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July 29, 2010

Weasel Your Way into My Heart

Or: a ferret love story

  • Cuddle bug Winston curled up and napped with Moose at night. Laurie Maxwell/The HSUS

  • Moose raced around the house in his wheelchair, seemingly unfazed by his new condition. Laurie Maxwell/The HSUS

  • Three big dogs are a handful themselves, and ferrets Moose and Pita only add to the rumble. Laurie Maxwell/The HSUS

  • Today there is a flurry of ferrets filling animal shelters, alongside the tens of millions of homeless dogs and cats. Laurie Maxwell/HSUS

by Laurie Maxwell

I never gave much thought to ferrets until a recent merger between my household and another threw together two pit bulls, a large bulldog, and two 6-year-old ferrets—Moose and Pita.

Three big dogs are a handful themselves, and Moose and Pita only added to the rumble. With their apparent limitless energy, they fearlessly swan-dived off bookcases and engaged in fierce tugs-of-war with the dogs' stuffed toys. At night, the two ferrets curled up into a tangled ball of fur and slept together peacefully. I quickly fell in love with their comical antics and tender personalities.

Physical ferret-py

When Moose, at the age of 8, suddenly awoke one day dragging his lower body like a seal, we knew it wasn't good. Diagnosed with a slipped disc, Moose was rendered semi-paralyzed. As toxins built up in his body from a broken bladder, he moaned in pain.

Not willing to give up, we devised a plan for his rehabilitation. The veterinarian showed us how to massage Moose's bladder to help him eliminate the toxins that were making him sick, and we crafted a little ferret wheelchair out of a shin guard, a piece of wood, and some small wheels.

Soon Moose was racing around the house in his wheel chair, seemingly unfazed by his new condition. With Pita nibbling at his ears and teasing him, Moose's "physical ferret-py" was working—he regained his appetite, was able to urinate by himself, and even was able to use his legs a bit again. Although the ferrets were a bit slower now, they lived happily together like this for a while.

Farewell, ferret

But Pita and Moose were no longer youngsters, and the inevitable medical problems caught up with them. Soon it was Pita who was rushed to the veterinarian's office in the throes of a seizure. This time, there was no magic bullet. With tears in our eyes, we said goodbye to our winsome ball of fluff.   

Moose was not so easily consoled. When we brought Pita's body home, Moose nuzzled her, trying to awaken his playmate of eight years. When she didn't move, he put his head down on her and lay with her before she was buried.

Pit bull intervention

After Pita passed away, Moose's low spirits did not go unnoticed by our three pit bulls. Our spunky dog Nala licked and nuzzled him relentlessly until he warmed up and playfully clawed and bit her giant muzzle. The stoic bulldog Brando followed Moose around the house with a watchful eye. And cuddle-loving Winston curled up and napped with the ferret at night.

Many people buy ferrets from pet stores, unprepared for their physical needs and emotional complexity. Learn about caring for ferrets »

The dogs did their best, but time wasn't on Moose's side. Not long after Pita's death, Moose went downhill. The doctor diagnosed an inoperable, fast-growing tumor on his liver, and we knew it was time to let him go. I can't help thinking that he died, in part, of a broken heart.

Helping homeless ferrets

We decided to donate our ferret supplies to a local ferret rescue group. Having plenty of experience with homeless dogs, I was still surprised to learn from the Greater Chicago Ferret Association that its shelter is overflowing with homeless ferrets.

Many people buy ferrets from pet stores, unprepared for their physical needs and emotional complexity. And veterinary care bills can become a huge expense—especially, as we learned, as ferrets age. Today there is a flurry of ferrets filling animal shelters, alongside the tens of millions of homeless dogs and cats.

Moose and Pita were among the fortunate ferrets who found their way into our home and hearts. In their memory, I hope that people will remember that the pet overpopulation problem doesn't stop with dogs and cats; whether dog, cat, bird or ferret, adoption is always the best option!

Laurie Maxwell is deputy campaign manager for The HSUS' End Dogfighting campaign.

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