by Dick Nutt

Having just managed to find decent homes for five kits, the result of yet another failed vasectomy and the negligence of the jill's keeper, with all the phone calls and general running about that this involved, I had retired to the workshop in the hope of an hour's peace and quiet, free of ferret related matters.

By now I'm sure I can pretty well tell, by the time the phone rings and some strange sixth sense, when the call is related to ferrets and when it is not, and when the phone rang in the workshop just after I'd made a start on a new mainspring for someone's .410" boxlock shotgun, I knew that the call involved a "ferret person"!

I was relieved to find out this is our esteemed Editor on the line, most certainly a "ferret person", and the call was a plea for some copy for the newsletter as the next edition was looking a bit on the thin side at that time. Now when you think of all the ferret keepers who will stand up and talk both loudly and at length on their successes, failures, trials, tribulations, theories and prejudices, concerning working, husbandry, showing, ferret health problems and what have you, how strange it is they seem unwilling to commit their ideas to paper for the benefit of, or, let it be said, the amused rejection, of others who have their own equally fixed thoughts.

Going around the shows, I know I often hear some very interesting and positive ideas, as well as a fair crop of weird ones and absolute horror stories, concerning our mustelid companions, that could well be passed on by means of the written word.

There are, of course, also those who will often hold forth upon alleged shortcomings within this or that Society, Club or Organisation, but who are never seen at AGM or other meetings where their ideas would reach a wider audience.

Having said all this, perhaps I should now get a bit controversial myself, and hope to get some "return fire" for my efforts! So here goes!

I am heartily sick and tired of the perennial and seemingly endless arguments about "working", "pet" and "show" ferrets, placed in inverted commas because the way some folk think and talk one is led to believe they are separate species, instead of the same loveable and fearless little animal that has been known and written about for over 2000 years. The only difference is what that animal's keeper decides to use if for, and I suppose in addition to the three categories I've given we can add "laboratory research" and "fur farming". I also use the word "keeper" in preference to "owner" as I don't believe anyone can OWN an animal, it is, or should be, its own free spirit.

All my stock work, both at rabbit catching and at public relations, as well as being much loved and respected pets. I don't bother to show much these days, as I just can't find the time to get fully involved although I still do some judging.

Those of you who were at our Cornbury Park show back in June will remember the showing successes of June McNicholas and her children, and of Jenny Amor from the New Forest Club. The ferrets that did so well for young Tom and Anna were rescues that had been brought to peak show condition by hours of loving care and attention.

They are, however, working ferrets both at rabbiting, public relations and, in the case of some of June's stock, are involved in Pet Animal Therapy with hospitalised children (see June's article in previous newsletter).

Jenny Amor's dark polecats seem to gain more show awards all over the South and Midlands than any others I can think of, the result of careful breeding of one litter per year, all of which are homed even before they are born! Now Jenny's husband is a part-time gamekeeper and all of her ferrets are worked by him with just the exception of "Bisto", the sire of the line!

Anyone who has ever had the privilege of visiting Jenny, and seeing her with those ferrets, will confirm they are also well and truly, ever so slightly pampered pets!

Yet another example is Sadie Roberts, who runs a one woman rabbiting service, shows very successfully, is very much into ferret rescue, and is often seen with some very happy and contented ferrets draped around her neck and shoulders like a living fur stole.

There are plenty of examples like this known to me, not all female either, who prove the point that worker, pet and show ferrets can be one and the same. Providing the ferret is well housed, well and correctly fed and receives the care and attention due to it, what "job" it does matters very little and certainly should not be the case for any argument or debate.

Perhaps the people who try hardest to make distinctions do so as a cover for their own shortcomings and personal prejudices.

Most of us have met them at shows and similar gatherings; the gentleman, frequently accompanied by a downtrodden looking terrier or lurcher who will look at your ferrets and say, "those ain't workers, they're too clean and well fed and not nippy enough". Presumably his are filthy, with plenty of fleas and ticks, underfed on a diet of slops, the jills left in season if not pregnant, all of which is the reason for the nippiness he thinks is essential to a good worker!

At the other end of the scale is the "potty pet keeper" whose ferret is grossly overfed, given lots of between feeds snacks that are not good for it, and is never allowed to venture into the great outdoors for fear that something dreadful might happen to it. Still, if it is too fat to get off the sofa there isn't much fear of that. This person will also likely harbour the idea, although not express it in the company of other ferret keepers, that working ferrets to rabbits is cruel, barbaric and bloodthirsty, but what else can one expect from these rural savages, he or she wonders.

Actual examples that I've met in the last couple of years, and probably the worst I can think of off hand are as follows.

First the gentleman at the Cotswold Country Fair.

"We all went ratting at the municipal rubbish dump, fair bloody alive with rats it were, and we took six small jills and Jim's two terriers.

"We bolted a fair few rats but two of the jills we never saw again. Dunno what happened to them. Another came up with a big bite out of her face and then in the excitement one of Jim's dogs grabbed another and killed her. Still, we bred five litters this year, so it's not all bad."

This character narrowly escaped my garrotting him with a rabbit wire!

Second was the lady who told me she had two pet hobs and that she was a vegetarian. So? I thought, what's remarkable in that? She then told me, quite proudly, that so were her ferrets and their diet was fruit and cereal mix. She was quite oblivious to my telling her that a ferret's short gut was designed by nature to handle protein such as meat, fish and eggs. However, when I then said I thought that in inflicting her chosen lifestyle upon two innocent animals she was being nothing less than cruel and insensitive, she became very angry and told the BFSS head man I'd been extremely rude to her.

Mind you, she didn't get much change out of him. Rude to the great British public?

Me? Perish the thought!

So, there you have it, it isn't what the ferret does for its living that matters, but what the quality of that living is, and let us all work, as I hope we all do, for that to be the best possible.

(First published in the NFWS News, October, 1997 - Issue No. 43)

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