Longform

Ferret Love

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They do not find any of this unusual.

"My wife grew up on a farm, so she's always been around animals," Jack says.

Their first ferret was Bandit, who was abandoned and sick when they took him in. "I probably spent a couple grand on Bandit trying to save him," Jack says. "He died last year."

Like many ferret owners, they find that their collection grows. "This time of year you get some where the kid is going away to college and the parents don't want to take care of it," he says. "As long as I can financially deal with it, I'm not in a rush to find homes for them after they get here."

He's got 15 ferrets in the house right now. A $50, 14-pound bag of food lasts two weeks.

When it comes to deciding whether to get rid of them, though, he says "Money's pretty much not the obstacle. It's just that you get so attached to these guys. You're always playing with them, picking them up, just always interacting with them. They're like kids, like two-year-olds."

Murray has built a five-foot long-boat for the ferrets to play in. He's taken it to the animal parade in Galveston that's held in conjunction with Mardi Gras. It's one of the times where Houston ferret owners dress up their pets and put them on ­display.

So far, there haven't been any large-scale ferret shows in the area.

"I've talked to the American Ferret Association and they'd like us to put together a show here, but you need 7,000-10,000 square feet and a year in advance to put it on," he says. "They'd love for us to do it, but I'm not sure we could pull it off yet."

Instead, HAFA spreads the ferret word by giving talks at the SPCA and local libraries. As many as 150 kids and parents show up to hear Jimi Hummel talk about ferrets.

On a recent weekday, 50 or so packed a room at the Spring Branch library to see Cimarron, Hot Dog, Gizmo, Lil Pal and a handful of others. Including Cici, who's deaf. (Deaf ferrets are a specialty for some owners.)

Ferrets are not rodents, Hummel tells the kids, and they are not mean.

(She doesn't tell them about ferret depression. In addition to being kept too long in a cage, any change, or the loss of a ferret they've bonded with, can make them stop eating and become lethargic.)

She tries to emphasize the need to ferret-proof your house before you bring home your pet. One of the leading causes of ferret death, according to the Ferret Lovers' Club of Texas, is the recliner. It may look like a comfy chair to you, but to a ferret it's a death trap.

"Ferrets love to crawl inside them, and once opened or closed by a human, the ferret will get crushed," the club warns. "Recliners should always be in the upright position when ferrets are running loose!"

"I won't have a recliner in the house," Hummel says.

It's just another sacrifice ferret owners gladly make to keep their pets from going to the Rainbow Bridge, which is ferret-speak for being dead.

The library presentations aren't aimed strictly at urging people to adopt or buy ferrets. Ferret owners know that not everyone is cut out to handle the demands. But they want acceptance for their hobby.

They're appalled that ferrets are still banned as pets in places. Don't mention Rudy Giuliani to them, whatever you do.

In 1999 some members of the New York City Council began talking about lifting the ban on ferret ownership. Giuliani, then mayor of the city, was opposed to the move, because of concerns of ferrets biting humans, spreading rabies or colonizing in the wild and affecting other animal ­populations.

Ferret activist David Guthartz called Giuliani's weekly radio show to complain. He'd been bugging the mayor's office for a while, apparently, and Rudy was no longer going to take it.

"The excessive concern you have for ferrets is something you should examine with a therapist, not with me," he said on the radio.

He then cut Guthartz off, but continued the lecture: "There is something really, really, very sad about you. You need help. You need somebody to help you. I know you feel insulted by that, but I'm being honest with you. This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness."

He's not the only politician to disappoint ferret owners. The animals are also banned in California, but hopes were high when Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shared scenes with a ferret in Kindergarten Cop, won the governorship.

"We really thought he would do something, but so far he hasn't," Murray says sadly.

To be disappointed, though, is part of being a ferret owner. The little guys are going to worm their way into your heart, you're going to spend endless hours playing with them and then they're headed for the Rainbow Bridge.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly