Toni Sumerlin is knee-deep in homeless ferrets. She owns and operates Ferret Rescue of North Idaho, and in mid-June, she agreed to take 16 ferrets from a shelter in Portland.
“It seems to come in waves,” she said. “I was down to one pair.”
Paula Johnson, coordinator of Ferret Haven in Spokane, currently has 19 ferrets waiting for adoption. Not to mention her own 17 furry balls of curiosity.
“I’ve had ferrets since 1982 when a friend of mine owned a pet store,” said Johnson. “I picked one up that was sound asleep. She woke up and gave me a lick on the nose.”
It was love at first sight. No wonder ferrets are the third-most popular house pet.
Hayden resident Sharon Johnson (no relation to Paula Johnson) understands.
“When you’ve had a ferret in your house and you loose the ferret, the house is just empty,” she said. “They are wonderful, wonderful pets.”
So when Sharon lost her pet ferret several months ago, she started looking. “That’s how we found Toni,” she said. “And how we got these two little sweeties.”
Sharon adopted Kiwi, a chocolate, and Bubba, a roan or white ferret with two “funky marks on his head” from Ferret Rescue.
“There are five of us that live here,” said Sharon. “My 78-year-old mother, my daughter who is 27, my son who is 12, and granddaughter who is 8. I’m 49. The ferrets entertain us all.”
According to Paula, the constant entertainment could be due to the fact that “Ferrets are similar to having a full-time puppy or kitten that never grows up.”
She added, “Their curiosity is boundless. They find everything a pleasure or interesting. It’s like having a two-year-old in the house.”
Sumerlin said, “If you are ever feeling down there’s nothing like watching ferrets chase each other around to cheer you up.”
So why then, are these loveable creatures finding their way to local shelters?
“Usually because people are moving or they’ve found out that ferrets were too much work,” said Paula. “We do get the occasional strays. People leave their windows or doors open and they escape. Our latest stray was found by a woman at 4 a.m. in her house – nose to nose with her. What a way to wake up.”
Domestic ferrets can’t survive in the wild. They have poor eyesight, and when that trait is paired with extreme inquisitiveness, ferrets left alone can easily get into trouble.
“They might walk right up to a strange dog like, ‘Hi there. I’m lunch,’” said Sumerlin.
“Ferrets are so domesticated, they’ll die if no one is taking care of them,” said Paula. “They aren’t very good hunters, but they are good at playing.”
These animals were domesticated before cats.
“The latest I’ve heard is that they were probably domesticated in Greece or possibly Turkey,” she said. “They are mentioned in Greek literature.”
“The domestic ferret was bred for hunting rabbits in England. They’d send them down the hole to chase the rabbits out,” said Sumerlin.
And ferrets love holes.
“They get under every little crevasse you can imagine,” said Sharon. “We’ve had one stuck under the washer. They get in little corners.”
Sumerlin added, “They are about 10 times more curious than cats. When they are loose you really have to keep an eye on them.”
She remembers stories of ferret mischief. “One gal told me about her pet getting into a bag of white flour. She saw a cloud of white dust coming from the kitchen.”
Sharon’s experiences are much the same.
“Once I left a brownie mix on the counter,” she said. “Later I found a little trail of the powder all the way to the place the ferret left the mix.”
Potential adopters should know that ferrets are adaptable creatures.
“They adjust to your schedule,” said Sumerlin. “They sleep 14-16 hours each day, so they make a great caged pet while you are at work. If you can spare an hour or two a day for them, maybe while you are watching TV or eating diner, they’ll be fine.”
Paula pointed out that ferrets have a musky odor.
“Some people are sensitive to it and other people it doesn’t seem to bother,” she said. “It all depends on your nose.”
Since ferrets can live for 10 years or more, Sharon said, “You have to be willing to give up part of your life and home for them. They are not a pet for everybody.”
But if they are for you, she added, “They become part of your soul.”
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