The Litterbox Jitterbug

by Bill & Ann Beck

Okay, so the alarm's gone off: I've lain in bed for almost half an hour listening to the the 'Today' programme and become thoroughly depressed. Then I've got up, had a shower and a shave and got dressed

Now it's time to unleash The Weasels of Mass Destruction.

It's always the same; I go into the lounge, draw the curtains back and then open the door of the big converted parrot cage where our seven WMD spend the night. They come charging out like it was on fire and then head for the litter tray (as if they couldn't have used the one in the cage if they were that desperate?) Then, as three of them all try to use the same litter tray at once, they come over all indecisive.

Can I?
Can't I?
Should I?
Shouldn't I?
Will I?
Won't I

Actually, I think I'll use the one in the bathroom....no, as you were, I'll use this one after all. Well, no, really.... I think I do prefer the bathroom litter box after all....

So, after I've spent a few minutes behaving like a demented goalie trying to save penalties at a Cup Final; scooting ferrets into potties in the vain hope that they'll actually use the one I've just unceremoniously shoved them into, it's time for breakfast. They all (bar Goldilocks) stand in the middle of the kitchen floor looking up at me as if to say "Got treats? Want! Now!"

So I open the door of the fridge to get the lactose-free cat milk out and they all try to get in to see what's in there; this is when their tails come in really useful - as handles! Having got the six hobs to share two dishes of milk, Goldilocks turns up. We go through this ritual every morning: I pick her up and give her her own little individual bowl. She sniffs at it and then gives me a pitying stare.

"Oh, alright," I groan and put a few drops of Ferretone in it. Honour is satisfied and Goldilocks laps her milk.

By this time the boys have all disappeared into the dining room and have formed a disorderly queue at the French windows.

"Want to go out!"

So now it's time for the next round of total indecisiveness. Having had their harnesses put on (with their ID tags and phone number attached, just in case they should escape from the garden) I open the doors. It doesn't matter whether it's a fine summer's day or if there's a blizzard blowing, the ferrets that couldn't wait to get outside two seconds ago now stand there dithering, while (usually) an icy gale wraps itself around my toes. So I stand there for a few moments while 11.27p's worth of heat goes out the window (the ferrets' own particular contribution to global warming) and then I start to nudge them out with my foot. Having finally got out, then can't wait to come back in again!

Arghhh!

So all this sets me wondering why ferrets are so indecisive. It must be something to do with domestication. After all, you can't imagine a wild aniamal behaving like this....

"Hi, Leo? I'm just phoning from the long grass. Do you want zebra or gazelle for dinner tonight? .....Well, when you've decided, just text me..... No, I can't see their eat-by dates from here!....What's that?....But we had warthog yesterday."

Or

"Gosh, it gets boring guarding these pups all day, doesn't it Mrs Meerkat?"
"It sure does....hey, look up there. Is that a Great Botswanan Snake Eagle up there?"
"Nah, it's a Lesser Spotted Tripe Hawk."
"You sure?"
"Well, it could be a McKenzies Tripe Hawk, they have green wings....wait 'til it gets a bit closer..."
"What do you reckon?"
"Nah, I still think..."
BOOFF! crunch, munch.

You get my drift? It's difficult to see any evolutionary advantage in being indecisive. I mean I used to be indecisive myself once.... but now I'm not so sure...

I think we'll have to ask an animal behaviourist/pschologist type person for an expert opinion: over to you, June.

First Published in NFWS News #84 May 2009

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