Regulars

A Very Special Webster

Ferret-Face

by Daniel Radosh

A cursory search finds only two web sites devoted to pet slugs. This is as it should be. Slugs are disgusting animals to keep inside a house, and I would be shocked to discover any more than two slug owners proud enough to post home pages about their deviant pet habits.

Why then are there so many ferret pages? And why are they all so obsessively enthusiastic? I mean, we're talking about the most foul, unappealing house pets since, well, slugs.

According to Ferret Central, the two most-accessed pages of the Ferret FAQ are: "What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?" and, "Are ferrets legal where I live?" Obviously, the FAQ's response to the former is all lies, or no one would bother to check out the latter.

What are ferrets? Ferrets are rodents.

Okay, I'm kidding. And boy, do ferret fanciers hate it when people make the rodent mistake. "I am not a rodent!" screams one ferret's home page. (It is common for ferret owners to write in their animals' voices. How annoying is that?) "I am related to...weasels." Yup, that's much more attractive.

Are ferrets legal where I live? Real pets are legal everywhere. Ferrets, however, are banned by many cities, towns, counties, and even a few states. In these places, ferrets are classified as wild animals. This should tip people off to the fact that these creatures might not make ideal companions. Instead, ferret lovers—like militiamen stockpiling automatic weapons—hold that the law itself is unjust.

To answer the above question, Katie Fritz has painstakingly compiled a list of United States ferret-free zones—39 in all. "My apologies for the long delay in updating this list," writes Fritz. "I'm afraid a number of 'life changes' have kept me out of touch and largely out of circulation till now." Um, don't you need to have a life in order to have life changes?

Do ferrets make good pets? The big claim about ferrets is that they are awfully cute. There's no arguing with that. Not because it's true, mind you, but because ferret owners will stubbornly insist on it, despite glaring evidence to the contrary. Ferret web sites are littered with allegedly adorable JPEGs. In every single one, the object of admiration is, to any objective eye, mind-bogglingly un-cute—typically resembling a mole rat that's been stretched out on a torture rack. And yes, I'm including "Doofus, the Ferret King" and "Pixxel asleep with her head on her own tummy".

The sites detail all the cute things that ferrets do—which frequently involve socks. "Ripple...loved to pull socks right off your feet and hide them under the water bed," remembers "The Weasels of Wyrdhaven" page. And if you're wondering who still owns a water bed in this day and age, it's the same people who have ferrets.

In addition to water beds, think renaissance faires, how-to-speak-Klingon books and Tori Amos. Or think Geri L. Neemidge, who writes, "In my spare time I play with computers, and I enjoy dressing in silly costumes at Mensa regional gatherings."

"The traditional view of a ferreter," explains "The Hunting Ferret" page, "is that of a furtive poacher, out on a dark night, with one or more vicious, bloodthirsty ferrets secreted about his person, probably in his trousers." The contemporary view, on the other hand, is that of a hapless stoner, in on a dark night, watching "Space: Above and Beyond" with one or more vicious, bloodthirsty ferrets secreted about his person, probably in his trousers.

Maybe vicious and bloodthirsty isn't the best description of a ferret. Vicious, bloodthirsty, and fetid is more like it. "Some people think we smell bad," counters "Boshi". "But I've trained my humans to wash my bedding often, and that keeps me pretty sweet smelling." That's the ferreters' party line, and they stick to it even if they can't resist telling stories about their pets' too-cute but none-too-sanitary habits. "Tootsie likes to go trash-can diving." "Kodo loves to dig and dive in fresh litter." Fresh, with ferrets, being a relative term.

As for that "one or more," ferret freaks always have more. "Six ferrets are as easy to care for as one," they'll tell you. Or, "Ten ferrets share our house with us." Any problems this might cause are easily solved. "Today I brought home my 70-centimeter-tall pachira and put it on the table in the living room. Late in the evening, I found it overturned, all the soil on the table and the floor, and several of the roots severed," writes Urban Fredriksson in his ferret diary. "Well, I've got too many plants anyway, and why not let my ferrets do the weeding?"

"The Ferret Stroller is basically a (human) baby stroller that I ferret-proofed," writes Roger Poore. "This idea came to me when I decided that five ferrets were just too much to carry around when we go out." Laugh if you want. He could have said, "Well, I go out too much anyway."

Then there's Bill Sebok. His fourth ferret wasn't getting along with the first three—Bridgett was "biting at the other ferrets' faces." Sebok's brilliant solution was to add another beast to his collection. "We were hoping that a younger ferret would be a friend and companion for Bridgett." The result: Bridgett "instantly discovered how to bite and shake Jasmine's neck."

Let's talk about biting. Ferreters swear that ferrets don't bite...any more than they smell. In the same breath, however, they'll say something like: "He was scared and tended to show it by biting". "She would bite hard". "I picked him up, and the first thing he did was bite me. I knew he wanted to go home with me". "When we found her she was marked down to $25 because of her 'viciousness'". "She would rest in my winter coat pocket, where she would gnaw on my little finger. Needless to say, we fell in love with her too".

Needless to say, biting is never inherent in the ferret's personality. "Vanna bit anyone who got near her, so she was given a 'Will Bite' sticker at the shelter...I knew this little bundle of white fluff wasn't a biter at heart, so I began to handle her every week. She improved a little over time, but after biting me and another club member very hard one Saturday night, I decided to take her home to give her more time with people." As opposed to, for instance, not sticking one's hands in her cage anymore.

It is hardly uncommon for ferret freaks not to realize just how unpleasant their own stories make these animals sound. One of the first things anyone browsing through a ferret web site learns is that these creatures are not the healthiest on God's green Earth. Vivid (meant to be heart-wrenching) descriptions of what it takes to nurse a ferret through an exotic disease are the least of it. One ferreter also posts his late pet's necropsy report, and another invites us to download a photo of her charge afflicted with adrenal disease. This picture shows a matted, scrawny animal—in other words, one that is indistinguishable from a healthy ferret. And if you absolutely must look at a bloody ferret, cut open and sprawled out on the operating table, there's always "Pathology of the Ferret" —Doofus the Ferret King like you've never seen him before.

Have I mentioned yet how awfully cute ferrets are? No matter how disgusted ordinary people are when confronted with a ferret in the flesh, ferret freaks will continue to be won over by the animals they call "critters," "fuzzies," and "carpet sharks."

"Having ferrets for company, as well as talking about them, always cheers me up tremendously," says Gier Friestad. "No need for cable TV in a house with ferrets!" cheers Lars Eriskssol. On the other hand, no need for air-freshner in a house with cable TV.

They just won't stop. "Ever wonder what a ferret sounds like?" asks John Rosloot. Sure—what it sounds like as it hits the pavement from a five-story drop, maybe. But no. This sound file is of Cassie "dooking" and "power-sniffing." Isn't it cute?

Maybe you'd rather see ferrets in art history, or a French ferret folk ballad, or a disasterously un-interactive ferret racing game, or amateurish cartoons of ferrets as "Star Trek" characters. Or maybe by now you're reconsidering that necropsy report.   </end>

photos of 'lucy' supplied by greg

DANIEL RADOSH is a New York-based freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to the New York Press, Details, the New York Times Magazine and The Transom.

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