Fretting over ferrets as pets ... again

As if last week's media-blitz on guns, loonies and point-blank brain damage wasn't enough to stress you silly, I received some more of the same sad-weird sort of news at week's end … this time with respect to one rampaging ferret and his inexplicable taste for human flesh.


Late last week it was reported that a four month-old infant lost seven fingers to a ferret's bizarre chewing frenzy. Meanwhile, the infant's parents claim to have slept through what must have been an ear-splitting scream-fest, if my personal experience with even slightly ticked off four-month-old humans is any guide. Lest you consider these parents totally neglectful, never fear. Dad made sure to prove his parental outrage by flinging the offending ferret into the nearest wall, killing him (or her ... not sure). Unfortunately, it did not bring the fingers back. Surgeons could not save any of the mangled digits; a tragedy all around. If you happen to know ferrets, you'll doubtless be aware that many will take a curious nibble here and there, just for giggles. It's fun to play with fingers and toes, they seem to think. But eat them? This is the first I ever heard of it. Which raises many questions: Was this a well-socialized ferret? Might s/he have been ill-fed? Did s/he not have a safe place of her/his own to spend the night? What kind of supervision is reasonable when babies are interacting with pets? Does the species of pet matter? On this latter question I can assure you the answer is a resounding YES. When captive wild animals interact adversely with humans, those who claim ownership/stewardship are responsible for the safety of the humans in their company. Aggressive species, in particular, must be carefully secured. No need to have pet panthers attacking children at a birthday party, or Burmese pythons strangling infants in their cribs. Both are recent examples in which the animal-owning parties were held responsible for the damage their improperly managed animals committed. But what of ferrets? Because while many questions remain in the wake of this tragedy, there's one thing you can be sure of: pet ferrets WILL be receiving increased scrutiny. Though humans are undeniably maimed (and sometimes killed) by dogs and cats each year, the fact that ferrets cannot be easily categorized as domesticated leaves them bared to the powers-that-be when it comes to keeping them as pets. As one of my friends likes to say, "No non-domesticated animal should be kept as a pet. It's all about the slippery slope, you know?" To which I'll invariably respond: "But what, my dear friend, classifies them as such? Where, indeed, do we draw that jagged line?"


Dr. Patty Khuly


Pic of the day: Ferret by Stacy Lynn Baum


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