Taking a Gamble on Amber
Teenager MICHAEL SANDERSON has taken the world of ferret showing by storm with an amazing run of victories in his first year of competing, including winning the British Supreme Championship in November. Just two weeks earlier, Michael, 16, from Cramlington, Northumberland, won the champioship at Hull with his sandy jill Amber, recently rehomed from a rodent rescue centre. Now, Michael shares his inspirational story with Ferrets First readers, proving that a rescue ferret can triumph in a top class competition.
FROM a young age, I'd always spent most of my time in the countryside, travelling around with my grandfather who is very keen on horses. We would visit farms and go to country shows, meeting people with different interests in the countryside, such as shooting and ferreting. I quickly became interested in shooting but, because of the well-known stereotypical views about ferrets, I stayed well away from ferreting
However, when I was 14, I became more interested in country sports and decided to ignore the warnings and get a couple of jills for working. With my grandfather's help, I contacted Dave and Denise Owens, also of Cramlington, and within ten minutes of arriving at their home, I had aquired two jills - a sandy called Toffee and an albino called Millie. I built a large ferret run in one corner of the garden so that they could come out of their hutch and run around and I was perfectly happy with just two ferrets.
From that September through to December, I was out ferreting nearly every weekend, after discovering I had probably one of the best workers in the area.
But things were to change. Dave and Denise invited me to the British Championships with them. Even though neither Millie nor Toffee picked up a prize, I thoroughly enjoyed the day out and decided to get into showing.
Next spring, toffee was mated to a silver hob, giving me the perfect litter of two silvers, a mitt hob and a coloured jill. One silver jill was the lightest silver kit that Dave, Denise and myself had seen and great success was predicted for her. Sure enough, she was champion kit at her first show in Whitehaven, Cumbria, in September 2001.
I now had six ferrets and was I happy? Of course not. After a big redevelopment of the ferret run, which included huge new hutches and new flagstones laid across the whole area, I visited local ferret breeder Les White and bought a lovely dark polecat and another albino.
Then Dave and Denise had a phone call from the Northern Rodent Rescue in Coxhoe, County Durham. They were desperate to rehome 20-plus rescue ferrets. We visited the next day and saw a selection of sandys and albinos. I took a small sandy jill I called Amber. I didn't expect her to win anything at shows and she was very thin when she arrived at the rodent rescue and in poor condition. However, once she started getting the correct balanced diet all my ferrets receive, her condition and weight improved dramatically.
Next month, I went with Dave and Denise to a show in Egremont, Cumbria, where I received a third in the polecat class. Although my ferrets were in excellent condition, I won nothing else. Perhaps my expectations were a little high so I arrived at the next show, staged by Hull and East Riding Ferret Rescue on November 4, not expecting anything. I was there for the day out. When it came to the awards, I still expected nothing, even though I'd had a few recalls. Ten minutes later, much to my surprise, I was standing with trophies for 1st place in the albino, sandy, silver and polecat jill classes. I also won two third places for silver jill and coloured hob - not to mention both the champion and reserve prizes.
Who would have thought that Amber the rescue sandy jill would win best in show, with silver jill Sovereign coming second? At first, I almost didn't believe it and it took hours to sink in. In one show, I'd received more awards than I expected in a year.
With the championships just weeks away, would I do better one year on from the last show when I came away empty-handed with Toffee and Millie?
Saturday, November 17, was the day of the British Championship Ferret Show at Whitley Bay in Tyneside. The show was put on by the Ferret Trust and, because of the huge amount of advertising, an enormous turnout was expected.
Myself, Dave and Denise arrived at 9.30am so that we could give a hand to set up. At a show as big as this one, I didn't really expect to win anything and, as I helped to set up the trophies, the thought of taking any of them home never crossed my mind.
More and more people arrived and the entries were still rolling in at one o'clock. No one minded the late start to judging because there were some amazing trade stands. When judging did finally commence, the stewards were rushed off their feet transporting more than 500 ferrets from owner to judge and back again. I had more than 16 ferrets to show as I was looking after Denise's while she was judging. Judges could show their own ferrets but not in the classes they were judging. After a stressful first five minutes, when about six ferrets were called at the same time, everything went smoothly.
The judging finished at around 3.30pm and everyone sat nervously awaiting the results. Amber didn't get a rosette, nor did Sovereign, although her sister Falcon won 4th place in the silver jill class. Her other sister Bramble picked up a second in the coloured jills and then, much to my surprise, her brother Logun received a trophy for British Championship mitt hob. Amazingling, the four class winners from Hull were beaten by their hutch-mates who had previously picked up nothing above a third.
In about 15 minutes, the awards were handed out and it was time for the final line-up. Owners were not allowed to hold their own ferret so Dave took Logan. After the judge, Lol Dunn, had thoroughly examined each ferret, I turned away for a moment, looking at a fabulous trade stand nearby. Then Denise let out a scream and I turned quickly back to the line-up. Dave had a look of disbelief on his face and I relised Logun had done it. He was British Supreme Champion 2001. I went to receive my trophy and £50 prize money, presented by John Milford QC of the Countryside Alliance, which was sponsoring the trophy and providing the prize money.
I was blinded by dozens of camera flashes.
Any ferret that is properly fed and looked after has a chance of a show, as I found out. Although, at the age of 16, I still have much to learn about ferrets, I have done very well and hope to continue to do so. I have also made many new friends.