I occasionally joke with those that meet my ferret that he is a consolation prize from the breakup of a previous relationship — I got the ferret, he got the dog. Though I miss the little Schnauzer, it is clear that I am the fortunate one. My mother, who I lived with through my first three years of graduate school, believes otherwise. She will never admit it, but I know she just adores my ferret. Each time she sees him, she scoops him up and covers “the stinky little rat” with kisses.
When we purchased the ferret — at the time he was a chocolate-brown color — we named him Snatch. After being home for just a week, it was obvious that stealing miscellaneous floor-morsels and storing them in miscellaneous crevasses would become his favorite pastime. Hence, his name was born (not to be confused with the more crude definition some strangers have been perplexed by).
By the fall of 2010, Snatch had turned silver in his old age and celebrated his 6th birthday. He happily lived with me in Hector, a vineyard-populated town on the east shores of Seneca Lake in New York. Although curious about my strange pet at first, my boyfriend, Jason, quickly warmed up to him. We have lived in Hector since Valentine’s Day 2009. Our home sits at the mouth of the lake and is surrounded by farmland and forest; it is a fantasy playland for any wild creature, but Snatch has overprotective parents. He has only been outside in Hector for small stints at a time, and always with complete supervision.
As fall approached this year, Snatch had a moderate change in personality. In addition to cataracts and a balding tail, along with other ailments that plague elderly ferrets, Snatch began to be intolerant of his cage. For the majority of his life, Snatch was in his cage while we were at work and at night. If we were home, he was out playing around the house, causing the mischief that always caused us to giggle. If he went missing for a few moments, we always knew where to find him — either rummaging through the bathroom garbage (Shoot! We always forget to keep that thing up higher!) or curled up inside of Jason’s guitar, strumming the strings. Too bad he is not more dexterous; we could have had the next Stevie Ray Vaughan in the family. But he began creating earthquakes if placed in his cage for longer than it took to eat. It was a relentless rattling, and I feared it was causing his paws and teeth harm (and clearly stressing him out). We, therefore, decided to let him have run of the house when we were out.
As autumn progressed, our house settled; it happens with every change of the seasons — one of the perks of living next to the lake. Each year we fight with sticking doors and cracked windows. What we didn’t realize is that our door to the front deck had warped so severely that it no longer met up with the latch in the wall. Hence, when we left home from the door on the opposite side of our house, the suction of slamming that sticky door shut inevitably vacuumed the deck door wide open. Snatch didn’t even have a challenge. My boyfriend and I left for work at around 7 in the morning on Friday October 29. When I returned home at 6 p.m., the open door was the first thing I noticed. My heart flipped, my stomach churned and I spun into a whirlwind searching all of Snatch’s favorite spots to hide (garbage can, check; guitar, check). Then I checked all the spots I would never think to check. When my efforts turned up nothing, I called Jason in frantic tears. His winery (Hector Wine Co.) was set to open its doors the next morning, so he was incredibly busy with finishing touches, but he dropped everything and rushed home.
My next place to check, the place I most feared, was the base of the deck. Our house is built into the side of a hill. Therefore, when you walk in the door, you are on the first floor. As you move forward in the house, it becomes the second story. The only way to get to our deck is through the back door. The deck is two stories off the lawn, suspended by sturdy wooden posts. I shook as I looked over the edge, expecting to see a motionless white body. To my semi-relief, Snatch was not there.
When Jason arrived, we grabbed our flashlights. At this point, the sun was nearly setting and dusk was eerily beckoning. He took the low road, I took the high road. If the mess I made tearing the house apart wasn’t enough, I rummaged recklessly through the woods — tossing logs, digging in holes, fluffing leaves. I knew it was fruitless. There are hundreds of acres of wooded land, and Snatch could have been missing for almost 12 hours at this point. But I couldn’t stop. I would pause and pray every few moments, hoping that He would send Snatch out in my eyesight, or guide me in the right direction. At some point we just knew; we knew that our efforts were hopeless.
That night, I put Snatch’s cage outside. Although I learned that ferrets do not have innate radar for “home,” I hoped that if he was nearby he would smell his food or blankets and come in. I notified our one neighbor. The other homes around us are only inhabited in the summer months. I spread the word to nearby vineyard crews. I was at a loss of what else to do.