By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The members of Ferrets Anonymous are breakfasting at an IHOP in Laguna Niguel, grumbling about the illegality of their favorite animal and raison d’être. “Chinchillas are legal, why not ferrets?” asks one man, over a bite of pancake.
“You have to be careful who you invite over to your house, because what if your neighbor gets mad at you and turns you in?” says a woman named Anita H., who is known as the Duck Lady because she drives to work with her duck in a laundry hamper in the front seat. This is something she could never do with her ferrets, at least not in California or Hawaii, the only two states where the animals are banned.
“Exactly,” seconds Lance M., the organization’s president. “What’s so special about California anyway? Do you see any devastation in California? No. Just the bedroom in the morning.” It is President M.’s first term and already he is revolutionizing the way Ferrets Anonymous does business, what with the redesigned logo and the pewter keychains, which he now hands out. “They love shiny things,” says Lance. Whether he’s referring to the humans or their ferrets is unclear.
Conversation hops back and forth between two tracks. Track one: People are smitten by their ferrets. People whip out their cell phones to scroll through snapshots of little Koko or Sparky or Riata. They flip through copies of the newsletter called Paw Print, perusing calls for submissions to its photo contest — categories include Sleepy Furkids, Soupie Faces, Best Kisser, Ferret Disguises and Best Interaction With Toys — and lecture announcements. At the upcoming regional meet, one Dr. Freddie-Ann Hoffman will be speaking on “The Fur Beneath Us, a Shared American Ferret Experience.”
In the community, you are either a proud “ferrent” (ferret parent) or on the verge of becoming one. It’s a gusty, drizzly day, the kind of weather that gives ferrets the sniffles. Several members mill around in the parking lot before the meeting, looking wary.
“Do you have a fuzzy?” a woman named Dee asks me. Fuzzy is code for ferret, as is “kid” or “boy” or “girl” or “dookers” or “furrito” or “fuzzbutt.” When I tell her no, she nods and says, sagely, “Ah, you’re waiting.”
Another woman, Dusty J., pulls out her keychain. On it is a photo of her ferret.
“Oh, they get into trouble,” adds Dee. “Turn your back for two seconds, you better be prepared.”
Which leads to conversational track number two: People are worried sick about their ferrets. They are frail little creatures, prone to cancer, hormonal imbalances and being accidentally stepped on by their owners. “I’ve never seen a live one up close yet,” one new member offers.
“Oh, I have one that’s 8 and a half. She’s a bit unsteady on her feet,” a man says.
“Have you checked her blood glucose?” asks Lance. “When in doubt, stab a paw.” Lance is currently obsessed with a dwarf ferret named Trinket. “She’s tiny, tiny, tiny.” He pulls up her photo on his cell phone. “That’s Trinket.”
“That’s actual size,” says Dusty. “You are god to them,” he adds and then clicks off Trinket’s photo. “You decide when it begins and when it ends.”
Ferrets have an average lifespan of nine years. “That’s the part that hurts the most,” Lance sighs. “Just when you get to the point where you can’t live without them, that’s when you have to learn how to. I have a little girl coughing and wheezing at home.”
Many a ferret lover has been jolted awake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night imagining the nightmare scenario of getting popped by law enforcement. You check your wife, you check your kids, you check your ferret, not necessarily in that order.
On this subject, Lance gets fired up: “Maybe the cop sees a toy in the doorway” — a Wiggly Giggly ball or a FerreTrail Fuzz-E-Funnel, perhaps — “and he says, hey, that’s probable cause.”
“How many ferrets do you have?” someone across the table asks Lance.
“I don’t have 14.”
Then Lance says he really admires the way Dusty keeps her animals. To which Dusty says she acknowledges that there are many acceptable ways of keeping pets, but she likes her way best.
She has two fuzzies, one boy and one girl. The boy sits on her chest when she exercises. The girl popped into Dusty’s husband’s home office one night. They live next to a golf course, and someone, they later learned, dropped off the ferret in a backpack. “I don’t know how she survived. There are coyotes, and foxes and owls. Oh, god, owls.”