On The Couch Special - The Ferret That Came Back From The Dead

June - 3KbSometimes there are ferrets, or their circumstances, that stay in people's minds, writes DR JUNE McNICHOLAS. I'm continually amazed by how many people still ask after our Morgana, or ask to hear her story. So as a change from the usual 'casebook' approach to On the Couch, this is the tale of Morgana and her life, death, and life after death!

It all began in the summer of 1997 when I took a call from a local animal shelter. 'We've got a polecat ferret in. It's an adult male and we've called it Bert. Will you take it?'

I was pleased that they had rang. It was a time when a number of us in the Midlands were desperately trying to get shelters to accept ferrets and to pass them on to rescues where necessary. I have to say the shelter deserved ten out of ten for their cooperation - but zero out of ten for their accuracy! 'Bert' the adult male turned out to be a jill kit about ten weeks old.


Although Morgana, as she was renamed, was in quite good health, she was very tiny and turned out to be a very late developer so it was not until two summers later that she went to the vet's to be spayed. During the op she was found to have the start of pyometra, although there had been no observable symptoms. Maybe this contributed to her post-surgical discomfort as she had a bad night which culminated in her pulling all her stitches out early the next morning. At 7am she was OK, if a bit dozy, but by 8am her wound was wide open, her intestines hanging out and she was bleeding very badly. She was in shock and very weak.

Obviously, we rushed her tothe vet's immediately. By incredible bad luck, it happened to be graduation day for my students and I simply could not avoid going in to work, so we left her in surgery. Within minutes of me arriving in my office, my secretary put through a call from the vet - Morgana had died as she received the anaesthetic. She was just two years old.

Numbed, I rang Jeff. She was his special girl as he'd done all the work on her since she'd arrived as a particularly feisty, finger happy, little monster. He made arrangements to collect her body so that we could bury her in our garden when I got home. She had been placed in a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel and lain inside her carry case.

When he got home, Jeff couldn't face opening it so he left her in peace in the kitchen for the next four hours. It was only when he thought he would lay her in tissue in a box ready for burial that he opened the case, unwrapped the towel and opened her plastic body-bag. I don't suppose there are words to describe how he must have felt when he realised she was still warm and there was a faint heart-beat. But as she had 'died' receiving the anaesthetic, Morgana had not been operated on and her guts were still protruding from the wound. There was a moment of heart-stopping disbelief, shock and then high-speed action, all on automatic pilot, as Jeff rang the vet and rushed her back to surgery

In the meantime, I had rushed back from the graduation ceremonies as early as possible to find the house like the Marie Celeste - computer still on, coffee still warm in a cup etc but no sign of Jeff. I knew nothing of what had happened. When he returned, I simply couldn't take in what he was saying at first. If it wasn't so tragic, if would have been funny as I tried to understand why he had taken our dead ferret back to the vet for an operation! Then there was the long wait for news, although we didn't hold out much hope. It was a couple of hours later when the vet rang to say she'd pulled through the operation. She was on a drip in intensive care for the next 36 hours.

Morgana came home that weekend, a very sick little ferret indeed. It was too early to tell if she was going to make it or whether she might have some permanent damage. We suspected she was blind and/or brain damaged. However, it was obvious that Morgana was determined to live. As the days and nights of watching and nursing passed, we realised that she was not damaged in any way. It was almost too much to hope for. Then came the day when she wriggled and asked to be put on the floor. Unsteadily, but with total purpose and concentration, she padded across the room and fastened herself on to my bare foot. Morgana was back! I think it was at that point we knew she'd make it.

Morgana made good progress and we began to be hopeful of a complete recovery. It wasn't without hiccups - she undid her outer stitches again and had to be bandaged up like those pictures of Egyptian mummified cats, and she was the world's most bloody-minded patient and impossible to keep calm. However, maybe that's what pulled her through.

We can never be sure what happened. I have no reason to doubt the vets at all. Two vets with plenty of ferret experience tried very hard to revive her when she 'died', and they were as astonished as we are. There are a couple of theories, though. Sheila Crompton thinks that Morgana reached Rainbow Bridge but the other ferrets there turned her back because it wouldn't be Heaven if she was allowed to stay. Jeff says that if these 'death experiences' are really like going through a tunnel, Morgana must have turned around and seen, not just a light at the end of the tunnel, but a net over it and scampered back to kill in the nets! I'm not sure it matters what the reason is. I can't get over the incredible fortune that I had to be in work, otherwise we would probably have buried her immediately. I just know we are grateful to Whoever or Whatever gave her the strength to come back.

Morgana (centre) with her first group

For the following four years, Morgana lived with her group, a healthy, happy little ferret. Incredibly, she became much nicer tempered, a sweet little character in fact, although I would hardly recommend death as a solution for bad temper! However, one by one her group members passed away, the last being Hazel in December 2003. Ironically, Morgana had been the first to 'die' yet here she was, the only survivor. We knew it wouldn't be easy to integrate an older jill with another group, but she was so depressed we felt we at least needed to try. The difficulty was deciding who to introduce her to. Morgana has all the social graces of a steamroller and as much gentleness as Vlad the Impaler, so who would want her in their group? We certainly didn't want to upset the elderly ferrets, which actually ruled out at least two thirds of our groups as we currently seem to be a sort of 'Autumn Leaves Retirement Home for geriatric ferrets'. In the end we selected Button and Beau, two fairly young silver hobs, as her potential companions. Neither has ever been aggressive or dominant. In fact, they are a pair of big girls' blouses and make Julian Clary look like Jean-Claude Van Dam in comparison. They greeted her quite cheerily, so she swore at them. They bounced in invitation to play, so she clipped them both around the ear. However, she didn't show any signs of really wanting to pick a fight and they seemed to know to leave her alone for the time being.

For the next month Morgana seemed determined not to have anything to do with them. They live together as separately as they could manage, although there was never any overt aggression. The two hobs simply played together as usual and did as they were told if Morgana decided the food bowl/bed/water dish/hammock/toy was hers and hers alone. There are never any golden rules for integrating ferrets, sometimes there's immediate acceptance or out and out rejection, sometimes there's a few minor squabbles during the sorting out process, but I find the prolonged stalemate situation very difficult to deal with. On the one hand there is nothing negative going on, but on the other hand there seems to be no progress either so you never know whether it's right to let the situation continue or not. I'm probably more apprehensive than any of the ferrets during these times!

Then came the morning when Morgana was found curled up with Beau, fast asleep. The next day she in the hammock with Button. They aren't on playing terms yet, but they do spend more time together instead of trying to avoid one another. The hobs still have to mind their p's and q's at times but Morgana has found a new family and who knows? A second lease of life!

(From Ferrets First Issue no. 16 February/March 2004)

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