Posted: August 29, 2008, 6 p.m. EDT
© Courtesy of Brenda Johnson
Ferrets are one of Brenda Johnson's passions, and she has operated the Lakeroad Farm Ferret Shelter rescue since 1995.
In September 1995, Brenda Johnson got a phone call from a veterinary clinic that asked her to call a woman about a biting ferret. That fateful day, Buddy the ferret came home with Johnson, and the Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue Shelter began. Buddy’s arrival started Johnson’s sheltering life, her love and her passion for saving ferrets. Biting ferrets are her favorites to work with, because she loves the challenge of it and seeing the transformation in them. It took Johnson more than a year to get Buddy to trust humans, but now it usually takes less than three weeks to get biters to trust humans and stop biting.
Since first opening, 371 ferrets have passed through Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue Shelter. Usually about 40 ferrets live at the shelter, depending on cage availability, and the shelter has had as many as 60 ferrets at one time. Johnson does her best to keep numbers low so that managing the ferrets isn’t overwhelming. She believes that being overwhelmed and overloaded puts the ferrets in no better than some of the conditions they came from, and she has turned away ferrets if the shelter is full.
© Courtesy of Brenda Johnson
Ferrets at the shelter are rotated through eight different play areas throughout the day.
On The Radar
The Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue shelter has a website and is known by word of mouth — that is how most people find them. Animal control officers in many of the outlying towns know how to reach Johnson, the humane organizations have her listed as a contact, the Ontario County sheriff’s office has her listed for times when an owner has been arrested and they have a ferret or two that needs a place to go. Veterinary clinics refer her shelter to people looking to adopt or in need of ferret assistance, and she’s a member of many ferret boards and on several ferret committees.
The Lakeroad Ferret Farm play yard is infamous. "People come from all over the United States to bring their ferrets to play in a yard they do not need to be tethered in,” Johnson said. "It is so much fun to have shelter friends come from all over to meet us, so they can play in the play yard. We are blessed.”
Cases Of Success And Sadness
Johnson’s greatest success story is Crumb Bum, a ferret that came in as a biter. Crumb Bum bit Johnson and severely damaged the nerve between her thumb and wrist area. It took about two weeks to discover that Crumb Bum was blind, which contributed to her biting. Once Johnson discovered Crumb Bum was blind, she let her know she was there before picking her up. She did this by putting her hand in front of Crumb Bum’s face so she could smell Johnson. Johnson worked with Crumb Bum the same way she does all biters, and Crumb soon trusted her enough to realize she wasn’t going to be hurt.
Johnson’s saddest ferret case was a little ferret girl that was found running around Clifton Springs, New York. "I got the call that they could not find her home, would I come get her,” Johnson said. "She just did not understand that she was now safe and going to be loved here. I fought to keep her alive, with medical intervention and undivided attention, but she died anyway from stress-related shelter shock. It breaks my heart when fur kids are tossed out to fend for themselves, and when I get them they do not want me they want the human that tossed them out and gave up on them.”
Vet For Ferrets
The veterinarian for the Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue Shelter is Dr. Allen Edwards at Brockport Animal Hospital, Brockport, New York.
Keeping the utilities paid to keep the electricity and air conditioning going for the ferrets when it is hot and the furnace fuel tanks full to keep the ferrets warm when it is cold is a very costly.
"Last winter we went without heat for a bit because we ran out of fuel and the company would not deliver unless I ordered a minimum of 200 gallons at one time,” Johnson said. "That was $928 I did not have.”
Fortunately, Johnson doesn’t face all shelter challenges alone. She has many wonderful shelter friends in her life — people who do everything from landscaping the property to transporting ferrets, to giving medications when Johnson is away. The list of tasks and volunteers is extensive. Even people out of state help by sponsoring ferrets at the shelter, doing illustrations for the shelter, running the raffle website and more.
Wanted: Good Home
Many ferrets at the shelter are looking for a new home. Can you adopt?
"There are many more shelter friends that have touched our lives, the list is too long for this article,” Johnson said. "I could not do what I do without each and every one of the people that touch my life, near and far."
For Johnson, it’s all worth it. "Our ferrets talk to us if we pay attention. They are a living being with feelings of fear, loss and love,” Johnson said. "If you listen to them you can know what they need and fill that need for them. They deserve our attention.”
See all Shelter And Rescue Focus columns
Troy Lynn Eckart is the founder of Ferret Family Services,a domestic ferret information, education and welfare public service organization in Kansas.