"Meldrew Moments of Mustelid Misinformation"

Dr June McNicholas

"I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" has been quite a frequent exclamation this summer, I can tell you. It's all because of the unbelievable amount of rubbish and misinformation that's appeared about ferrets.

How many of you saw or heard about the botched spay on a jill by 'vet' Trude Thingy? For those of us manning the stand at the Town and Country Festival it seemed that every other comment from the public was about how dangerous it was for ferrets to have operations. Single handedly, that woman has put ferret welfare back ten years.

Then a normally respectable publication also decided to highlight anaesthetic complications in ferrets. OK, anaesthesia carries complications for any animal so why single out the ferret? Don't these people realise the damage such misinformation does for animal welfare? Let's face it, if ferrets are so susceptible they keel over at the slightest whiff of anaesthesia they'd hardly be a popular laboratory animal, would they?

And then there's all the other programmes on TV. Ferrets have been referred to as wild animals one week and the perfect pet the next. Can you imagine the effects? Ferrets being 're-released' into the wild on the one hand and a growing market for pet ferrets on the other. Significantly, the references to ferrets as pets show only the cutest, most attractive of teddy-like hobs and neglect to mention the finger-happy nature of most kits or the blood-letting tendencies of many a rescue ferret when first handled. I am sure that it these sorts of prime-time media bloopers that have contributed to this year's enormous intake of rescues.

Anyway, at the last meeting the Committee decided that it would respond to inaccurate information from any source, whether this be at media or membership level. "We shall fight them on the air waves, we shall fight them in the newspapers and magazines, in print and in word, we shall show them by deeds." (OK maybe that's a bit dramatic, but I'm sure Churchill would have said something like that if he'd been a ferret-keeper.) The gist of it is that we have a Committee, we have a Publicity Officer so we will try to respond promptly to any inaccuracies if they are brought to our attention. More than that, we hope we can make sure that the NFWS is made known to these programme makers and journalists, and to make ourselves available for prior consultation to help prevent such misinformation and misrepresentation.

So, if you see, hear or know of anything that needs to be put right, let us know. Permit yourselves the luxury of a Meldrew Moment, wail 'I don't believe it!' and then we'll all have a real Meldrew Moan to the perpetrators.

Sadly, it's not just the media that's been causing a few mustelid myths, though. Even ferret owners can come up with incredible tripe. Here's a few examples brought to the attention of the committee.

  • Ferrets need a bowl of vegetables in their diet every day - We all have ferrets who like to swipe a bit of fruit or veg now and again, but a basic anatomy lesson is needed here to point out the problems this amount might cause. It's a bit like saying children like chocolate so give them several bars a day!
  • I've got a pair of black -eyed whites so I'll be breeding whole litters next year -The polygenetics are not that simple - so what are you going to do with the non-BEW kits?
  • Ferrets will pine and die if kept singly - Ferrets, like most people/dogs/cats/horses/rabbits etc, probably prefer to have company of their own kind, but let's not get extreme about it. It's up to the owner to give the companionship and attention.
  • Ferrets make super children's pets - Ferrets are definitely only suitable for older children. However, as ferrets can live for about 10 years you have to think of when the interested 12 year old child is 16, 18 even 20+ years. Will he or she still want the ferret? We place ferrets as family pets where there's more than one person keen to keep them.

On top of these more modern myths, we are still battling with beliefs that jills need to be bred from each year; that working ferrets are 'different' from show or pet ferrets; even the 'feed'em on bread and milk' brigade haven't entirely disappeared yet, so we need to urgently tackle these problems. Ironically, it is the media that may be our greatest ally. If we can point out their errors, they may help in promoting the correct information and further ferret welfare.

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