Ferret Love

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That's a lot of ferrets.

Why so many rescues? Because as cute and cuddly as they may be, owning a ferret does have some drawbacks.

To begin with, it's illegal. Not in Houston, where they are considered "caged animals," but in several other towns such as Pasadena.

The main drawback, however, is that loving a ferret takes a lot of work. Before we get to how adorable they are and how much they're worth it, let's take a look at the downside of ferret ownership.

• They smell.

"They do have an odor to them — it's a little musty, but it's not bad," says ­Hummel.

Well, maybe. Let's just say when you enter a ferret owner's house, you know you're in a ferret owner's house.

Susan Brown, a vet who's a leading expert on ferrets, doesn't understand the fuss. "I have had a number of people that have complained about ferret odor and I have personally 'smelled' the pet and noticed nothing offensive," she writes on a popular ferret Web site. "Personally, I find the 'odor' of the ferret to be quite warm, earthy and friendly and not at all offensive, and I know many people who would agree with me."

And you, reader, know many people who would disagree with her. Take our word for it.

• They're expensive.

A new ferret, if you decide to buy rather than adopt, can cost anywhere from $99 to $300, says HAFA president Murray. (Rare ferrets can cost much more.) But that's not where the big expense comes in.

"I tell everyone who asks me that they need to have at least $1,000 in an emergency fund," he says. "And that's beyond the $100 or so you're spending annually on shots and examinations. These guys are so curious and get into everything, and they are going to end up seeing a vet more than once a year."

Ferrets also have a disturbing tendency to get sick. Adrenal surgery is commonly needed at some point, and it can run up to $600.

"About five years ago, I spent in one year $12,000 in ferret rescue medical funds," says Noni Clark, who for years took in strays and ferrets whose owners decided to get rid of them.

Ferret owners really hate people who get a ferret without realizing how much it will cost them.

Hummel rescued one ferret that she saw being tossed from a truck. "This guy didn't want to keep it anymore and he thought he had someone who would take it off his hands, but when he went to the house there was no one there, so he just threw it out the window," she says.

• They demand attention.

Ferrets may sleep up to 20 hours a day, but when they're up, they want you playing with them. And if you're not playing with them, they are getting into every hole, crevice or dark spot in the house.

Ferret owners love this aspect of them. They call it playfulness. Others, experiencing torn-up carpet, lost car keys, endless searches for a ferret who has somehow gotten into some impossible-to-reach place, may find it more frustrating.

"People think they're like hamsters and can just be left running around in a cage," Clark says. "But they need to be entertained or they can get depressed and die."

Oh, and ferrets tend to bite, especially when they're young and not yet used to their owners.

• They can't really be house-trained.

"There's a lot of cleaning up poop," Murray says. "If there was a way to make money off ferret poop, we'd really be set."

Generally, it's a 50-50 chance whether or not a ferret will hit the litter box. So there are a lot of laminated floors in the homes of ferret owners.

Clark says her ferrets are pretty well trained ("If they miss, they'll go on the tile next to the litter box"), but that doesn't mean she's safe. "Especially if I go out of town, they'll mess right by the toilet as a protest of my leaving," she says. "They know the first thing I hit when I get home is the toilet, so they take revenge."

• They'll die on you.

A ferret's lifespan is only six to nine years. "They can be the best of pets," Clark says, "but they can be the worst of pets, too, because they don't live so long."

Murray says lifespans are getting shorter — "the diseases seem to be kicking in a little quicker" — but there's not a lot of research into why.

"If the drug companies or the vaccine companies felt they could get a return on their investment, they'd do something, but they don't think it's worth it," he says.

All right, already — enough with the ferret problems. With all the negatives, why do people put up with them?

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly