Weasels in a Winter Wonderland!

by Dr June McNicholas

(Apologies for the late report. Computer problems plus prolonged work periods away from home have meant that I am well behind in just about everything! However, the visit to Norway was a great experience and quite an eye-opener for the love and regard that people have for ferrets. So here it is…..)

November 2007 saw Fran George and myself preparing for a journey to Molde in North-West Norway to judge at a ferret show. All arrangements had been made well in advance and so all seemed fairly straight forward that was until we started our journey!

I flew from my remote bolt-hole on a croft in the Scottish Highlands (leaving poor Jeff to deal with the cantankerous rams who were just dying to get in with our ladies of the flock, plus an assortment of ferrets, dogs, raccoons, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, goats and whatever wildlife rescues – mostly otters and red squirrels -that were around at the time.) No problem at that point, the fun started when Fran and I traveled to Cambridge to stay the night with her parents prior to our early morning flight to Oslo from Stanstead. The weather turned foul; driving rain and sleet, freezing overnight. Not a good omen for a pre-dawn drive to the airport, especially as there were incidental roadworks en route!

Fran, never one for early rising, was unceremoniously woken at 5am for us to drive to Stanstead Airport. The ground was thick with ice and frost but we got there in good time for our flight .... except that it was delayed by 45 minutes! This posed a problem as our connection from Oslo to Molde only allowed us about 30 minutes to check in! Luckily we were only traveling with hand luggage so we hoped that would help when we finally arrived at Oslo. It did, but we were still late for our flight. After trying to speak to a check-in clerk we were convinced we’d missed our connecting flight to Molde. However, so many flights into Oslo had been delayed that we did, eventually and breathlessly, manage to check in for our flight. Once on board we relaxed with a coffee and a snack in the belief that we’d arrive at our destination as planned. Wrong!

Just as we were circling Molde for landing, Fran picked up an announcement from the pilot. Neither of us speak Norwegian, but something about the announcement registered with Fran, maybe from her days as a travel rep. We were being diverted to another airport some hours away. Apparently fog and poor visibility meant that we had to be diverted and then go by bus and ferry to Molde. Another panic! We were supposed to be met at Molde by members of the Norwegian Ferret Club: would they know when we would arrive? We had no idea when we would arrive or, if we weren’t met, where we were supposed to go!

Ushered off the plane into a cold, grey, foggy airport, Fran and I consoled ourselves with a large hot-dog while waiting for the coach to take us from (we still don’t really know where we landed!) to Molde. Although it was all faintly worrying that maybe no-one knew where we were or when to meet us, the drive to Molde was spectacular. The route took us alongside several fjords with a breath taking mountain backdrop. To me, it looked very much like my home in the far north-west of Scotland but on a grander scale. I was seated next to a charming lady who translated the various announcements into English for me. It then transpired she was a vet and we spent the next couple of hours chatting about veterinary topics – and ferrets! -as we drew closer to Molde.

In keeping with all the chaos our journey had encountered so far, it was not unexpected that there was no-one to meet us when we eventually did arrive at Molde. Two slightly bedraggled and journey-tired ferret ladies were stranded at Molde’s tiny airport wondering where we should go or who we should ring (and, if we did, could we find anyone to understand English!) A helpful airport official made a few phone calls on our behalf and, eventually, two lovely young ferret-owning ladies bounced into the airport lounge to collect us. I say ‘bounced’ because that was what seemed to characterise the event from then on. Happy, friendly, boisterous people and happy, friendly, boisterous ferrets!

A quick meal and drink with the show organisers before booking into our hotel relaxed us tremendously. Our hosts were fantastic. Next morning we were collected and taken to the show venue. Over 200 ferrets had entered the show, some traveling from Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Wow, were there some ferrets to look at! Fran and I couldn’t resist taking a short walk around the cages for a pre-show look at the entrants, although we were careful not to talk to owners or to let anyone know we were the judges of the day. We were struck by the massive array of cups, prizes, and donated raffle items from scores of sponsors. They made a glittering display in the front of the show hall. Equally eye-catching was the way in which many owners had decorated their ferret cages: colour coordinating beds, hammocks, drapes etc, plus a few obviously preparing for the festive season judging by the Christmassy theme adopted by some ‘cage designers’.

Judging took the form of the ferrets being brought in by a steward for judge’s inspection whilst a ‘scribe’ recorded the judge’s comments. This takes time! More so than in many a UK show. However, it was lovely. There were so many wonderful ferrets. Judging went on well into the late evening before prizes were awarded, and not just because Fran and I loved to play with the ferrets coming under our inspection! (Thanks to all the stewards and show officials who kept Fran and I well fed and watered during the process!)

There were many, many lovely ferrets who, to use show language, ‘went cardless’ on the day. All were in fantastic condition and obviously used to loving handling, making a judge's life a lot easier. There were a few ferrets that we rarely see here in UK such as an all-black jill from Germany (what a sweetie!) and several Angora ferrets. OK, I know a lot is said against Angora ferrets and basically Fran and I support the arguments, but a couple were outstanding and appeared to have eliminated many of the problems associated with Angoras. Personally, I’d hate to see breeding for Angora types here in UK but elsewhere views are different, and there was no mistaking the health and condition of these particular specimens.

It may surprise some people here in UK where ferrets are cheap to buy and even seen as ‘disposable’ that ferrets cost, on average, around £300 in Norway and some other European countries. Ferret food is equally expensive, and veterinary bills even more so. However, this does not mean that there is not a need for an occasional rescue. Since Fran and I have both won major show awards in the past with our rescue ferrets (often other people’s castoffs!) we were heartened to see some of the winners were indeed rescued ferrets. (Show protocol involved a listing of parentage/breeding much like that required by entrants to Kennel Club dog shows). How proud this must make their owners!

As judges, we were also able to award a special prize each to a particular ferret of our choice, regardless of whether he/she had been placed in a class. I selected a lovely bouncing youngster who greeted me with a huge whiskery grin and, although behaving perfectly throughout my judge’s examination, then danced across the table chuckling, and then picked up my pen to try and make off with it! Fran chose a sweet little dark polecat hob who reminded her of a ferret called Eddie that she and I had taken in as a rescue and brought back to happiness and health. Although now long departed, Eddie has remained firmly in our memories and affections as one of those extra-special ferrets that it was a privilege to have been a part of his life. As well as being an enormous pleasure to the owner to receive the award, it was a tribute to Eddie, and I was touched by Fran’s choice.

The day after the show Fran and I flew back to the UK with none of the problems we experienced on our outward journey – until we reached Standstead. Would you believe that there were no problems with snow when traveling in Norway but when we hit Stanstead we were greeted by the most horrendous blizzard! It was a hairy journey back to Warwickshire! However, our visit to Norway was an experience we would not have missed and will treasure as a time of laughter, fun and friendship. Our thanks go to everyone who made our visit so enjoyable and to their wonderful, much-loved ferrets.

(First published in NFWS News - #81 May 2008)