Posted: November 20, 2014, 9 p.m. EST
Years ago, my brother Leslie and I shared a little house in Little Rock, Arkansas, with a third roommate — a cute, little, silver mitt ferret named Sammie. He was purchased by my brother from his partner and arrived at our home with a cage, a towel, a food dish and a water bottle, but no instructions.
Getting To Know Sammie
He slept most of the time, but one day while I was working from home he woke up and I let him out of the cage. Excited, Sammie started jumping around and exploring the house. What I knew about ferrets I could sum up in one word — nothing! So I treated him like he was a dog, because I knew what to do with them.
Sammie was quite the explorer. He became a constant companion and traveled with me everywhere. One weekend we visited my parents, and he discovered a small bell. He fell in love and stole it repeatedly. When I left, my mother gave it to me. She said nobody had ever liked that bell as much as Sammie obviously did. He cherished it and guarded it closely.
A Ferret Escape Artist
Sammie was a climber, and twice he escaped the house the same way, through a rip high in the screen door that went unnoticed by people, but Sammie found it.
"I can always tell when Sammie has escaped,” my brother told me, "because the first thing I see when I get home is you walking through the neighborhood crying, with a bowl of food in one hand and that bell in the other!”
In the spring I moved closer to the university where I worked, taking Sammie with me. While we lived there he escaped repeatedly. A small tear in a window screen and he was gone. Running out the front door I got to the carport just in time to hear a visitor say, "I just put him in the house!”
Another time I was at my daughter’s in Knoxville, where she was a student at the University of Tennessee. Sammie snuck out of the apartment when we took out the garbage. When the time came to go to bed, we realized we had not seen him and started looking everywhere. Putting flyers on the bulletin board, I saw a "found ferret” notice. My boy had been picked up by another resident and placed in an empty apartment across the hall. I went into the small studio and couldn’t find him anywhere, so I called back and asked if I had the right place. I did, so I opened the door for the second time and saw a coal black ferret looking up at me. "Well, you’re not Sammie, but you need love, too.” Taking him home I bathed him to find my silver boy underneath a layer of soot!
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Ferrets will explore everything and get into places you would never expect.
Exploring Is Part Of Being A Ferret
In the spring I moved closer to my work, taking Sammie with me. Sammie loved to play outside and would go on long walks with me. He was fearless and explored everywhere. One evening about dusk he darted under a bush alongside the woods. I suddenly realized that he could head into the woods and I would not find him before dark, so I dove headfirst into the bush, grabbing him. A friend who was walking with me had to pull us both out!
Memorial Day weekend 1994 we went to a nearby lake. Sammie had a long swim from our group about 100 yards out to the shore. After that he plopped his furry little body into his basket and slept for hours.
But Sammie was no less trouble in the house. While I was at work Sammie was caged, but when I was home I let him free-roam. He would climb up my neoprene dive suit to reach things on the top shelf in the closet and could squeeze himself into any small space.
One afternoon I heard scratching coming from inside the cabinet. No. Sammie was not in the cabinet, he was under it, having worked his way through the pipe openings under the sink and into the ferret crawl spaces humans can’t reach. Thankfully, he came to inspect the light I held to the hole and see who was ringing his bell.
Still the climber, Sammie made his way into anything that was not locked away — or on top of the refrigerator. One of his favorite "toys” was my University of Tennessee orange koozie, a foam covering to insulate a drink can. He would stash the koozie every chance he had. One evening Sammie was not his usually exploratory bad self. Concerned, I got up early to check on him and found him lethargic in his cage. I called the veterinarian and the receptionist had him speak with me. He asked me the questions I have grown to expect in the years since.
"Is he eating, drinking, pooping, peeing?”
"Well, I haven’t seen a poop this morning but … wait! He’s dragging himself out of his cage. Something’s happening, and it looks weird!”
I saw Sammie pass a 3-inch long, bright orange poop! The tiny teeth marks on the koozie were actually little pieces of a blockage in the making that I never noticed.
"He just pooped a long, bright orange turd that looks like it is made of … koozie?”
"I have a feeling he will be all right now. Call me if you need anything else.”
Never To Be Forgotten
Sammie taught me one last lesson. Just because you are not ready to say goodbye does not mean it isn’t time. When it comes, if you listen closely, your ferrets will tell you. And then you give them the greatest gift you can, taking a piece of your heart as they go.
If I only knew then about ferrets what I know now. Cute. Sleepy. Curious. Explorer. Climber. Fearless. Brave. Life-changing — Sammie survived me by the grace of God and taught me more than I could have imagined! I knew absolutely nothing about ferrets when he touched my life and changed it for years to come.
Through the years I have learned from others through the Ferret Mailing List, the Ferret Health List, numerous ferret groups, the International Ferret Congress symposiums and all the ferret people who love these little troublemakers who steal your heart. Thank you to my little brother, for introducing me to this furry packet of love!
What did your first ferret teach you? Leave a comment below.
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