Longform

Ferret Love

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"The main things I dig about ferrets are their cleverness and laziness, which combine to make for interesting personalities," says D.A. Smith of Houston, owner of Tim Finnegan (Dr. Oliver Long Ghost, his other ferret, recently passed away). "A beast that can spend approximately 18 hours a day sleeping in weird places (desk drawers, under the couch, kitchen cabinets), then wake up to do things ranging from stealing and hiding your TV remote to having a good time playing with a plastic bag to eating the nuts out of a bag of Almond Joys they stashed under your couch without being noticed to simply stretching out on the floor and doing nothing, strikes me as a pretty fun animal to hang around with."

"You can't have a bad day once you get home," Clark says. "They're playing and giggling, and then they go off and do their own thing."

"I love 'em, I wouldn't trade them for the world," says Emily Price, who, along with her roommate Ellen McNamee, owns Widget, Xeno and Zep.

Let's face it — ferrets can be pretty damn cute. They have long, stretchy bodies, expressive faces, they don't bark or make loud noises, they put up with their owners dressing them in silly costumes.

They are, as animals go, intelligent. They can learn to unzip purses, they can stack boxes to help them climb to areas you wish they wouldn't, they can respond to their names.

They have different personalities. Some are feisty, some laid-back; some play well with other pets, some are strictly ­territorial.

But it's the bonding that draws in the owners, the playtime and antics that help to deepen the connection that ferret people rave about.

As animals go, ferrets aren't all that productive in the great scheme of things. They are pretty helpless out in the wild, with limited homing instincts, absolutely no predatory skills and a constant need for water and food.

"Never, ever let your ferret loose and think it's going to come back," says Sheila Fudge. "Because if you do, you've just lost an expensive animal."

If you haven't found your ferret in 72 hours, he's pretty much lost forever. (A helpful hint from the official HAFA information packet: "Call the animal control officer. If ferrets are illegal in your area, be very careful when you contact animal control. You might even tell them you are ferret-sitting for a friend. We would back you up. So would many ferret guardians.")

Their domesticated ways — which go back, some say, to the ancient Egyptians — don't mean ferrets are completely ­useless.

In England they're used to control rabbits. Ferrets will gladly run down a rabbit hole, and when the rabbit — not knowing it has nothing to fear from a ferret — runs to the other opening of the tunnel, it's nabbed by nets. Ferrets have been placed on ships to keep rats from straying from the bilge.

And ferrets have helped society in other ways. Builders of big aircraft, like World War II bombers, couldn't figure out a way to string wires and cables down long, tiny stretches of tubes. So they attached a cable to a ferret and sent him running.

Not to mention the alleged sport of "ferret-legging." There's some controversy as to whether it exists at all, but in the north of England men are said to compete by putting two ferrets in their pants, tying up the legs so they can't escape, and then seeing who can last the longest.

Try that with a Great Dane.

From the outside, the far westside home of Jack and Sherry Murray looks pretty much like any other on the block. Once you get inside, though, things are different.

The stuffed toy animals, for instance. As in hundreds of stuffed toy animals. Bears in costume, a four-foot-high giraffe and a bald eagle grasping a snake, its five-foot wingspan hanging from the ceiling.

There are cages for lizards. There's a display case with stuffed animals and the ashes of five (former) family pets.

And then there are the ferret rooms. Blocked off with 30-inch barriers at the doorway, the three rooms feature floors lined with easy-to-clean laminated material, vast arrays of cages, tubes winding around everywhere, toys, and lots of ferrets climbing, jumping, exploring, playing, getting into every and any space.

And one of these ferret rooms is the main bedroom, where Jack and Sherry sleep. They dutifully climb over the barrier and keep an eye out so they don't step on or roll over onto any random ferrets. They don't keep any clothes in the drawers because the ferrets will get into them, so they have to go elsewhere to get dressed. And the room, of course, gives off that notable ferret smell.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly