“(Ferrets) have no fear,” said Blankita’s shelter owner Lisa Watson of Fallon. “They don’t understand the difference between a 2-foot drop or a 20-foot drop. … (Blankita) was tender and sore for a while, but she pulled through. They bounce back fairly good.”
Just as kids can get wound up if they’re stuck in the house too long on a winter’s day, so can ferrets, Watson said. In fact, owning a ferret is kind of like having a curious toddler who will wander about and not realize the dangers around them. Both require proper supervision to keep them from harm’s way.
Watson runs a shelter in which 46 ferrets currently reside, most of which have been surrendered because owners have lost their homes to foreclosure or were confiscated at the California border, where the animals are illegal.
Other owners, Watson said, just don’t know what they’re getting into when they choose a ferret as a pet.
“It’s frustrating,” Watson said. “Pet stores will sell them to anyone. Thank goodness for the Internet. There is a network internationally of ferret shelters and ferret owners and we talk to each other. For example, I didn’t know you can’t feed them a granola bar. They like them, but they’re not good for them.”
Watson didn’t know six years ago what kind of work would go into taking care of even one ferret. Her 17-year-old daughter back then was troubled, she said, and her therapist recommended that she have something to get out of bed for every day. In considering pets, many animals, such as dogs and cats were automatically crossed off the list.
“We’d had hamsters and you can ignore them for a week,” Watson said. “So we bounced around the idea of a ferret. We hadn’t had a ferret, so how hard can it be?”
That’s when they acquired Kodo the ferret, who demanded constant love and care and he jump-started Watson’s daughter on her path to emotional healing. And within a few weeks, Watson was so pleased with Kodo that she ended up welcoming more ferrets into her home, even without having officially set up her shelter yet. But it was their personality that attracted her to the animal.
“They’re like 2-year-olds,” Watson said. “This I didn’t completely realize when I first got one. … They get into trouble. That’s their cuteness.”
Since then, she’s learned more than a thing or two about caring for ferrets. She’s currently in need of bales of hay to keep them occupied because she makes sure they have their playtime early in the morning or late in the evening. Watson also has some volunteers to help her out as needed.
“I feed them, let them out to play, then I go about my day,” she said.
When she goes to work, they stay inside in a room she’s set up for them. They stay there for most of the day, which is why their playtime is so important.
“A ferret needs to be out of the cage between two and three hours a day,” she said. “They get very bored. They’re ranked with primates and dolphins. They can get destructive, but not vicious. They have to be investigating and you have to change their toys. I buy some from garage sales, the stuffed, teasing toys. … They love the McDonald’s little stuffies.”
When they are outside, they have to remain in enclosed areas, according to Watson. Otherwise, predators, such as hawks, will make them their prey. Even around the tall bales of hay, where some of her ferrets like Blankita will become adventurous and climb to the top, she keeps a constant eye on them so they don’t drop to the ground again.
When they do remain in cages, however, Watson advises that pet owners be smart about their selection.
“The ones you usually see at pet stores, with the baby ferrets, they’ll tell you, ‘Here, buy this cage, that’s a good cage for a few months while you potty train,’ ” Watson said. “It’s just one level and maybe it’s good for hamster, but ferrets need a lot more space than most cages provide.”
She added there are safety issues involved with certain cage specifications. If the cage has a wire bottom to make it easier for potty-training, a ferret’s toes can get caught or their feet can get deformed because they’re not on an even surface. She also recommended small hammocks.
“I usually see three or four ferrets in a hammock,” she said. “Some of them hate getting into a cage.”
Watson said being a ferret owner has been a learning experience for her as she’s now dealt with many diseases, vet visits and a variety of concerns. But she loves each one of her pets for their own personalities. She holds fundraisers to keep her shelter going and though she’s not a nonprofit yet, she hopes to be in the future, and the ferrets provide the motivation she needs to keep at it..
“Some days I wake up and when I pick them up, they give me that ‘Give me love’ look,” she said.