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Ferrets, Families And Ferret Shelters

A ferret shelter operator explains how her ferret adoption policy helps keep both children and ferrets safe.

By Barbara Clay
Posted: May 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Barbara Clay and ferrets
© Courtesy of Barbara Clay
For the safety of children and ferrets, Barbara Clay of Rocky's Ferret Rescue And Shelter refuses to adopt ferrets to families with infants or young toddlers.

“... I’m a very good parent! I’ve taught my child how to gently handle our cat, and I know he’ll be just as gentle with a ferret.”

That’s the usual response I get when screening people for a ferret adoption when there is a toddler in the home, and I question it.

Handling the ferret isn’t the only issue for me to consider when small children are in the home. My highest regard is for the children’s safety. When it comes to ferrets, there is another issue outside of handling. That issue is sounds.

Some ferret owners train their ferret to come to a squeaky toy. The response is that they come running — some come running out of curiosity, some come running exhibiting every bit of fear and anger they possess.

Why is this? Squeaky toys make a noise similar to a distress call, often resulting in a response of confused rage from a ferret. That very sound can be offensive to many ferrets. They come running and grab the toy, bite it, grab it, destroy it, or run and hide with it. For some reason for some ferrets, it totally offends every sense they have.

The most historically sweet, gentle ferret can go berserk with the common sounds of crying or excited glee from a child, similar to the sounds of a squeaky toy. Could it be interpreted that the ferret hears another ferret in distress and is coming to its defense? Maybe. What could possibly happen next is something to seriously consider when bringing a ferret into your home.

Toddlers, and especially infants, often express their extreme joy with shrieks of high-pitched squeals of delight at the antics of a ferret. Not so amusing to the ferret. To hear such sounds can be a threat to a small child from a ferret. It is not a pleasant source of happiness for a ferret to hear a little child cry out or squeal with laugher, it triggers a distress signal with a ferret.

So parents should consider carefully before bringing a ferret into a home as a companion pet if they have toddlers and infants. The ferret is not like a cat or dog, inquisitive and standing back to watch. A ferret responds; it hears the squeals and responds.

What’s most important is taking these possible ferret responses into consideration as a family companion pet. Know that a ferret, through its basic nature, is capable of responding to fear-trigger sounds. What is a joy for us all to hear and enjoy can become a threat to your child. Your primary responsibility is the well-being of your family members and putting no one at risk, as is mine as a ferret shelter operator.

From that statement and the refusals I’ve given to such homes with children, I’ve also had wonderful families volunteer at the ferret shelter and, when the time was right, adopt a ferret. All conducted under close supervision.

As a ferret shelter operator, my paramount concern is the family unit that I adopt to. I will never put a child in harm’s way. Most parents understand my refusal to adopt; others go elsewhere and get a ferret. I’ve done my job as an educator and a shelter. I love my ferrets and want homes for them, but I will never put a child in harm’s way!

Barbara Clay operates Rocky's Ferret Rescue and Shelter in Parkton, Maryland.

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Reader Comments
Great philosophy, 7 of our 8 are fine with a squeaky toy, one has/had a tendency to bite. She is a small sable female that was left with her siblings in a shoe box outside an animal shelter. While we have no idea of her treatment before her rescue, she is/was seriously stressed by squeaky toys. She has improved with time but can't be trusted. The good thing is that she comes to the sound of the squeaky toy, that is why we use it... to call the ferrets.

I fully understand that a child's screeches could result in an attack/biting response from some ferrets and truly respect and agree with your adoption limitations to families with small children.
Ron, Endeavour Hills .au
Posted: 5/11/2011 6:36:07 AM
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