As the days warm up and spring fever demands to be satisfied, more of us turn to the Great Outdoors. Already the ferrets are standing at the screen door with that mournful look on their little faces, demanding to know when it is their turn to get out and see about all those smells!
It’s easy to lose a ferret. It can happen to the most responsible owner. Given a chance, a ferret will take any opportunity to look out of its safe spot and to explore what’s out there. And, having once tasted freedom, some ferrets stop at nothing until they can do it again!
Ferret Escape Artists
In my ferret life, I have had several escape artists. Sammie, my first ferret (who survived by the grace of God!) found ways to escape that I never imagined. At least four times he was found outside when I thought he was safely in the house. Li’l Girl spent an entire 14 hours wandering under an apartment complex and the adjacent parked cars before she was sighted. Another time I found her in the central air unit! Shadow snuck out when nobody was looking to amble around my yard and the neighbor’s, sniffing the grass and the flowers and the doorsteps he found.
Maggie Mae came to me with Buddy, Swee’ Pea and Rosie, all that remained of a business of 10. One day I came home to find Maggie Mae had somehow escaped the closed cage and wandered downstairs. The handymen who were there in the afternoon swore to me they had not seen her and, no, she had not gone outside through the open doors. What a relief to finally find her trapped in the house.
Odie came to me as a rescue from New York and escaped his previous owners the night before he was to be delivered, only to be found under a car in the parking lot. Anyone who has seen him will tell you that the boy senses an escape route and never visibly acknowledges it, but instead scopes it out without hesitation; when you blink, he is gone in a flash! But Odie doesn’t just escape. He hides so you won’t know where he went! He flies and he climbs and he jumps like an Olympic athlete! And at 8 years old he has not slowed down one bit.
And, then there is Isadora. Sweet, shy Issy — always protective of her cagemate Duncan and always curious. When visiting my mother in Louisiana, the back yard is closed off to create a large play area with dirt, grass, shrubs, a swimming pool and toys, so the ferrets can play outside. They are always supervised and the perimeter is constantly inspected to make sure there is no opening.
Early one morning, I set up the yard and grabbed my coffee and computer to catch up on some work as Issy and Duncan played. I watched them bouncing around, going in and out of the flowerbeds, digging in the dirt and cooling off in the swimming pool. As always, after about an hour they attempted to climb into the garage, but it was so nice outside I told them to play a little longer. Then Duncan started pawing and biting the pen so I would let him in. I finished typing the last sentence on my e-mail and sent it. Bending down I picked up Duncan, and reached for Issy, thinking she was right behind him. She wasn’t. Carrying Duncan, I walked through the yard looking for her. I didn’t see her, but I wasn’t worried as there are places she can hide.
Since Issy heads for the house when given the chance, I assumed she had somehow managed to get into the garage and hidden, or ducked through the cat door into the air-conditioned den. I closed the garage door to keep her from escaping that if she was in there. Because she poofs whenever my ferret Skitch gets near her, I grabbed him to flush Issy from her hiding place. Skitch looked around, but no Issy. It had now been about 5 or 10 minutes since I had last seen Issy.
The Search For Issy The Ferret
For the next 12 hours I searched through the entire neighborhood. I was in people’s yards, in their shrubs and in their carports. I knocked on doors and stopped cars. I told everyone I met about ferrets and her personality. I told them how to trap her and how she could escape if they took their eyes off her. I walked in the middle of the road to make drivers slow down. I looked under houses and into holes. I reached into dark places, followed the sounds of barking dogs, checked the bayou and talked to more people. Experience told me that escaped ferrets usually stay close to home.
My first move was to call a friend to help. Luckily she was also the weekend cover for the animal rescue organizations in town, which meant I only needed to make one call; unfortunately, that also meant there was nobody else to call.
I knew I needed a live trap, but I couldn’t find one. Putting out a cage with food, water and bedding, I made posters with a picture of Isadora and her name on it, including as little info as possible: Reward! Missing Ferret! Missing from . . . Missing since . . . Phone number. I made it personal: “I am a tiny, scared little girl. Please help me get home.” Overnight I went through the neighborhood putting the posters on lampposts and telephone poles. I made handouts with the same info.
By daylight I was up and headed out again. I handed fliers to joggers and put them in newspapers not yet picked up and in mail slots on doors. (It is illegal to use a mailbox for anything other than its intended purpose, so I did not place them in those.) I put them on car windshields. I called her name. I squeaked a toy. I stopped people walking into businesses and put up posters in the parking lots. I learned about the online local Lost Pets Network and went home and posted there.
Issy Is Found!
While putting up the posters, I got a call from my mother. “Renee, I’ve got her! She is right here — in my hands!”
Now, my mom doesn’t have a special affinity toward ferrets, but she was so excited! You see, of all my ferrets, Issy is her favorite. And, she missed her. Heading toward the house, I tore down some of the posters as I passed them. I finally got to the house and on the front porch of his home across the street was the hero who had found her. I went to talk to him and see what happened.
