Marlene Blackburn founded Richmond Ferret Rescue League (RFRL), a nonprofit no-kill ferret shelter, in 1998. A year earlier, she was on the board of the local SPCA and learned that incoming ferrets to the SPCA were euthanized because no FDA-approved rabies vaccine existed for them. “That’s when I met Pam Troutman, Lisa Leidig and Faith Hood,” Blackburn said. “I used Pam’s book about “How to Become a Shelter” as my bible. I took about nine months before taking in the first ferret, lining up a willing vet, volunteers, etc.”
Approximately 2,600 ferrets have passed through the RFRL since then. Currently, 100+ ferrets are in its system, which has five different locations in Central Virginia. Blackburn is its director, Kris Church is its co-director and Paige Collier is director of adoptions and rehabilitation.
Ferret Success And Ferret Heartache
RFRL has had many rewarding ferret cases. One memorable case was a tiny chocolate, male ferret and his two companions, which had been left locked in an apartment after the owners were evicted. The other two ferrets were relatively healthy, but the little chocolate male was another story. “This poor boy had a huge fibroscarcoma tumor hanging off his left shoulder,” Blackburn said. “It was the size of a ping-pong ball or larger. Our vet removed this huge thing two days later. We named him Stitches. We think Stitches was about 5 years old and he is also blind. He’s pretty much a permanent resident here with me, and he has no problem as a free-roam ferret. He gets around very well.”
One of the saddest cases at RFRL was a little adrenal female ferret. Her many, many health issues were insurmountable. “This little girl had suffered a long time,” Blackburn said. “I picked her up on Sunday afternoon and had our vet look at her Monday morning, where I held her while he put her down. All I could do was tell her how sorry I was that we couldn’t save her.”
Advice For Ferret Owners
Blackburn hopes every ferret owner educates themselves about the needs of ferrets. She recommends Ferret Central as one great resource.
Blackburn said that one of her volunteers, Mark Puz, has been with RFRL for six years and owned ferrets for more than 20. He brings his three personal ferrets out in public to educate people about ferrets. He lets people hold them and pet them while he answers any questions they have about ferrets. And he doesn’t just talk about caring for ferrets, he excels at it himself. Blackburn said that his care of one of his previous ferrets, which eventually suffered full paralysis, was outstanding and gave her a great quality of life until the day she died.
A Day At The Ferret Shelter
Blackburn’s day begins before 6 a.m., when she starts the rounds of all the cages to check food and drink and start feeding and medications. After breakfast comes litter patrol. Then starts the rotated playtime, with ferrets that get along enjoying free-roam together. “They stay out 45 minutes to 1 hour, and then get put up while another group comes out,” Blackburn said. “I have seven trusty free-roams; these guys/gals have run of the entire house.”
Around 6 p.m. feeding and medications are due again. But that’s not the end of the day. “The ferrets are still being rotated out to play until about 1 a.m., when I go to bed,” Blackburn said.
Ferrets To Adopt
As of this writing, one of the adoptable ferrets at RFRL is Gizmo. “I have Gizmo, a 3-year-old, chocolate, neutered male,” Blackburn said. “He has a pink nose. He’s a sweet single ferret, doesn’t get along with other ferrets. [He] plays a little rougher. He is healthy and looking for a forever-loving home.”
Many other ferrets are available for adoption.
Keeping The Shelter Open
To support the shelter, funds are raised by adoptions and attending public events, such as the state fair, pet expo, etc. PayPal donations are accepted on the website and donations of gift cards, veterinarian payments and food are appreciated. Blackburn mentioned that Support Our Shelters has really helped RFRL in the past three years.
Important shelter needs are donations to their vet, whose bill hasn’t been below $1,000 for the past year. Gift certificates to Ferret Depot or Jeffers are second on the wish list and are always appreciated.
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Troy Lynn Eckart is the founder of Ferret Family Services, a domestic ferret information, education and welfare public service organization in Kansas.