen something like this or even been part of one of these relationships, an angel or a devil. Our ferret Todd is definitely our angel, and Caff-Pow — well, he has a different role.
So perhaps you will forgive me for *my* role in the Potting Soil Incident. Yes, potting soil. I am a gardener, both inside of the house and out. I have many houseplants that I tend to obsessively in the winter. When spring comes I take my obsession outside to my flower and vegetable gardens. Big bags of potting soil are just a part of my life. Actually I have several big bags in my life. There is one full of ferret chow, one for the cat, one for the dog and one for the cat’s litter box. From time to time there is even a bag of chick starter meal, or dried corncobs for the squirrels. Some of these bags eventually make it out to the garden shed, but three or four are always clustered in one corner of my kitchen.
I must take the full blame for leaving a big bag of dirt in my house. Oh, I wound the top closed and held it shut with a rubber band. But it was a big bag of dirt. A big bag of dirt in a house with weasels. It’s not that I didn’t know ahead of time how weasels feel about dirt. They love dirt. They love dirt so much that they liberate it from flowerpot captivity and set it free all over the place. I am the fool who set the big bag of dirt next to the big bag of ferret chow — and walked away.
I first became aware of the Potting Soil Incident while I was sitting on my sofa, crocheting in front of the TV. Our ferret boys were out. I was not paying much attention to them. But someone was paying attention to the bag of dirt. Someone who quietly gnawed through a flat, brown rubber band that had once held a bunch of broccoli together in the supermarket. Someone who quietly unwound the plastic opening to the big bag of dirt, and climbed inside. Someone who began to hurl great sprays of dirt onto the kitchen floor with both front feet shoveling together.
The moist dirt left the bag in wide, overlapping fans of ejecta. It wound up beneath the green velvety armchair. Little feet tracked it up and down and back and forth across the white linoleum tiles on the kitchen floor. (The house came with white kitchen linoleum. That, at least, was not my fault!) The dirt was tracked onto the living room rug and as far as the bathroom floor while I sat and concentrated on a new stitch that was very challenging for me. The cowboy western on TV covered up any little sounds. (Imagine gunfire, stampedes.) I never heard a thing until the rapidly emptying bag could no longer support its original shape, and it collapsed onto the kitchen floor onto a layer of its former contents. The weasel inside landed with a thud that I recognized immediately as something bad to do with a ferret. Someone was up to no good, and I dropped my yarn and came a runnin’!
As I rounded the kitchen island I instantly recognized that there had been a Potting Soil Incident, a containment failure on a massive scale. I was actually standing in gritty potting soil. And inside the bag, the culprit struggled to escape. I wasted no time. I took a deep breath and yelled, “CAFF-POW!!!” loudly enough to disturb the goldfish in their tank. I dove for the bag and the culprit inside. I reached my forearm inside the madly flapping bag and pulled out ... Todd?
Could I possibly be looking at Todd? Surely, a mistake had been made. Todd never does anything like this. Ever. I put Todd down and went in search of Caff-Pow. He was hiding beneath the living room sofa, only his snout and whiskers visible. It was difficult to extract him, to say the least. I turned him over and looked at his feet — his perfectly clean, innocent feet with nary a speck of dirt on them. No dirt on the belly. No dirt on the whiskers. He struggled madly to escape. I put him down, and he darted for the safety of the cage. He did not come out again that night.
I went back for Todd, who was now hiding beneath the kitchen counters. I captured him and turned him over. All four paws were caked in moist dirt; he was literally wearing four dirt boots. It was in his belly fur and hanging from his whiskers. His pink nose was the same color as one of those old pencil erasers, the ones that have been used so many times that they are dark gray and leave a blurry smear on the paper when you try to use them. I was stunned, simply stunned. Never in a million years did I imagine that Todd, my sweet and gentle boy, would commit such a heinous act. Caff-Pow? Sure. And twice on a Sunday. But ... Todd?
I turned him over, held him close to me and looked deep into his dark eyes. Little bits of dirt drifted down like filthy snow from where his paws rubbed against my nightgown. Did I detect, perhaps, a hint of mirth, of mischief? I believe that I did. My angel had the devil in him, and poor ’Pow had been treated to a bellow of doom that drove him under the sofa in terror. It wasn’t fair. No, not at all. I looked over at the cage and I saw ’Pow regarding me steadily from his favorite hammy as if I had possibly lost my mind and might be dangerous. I looked back at Todd, and I think maybe, just maybe, I saw a ferret smile. Little devil.
To see all Secret Lives Of Ferret Owners columns, click here>>
Alexandra Sargent-Colburn lives in Massachusetts with fish, ferrets, a cat, a dog and a husband. The ferrets are in charge.