Angela and Valerie Smith,… who founded a nonprofit ferret rescue six years ago, take in the small animals regardless of age, temperament or health. Each has a sad story.
Buster and Eddie were left in an apartment for a week without food. Victor, who softly wheezes, has lung cancer, possibly from sleeping on improper bedding. Toffee and Oscar were among 20 ferrets abandoned at once.
The Smiths have heard it all. They have firsthand experience in what happens when people fall for a trendy, cute pet in a store, then discover they own an exotic animal with particular needs.
FAST FERRET FACTS
• Ferrets are part of the weasel family
• Life expectancy: six to eight years
• Weight: As much as three or four pounds
• What they eat: High-fat, high-protein diet
• Sleepyheads: Ferrets sleep up to 20 hours a day
“The cuteness wears off,” Angela Smith said.
Ferrets typically are not accepted at shelters, including the Atlanta Humane Society. But a staffer will occasionally find one on the doorstep, abandoned. “There’s nothing unusual in us finding a box with holes punched in the side,” said Bill Garrett, interim president.
He remembers when Georgia didn’t allow ferrets as pets. And his staff urges caution when people inquire about them. “Basically, they’re small weasels. And weasels do what they do.”
The best owners for ferrets are people who know what they’re getting into, said Angela Smith.
Ferrets are highly social, and need to be a part of family life. They also smell a bit funky — something that often surprises new owners.
Over the past six years, more than 400 ferrets have been fostered at their house, in the Scottdale neighborhood of DeKalb County, according to the Smiths’ estimate. About 250 eventually were placed in permanent homes.
Ferrets that are too old, or too sick, to be adopted will remain with the Smiths.
“They want to be part of a family,” Angela said. “They don’t want to be alone.”
The couple got into the ferret business after purchasing their own pair — Thrasher and Weasel. On a trip to pick up some food, they ran into a man trying to return his ferret. The store wouldn’t take it back. The Smiths decided their ferrets could use another friend and took it off his hands.
The rescue took off from that point. Once they reached 13, they obtained a state license. As part of that, they went door-to-door in their neighborhood, explaining what they planned to do.
None of the neighbors minded, she said, and so far, none of their slender charges have escaped. A DeKalb code enforcement spokeswoman said they have received no complaints about the animals in the past four years.
The ferret rescue, Georgia F.E.R.R.E.T.S., is one of two in metro Atlanta. The other is in Marietta.
Descended from European polecats, ferrets are part of the weasel family. They can live six to eight years, and weigh as much as 3 or 4 pounds.
They generally have a playful, impish personality. Although they like to lounge around — they need up to 20 hours of sleep daily — they need active play in between naps.
They have a naturally musky odor, and are carnivores who require a high-fat, high-protein diet. After consulting with a vet, the Smiths began feeding their ferrets kitten food. They also get dried Cheerios cereal, which is good for their teeth.
They’re not for everyone.