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Mystery Ferret Ailment

Alexandra Sargent-Colburn suffers one of a ferret owner's worst fears — being away from home when a ferret falls ill.

By Alexandra Sargent-Colburn
Posted: April 1, 2008, 5 a.m. EST

ferret in suitcase
Ping is He found his own way of objecting to his owner's travels.

The last few months I traveled a lot, which left me vulnerable to a particular type of terror — The Phone Call. You know the one. The one that waits until you are hundreds of miles away from home and your chief ferret sitter (for me, my husband, Dann, in this case) informs you that one of the ferrets “seems sick.” Specifically, Ping is He seems sick.

My response was something like this. “Seems sick how? Is he eating? How are his poops? You didn’t look at his poops? Well, go look! OK. Nooo, don’t tell me they look like poop. Are they green, runny, seedy? You can’t tell. Aha. Is he sleeping normally? He sleeps all day? Well of course he sleeps all day, he is a ferret. How can you tell that he is sick? Because he isn’t right?”

At this point I grit my teeth. “That isn’t very helpful. Can you be more specific? No? He just seems sick.” I grit my teeth again. “Well, can you feel his spleen? You don’t know where his spleen is. Aha. Can you feel any lumps in his belly? He won’t let you feel his belly? He ran away? Well, that is a good sign. I think.”

After The Phone Call I lie awake in the strange bed that I am calling my own for the duration of my stay, and I fret. What questions should I have asked? What could be wrong? Two more days until I can get home. Two long days. My husband can’t get Ping to the vet in that time because of his work schedule.

Memories Of Ping
Two long days. And two long nights. I look up at the unfamiliar shadows on this ceiling that is not mine, and I think about my Ping is He … and  I remember. I remember seeing Ping’s beautiful little face on a shelter website. He needed a home, and I had a home. I remember my husband and I driving halfway across the state of Massachusetts to meet him in one of the private homes where MAFF (Massachusetts Ferret Friends) care for their abandoned, unwanted and misunderstood ferrets that need Forever Homes.

I remember holding Ping for the first time. His deep chocolate eyes and comical little mask that made him look like a 2-inch-wide raccoon. We looked into each other’s eyes, and I saw a kind of honesty that is rarely, so very rarely, seen in the eyes of one of our own kind. I looked into my husband’s eyes and I saw the answer. Yes. This little ferret named Ping was going to come home with us.

During the drive home in our green pickup truck, Ping explored furiously for a few minutes, then he curled up in my lap until my husband got an order of take-out fries and a burger. Then Ping showed us that he was no complacent ferret, he was a Pygmy Wolverine, a name he has kept to this day. Who knew wolverines liked fries? Live and learn.

More memories raced through my mind, like learning that Ping is He loved the strangest things: the bones from dinner chicken, which he would not nibble, but would instead stash in the yellow sleeper sofa (lovely); the dripping wrappers from giant sliced hams (Lord, what a mess); green bell peppers (I am quite serious, he will do anything to get a little slice. Beg. Sulk. Steal. Dignity isn’t an issue where green bell peppers are concerned.). This wonderful ferret taught us so many things.

Sick? I didn’t want Ping to be sick. The thought made my heart ache. Ache.

Home At Last
The flight, the airport, the drive home. I quiz my husband, “How is Ping? He doesn’t seem any worse? Well, does he seem any better? You don’t know. How did you know he was sick in the first place?”

My husband relates a long, rambling tale that ends with his curling up on the sofa for a nap, only to discover that Ping had climbed up onto the sofa with him, then curled up tight against him and fallen into a deep sleep. Ping never does that.

No, he doesn’t. But he might, if … he missed me? Very much? Ping is, after all, my special buddy. And I had been gone for a long time. Hmmm...

The next morning I wake the ferrets and pull Ping from his warm sleep sack. He immediately climbs up and into the pocket formed by the wrap of my belted bathrobe around my waist. Only his tail hangs out like a flag.

He sighs deeply, and sleeps. This is something else he never does. When he wakes I examine him closely, but find nothing wrong. He then follows me all over the house, 10 inches away from the back of my heels. He does this for the next two days. Whenever I stop he stands on my feet and looks up at me hopefully. I lift him and pet him, rubbing beneath his chin the way he prefers. I look into his eyes, and I see the message there. “You were gone too long. Too long.” Yes, Ping. I hear you. I missed you, too, buddy.

To see all Secret Lives Of Ferret Owners columns, click here>>

Alexandra Sargent-Colburn lives in Massachusetts with fish, ferrets, a cat, a husband and a neurotic dog. The ferrets are in charge.

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Mystery Ferret Ailment

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Reader Comments
I LOVE your column! How you write about ferrets, and their nutty behavior, shows just how OWNED by them you really are! I love your sense of humor! I STILL remember the article about your nephew(?) helping your fuzzy to wolf down as much pancakes as he could before they got "busted"! ROFLOL!

I used to have a little ferret, HRH The Princess Sapphire, who would not eat, but CARRY green/purple/red/yellow/purple peppers to hidey holes all over the house... I used to scan the grocery stores for the tiniest peppers with the LONGEST "handles" for her! LOL! Unfortunately, her new cage mates and friends ATE the peppers, so we had to limit that fun to more "supervised" pepper-hauling.... but I digress...

Keep on entertaining us with the wonderful articles!! DOOKS!
Anita, Kansas City, MO
Posted: 5/26/2008 5:17:28 PM
That is SO CUTE! If my mom lets out my ferrets while i'm still upstairs, they will come to see if i'm up there and when i get home from work and they are out sleeping somewhere they wake up and find me. they are very special indeed.
Kate, Oakland, RI
Posted: 5/18/2008 9:00:35 PM
That story needed a tissue alert. I have felt what you felt in this story, Wonderful true life of what we ferret owners go through.
Virginia, Lynchburg, VA
Posted: 5/13/2008 11:34:40 AM
lET ME TELL YOU AOUT MY pOOH bEAR, WHEN HE GOT SICK MY DAUGHTER DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO DO FOR MY BABY. WE TOOK HER TO THE vETS THE NIGHT BEFORE I LEFT FOR MY CRUISE. mY DAUGHTER WOULD NOT TEND TO POOH, BUT SHE WOULD SOON REALIZE HOW MUCH SHE DID LOVE HIM. IT COST ME A SMALL FORTUNE. I WASN'T GOING TO GO AND HALF WAY THROUGH MY TRIP I CALLED SHIP TO SHORE (FROM SOMEWHERE DOWN AROUND KEY WEST AND PURETO RICO TO PA). IT COST ME A FORTUNE OF $50. BUT I STILL DID IT BECAUSE I WAS SURE HE'D DIE BEFORE I GOT HOME. I COULDN'T GET MY MONEY BACK OR I WOULD NEVER HAVE GONE. YOU SEE I DIDN'T PUT THE INS. ON IT THIS TIME LIKE I DID THE FIRST TIME I WENT ON A CRUISE. I KNOW HOW YOU MUST HAVE WORRIED I DIDN'T ENJOY MY TRIP. I COULDN'T WAIT TO GET HOME. pOOH DID LIVE FOR 5 MORE MOS. HE WAS VERY SICK, IT WASN'T LIKE THE FIRST TIME HE MISSED HIS GRAMS.
BECKY, New Brighton,, PA
Posted: 4/7/2008 6:44:12 PM
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