Apparently Issy was under his house, he said. And, because the garage is accessible from under the house, she wandered in there. She was probably looking for the cat door when she walked into a live trap he keeps in there, springing it and capturing herself. When he went into the garage that morning to see why his dogs were so excited, hours after I first saw him drinking his coffee on the front porch, he saw the trap had been sprung. Checking it, he found the little miss and returned her to my mom. When I finally got home, I found her asleep in the hammock with Duncan. As usual, she had no idea how much trouble she had caused.
After fixing the escape route caused by edging grass along the perimeter, I noticed that Isadora returned to it frequently. I also noticed she was more interested in getting outside. But, I was now on my guard and nobody was getting past me! At least not for another week!
Issy And Duncan Escape
Eight days later I allowed Issy and Duncan to play in the garage. I had disassembled the pen and taken it down south where I was working three days a week. I went out and re-assembled it, letting the ferrets out to play. Issy and Duncan wanted to go inside and they are safe in the garage. Putting Odie and Skitch in the back yard, I watched them, and let Issy and Duncan play inside. When the time came to put the boys away, I picked them up and took them to their cage, calling Issy and Duncan to come into the house. No answer. Now, Duncan’s deaf, but Issy is pretty reliable about coming when called. When nobody came and they were not in the usual sleep spots, I started a search — they were not in the garage! Where could they be?
Looking along the only place they could have escaped, I found another golf-ball sized escape route. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Not again!
Walking into the back yard I heard something under the deck. I stomped on it and ran to the only opening under it — there was a little champagne snout poking out at me. She allowed me to pick her up, and I just thanked God she was alive and safe!
But, what about Duncan? He is deaf! It was garbage day, and he couldn’t hear the truck – or the dogs — or, or . . . I was afraid he would wander into a yard with dogs, and then I heard barking! Running across the street, I looked for the cause. It was a squirrel! Looking at the green yards, I was not able to see Duncan’s albino form against them. Heading into the back yard again to start an organized search — I am getting WAY too much experience at this — I see Duncan, walking along the edge of the flowerbed, sniffing the pavement. “Thank you, Jesus!” I pick him up and place him inside in his cage and count the ferrets once again! One. Odie. Two. Skitch. Three. Isadora. Four. Duncan. I need a nap!
The longest I have known of a ferret to be missing and return home on its own is 11 days. While living in North Carolina, I often visited a friend who lived in a rural, wooded area. One day, she let her ferrets run lose in the house while she took her husband to work — a 15 minute round-trip. Coming home she noticed a ferret wardancing across the front lawn. As she gaped in amazement, she saw another. Hurrying to park, she picked them up and ran in the house to find the back sliding screen door wide open. Soon all ferrets were accounted for but one. Living on the edge of 40 acres of woods, Robin was concerned that a fox or owl might find him first. She put out a carrier and food and noticed that something was eating the food, but didn’t know what. Early one morning her husband came out to discover it was the missing ferret — just about the time we had decided he had been gone too long to come home.
The heart-stopping experiences of that summer visit are engraved on my heart. And, they taught me some valuable lessons about ferrets. Although it is my sincere wish that you never lose a ferret, I have learned a few things that may help you if it happens.
- Never underestimate the determination of a ferret! If they want something, they will go for it. The first missing ferret I ever read about was in a cage in a bedroom in a house. It escaped the cage, got past the bedroom door barricade, jumped the barricade to the kitchen, went through the doggy door and dug under a backyard fence to escape. I doubted the story when I first heard it, but not anymore!
- Never become complacent. If you have your ferrets outdoors, expect them to try to escape. Do absolutely nothing but watch the ferrets. Be aware of anything that may endanger your ferret. One person told how she was watching her ferret from across the yard and a bird of prey swooped down and carried him away as she watched helplessly. And, don’t have any more out than you can watch at one time. (How many can you round up fast if disaster strikes?)
- Never give up looking. A lost ferret will probably be near the house. And, the more you look, the more you get to share with neighbors about ferrets. It increases your chances of your ferret’s safe return.
- Never give up hope. It keeps you focused and positive. And, when you least expect it, your hope will keep you afloat.
- Do anything you can to make people aware you are missing a ferret. Put out posters with a picture and contact info on it. Personalize it — give your ferret’s name and make them want to help her get home.
- Put out a carrier or cage with food and familiar smells. If you have a live trap, use it!
- Retrace your steps many times. Your ferret may be hiding right under your nose.
- Ask for help. You never know when your ferret may head into the path of a car, an animal or an open drain.
- If your neighbors have dogs, let them know that even if they discover their dog found your ferret first, you want to know. You can’t blame a dog for being a dog, but I do want to know what happened to my ferret.
- As Winston Churchill said, never, never, never give up!
To those of you who ever need this info, best wishes. I sincerely hope you never do. Have a great summer!