How Some Ferret Shelters Weathered Hurricane Sandy

Four ferret shelters that survived Hurricane Sandy share their stories and lessons learned.

Several ferret shelters were in the path of Hurricane Sandy. We checked in with them to find out what happened, what they learned, what they did right and what they wish they’d done differently.

Barbara Clay of Rocky’s Ferret Rescue and Shelter in Parkton, Maryland, faced added stress from Sandy because one of the shelter’s big fundraising events, Rocky’s Oktoberfest, was occurring on October 27. “The last thing I needed on my worry list was a super storm named Sandy bearing down on us just 30 hours outside the end of the event, but she was,” Clay said. “Months of planning and work had gone into our event. Mother Nature’s effort was less than a week, not fair!”

She said that the ferret shelter is in the middle of a 130-acre farm and its 1-mile driveway is tree-lined. She expected downed trees, loss of power, and possible damage to her home and the two stand-alone shelter buildings. When Sandy hit, Clay said the unrelenting wind and rain were fierce and frightening, but they made it through with minimal damage; they didn’t even lose power. “The shelter took on some water, but the floor drains did their job.”

For Diane Wall at South Shore Ferret Care in Braintree, Massachusetts, the effects of Hurricane Sandy were also minor. “The shelter was not affected — a bit of wind, battening down the hatches, some trees down.”

In neighboring Connecticut, L. Vanessa Gruden said that the Ferret Association of Connecticut was also lucky and had no issues from the storm. “It never hit inland the way they said it might, it was the shoreline areas,” she said. “And as I live in the city, we are pretty much guaranteed to get power back quickly if lost.”

Jim Kennedy, the director of the Ferret Rescue of Maine, felt Sandy’s wrath a bit more. “We did lose power for parts of two days, but we did have a backup generator, so it wasn’t too bad,” he said. “The ferrets actually seemed to like watching us run around and clean the shelter with flashlights and candles, until we got the generator running.”

All the ferret shelter operators took the storm seriously and prepared for it. Preparations included monitoring the news, stocking up on food, water and gasoline, checking that the generator was in working order, ensuring that ferrets could be transported quickly if needed and making alternate housing arrangements if evacuation was necessary.

“I always keep a few zippered pillowcases in each shelter room,” Gruden said. “In case of fire or emergency, you can stuff quite a few ferrets in a pillowcase and easily carry them or drag them out if you had to crawl along the floor due to smoke. Another option for people might be a small taxi on wheels.”

Kennedy mentioned a sometimes-forgotten necessity. “We also made sure we had plenty of the necessary medications that the ferrets would need if there was a major power outage, and we couldn’t get to a pharmacy.”

Wall said that she contacted a list of local volunteers and gave out the extra keys to the shelter so more people had access. She also emptied her SUV in case she needed to load pet carriers into it quickly. She alerted local fire/police/dog officers of the shelter’s location and how many ferrets were in it, giving her contact information. Previous to Sandy, she prepared the shelter for any emergency by installing a security system that detects fire, fumes and carbon monoxide. The system also has an emergency alarm button.

Clay also alerted her volunteers in case Rocky’s needed assistance. “I had my volunteers ready to launch post-Sandy for any and all emergencies that could have arisen. God bless Rocky’s volunteers!”

So what were some of the best things the ferret shelters did to prepare for Sandy, either immediately beforehand or as an earlier preparation for any emergency?

“We organized carriers to be picked up and moved at a moment’s notice, and we developed emergency forms for each hospice ferret,” Wall said. “We painted toenails of various ferrets so if something happened to me, they could be identified. We trained local volunteers how to feed and medicate the ferrets.”

Kennedy cited two necessities. “The best thing we did was making sure we had water stored for the ferrets, and making sure we had a well stocked first-aid pack, just in case.”

Gruden said the best thing any ferret shelter can do is to always be prepared for an emergency. A key element of that is other people. “Make sure several people have keys to the shelter and you know their phone numbers by heart.” She also keeps a list of phone numbers for volunteers and her veterinarian over her desk so other people have easy access to it.

Would these ferret shelter operators now do anything differently to prepare for an emergency? Gruden would let her local fire station know the location of her ferret shelter. “They are ‘first responders’ and I would love to make sure they have a small animal oxygen mask available if needed,” she said. “If they don’t have one, I’d love to have the funds to buy and furnish it to them.”

Kennedy has a small quibble about his generator. “I wish we had an automatic backup generator, so I didn’t have to go out in the wind and rain to get the thing started, but others had it much worse than us, so I can’t complain.”

Wall wishes she had an emergency fund and had communicated more. “I wish we had gotten the word out to other ferret owners that we were ready in case they needed help.”

Before and after the storm, the Ferret Emergency Response Rescue Evacuation Team (F.E.R.R.E.T.) stood ready to lend assistance to individual ferret owners or ferret shelters in need. Fortunately, its resources weren’t needed for Sandy, and it will be here for ferret owners in any future emergency.

For any emergency, preparation beforehand can make a huge difference in the outcome. “If you do everything possible for emergency preparedness, there is some glint of peace-of-mind as you face such a life-altering storm as Sandy,” Clay said. “We were ready!”

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