By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
— If you’re visiting the Houseman home, you might want to watch your bags. And your jacket. And your purse. And your pant legs.
Moments after a visitor arrived, the furry horde was out and investigating, eyeing the newcomer with bright eyes and seemingly trying to decide just how interesting this could be.
Maggie Houseman watched them with a smile.
“They’re constant amusement,” she said of the business of ferrets that shares her home. “It’s like having permanent, happy 2-year-olds in the house.
“They’re completely and utterly a riot. ... And you never know what’s coming next with them.”
Houseman, of the City of Tonawanda, along with her husband Jamie Houseman, is the founder of Ferretpallozza, a group seeking to educate people about ferrets as pets and provide a shelter for critters in need of good homes.
The Housemans, who do some rescue work, also hope to open a full ferret sanctuary, but in the meantime, Ferretpallozza’s Facebook page has created a community of ferret owners, now topping 100, from the Buffalo and Tonawanda area and beyond. Members share stories, photos and memorials, seek advice, and occasionally connect to find foster homes for ferrets in need.
The network banded together in mid-March to find the home of a little lost ferret discovered wandering in Tonawanda, Maggie Houseman said. Barney (known as Rosco during his short stay) was found on William Street by a wildlife rehabilitator who contacted Houseman. After she posted photos of him to Ferretpallozza and other Facebook pages including Ferrets Dook and the America Ferret Association page, the word spread ... and Barney was claimed within three days by his grateful family.
The group has also harnessed the power of social media to find foster homes for several other ferrets and aid rescue attempts for some critters with special needs.
“There are pictures, there are stories,” Houseman said of the Facebook page. “It just kept growing. And with Barney’s story getting out, it’s even bigger, which I love.”
The Houseman ferrets — a combination of family pets and rescued fosters, including Clarice, Bear, Sampson, Oscar, Apollo, Daphne, Bolt and more — have it good. Their home includes a ferret play area built by Jamie Houseman, a “work in progress” composed of plastic tubing, hammocks, ladders, a small ball pit and a pasta bin for digging. Plastic tubing winds its way along the floor for exploring (or sleeping). For the most part, they have full run of the house.
“Being so social, they’re not meant to stay in cages every day,” Houseman said. “They need a minimum of four to five hours of interaction with other ferrets and especially with their humans. They are just bundles of energy.
“They’re not like a dog or cat, where they can be left on their own a lot. They do required constant socialization.”
Erin Helms of North Tonawanda, who is also involved with Ferretpallozza, was put in touch with Houseman through a friend who runs a ferret shelter in Pennsylvania. She currently has four ferrets — Sanka, Pivot, Tater Tot and Sookie — and will be soon taking on two rescues from a shelter.
It all started with Sanka, now 81/2, who was acquired after Helms’ husband wanted a ferret and they researched them as pets.
“They’re hilarious. They really are, when they start war-dancing and playing and dooking,” she said, referring to the noise happy ferrets make. “You come home from a really bad day at work and you start playing with them and it just makes everything better. They’re an outstanding pet.”
For Lee Rose Wilson, of the City of Tonawanda, it all started about 12 years ago, when someone dumped a ferret dropped off in a child’s backpack on the steps of her friend’s apartment building. With the bag and ferret was a note written by a child: “My name is Cheerios. I’m very good. Can you take care of me?”
Wilson took in Cheerios ... and years later, she still has the note. She also has five ferrets, Honey, Nacho, Pamplamousse, Black Moon and Hazel, whom she just adopted via Houseman. They, plus the original Cheerios, are six of the 11 ferrets she’s owned since that day, when her backpack foundling touched off a beautiful relationship.
“I could never be without a ferret ever again,” Wilson said. “Between the laughter and the bonding, there’s just nothing like them. It seems like they’ll go to no end to make you laugh and make you happy. They’re little clowns.
“It’s like everyday’s a adventure. Everything is brand new every single time they see it. They’re so social, and they just love people. More people need to realize that about them, because I don’t think people know. And I think that’s what people look for in a pet.”
While Houseman, Helms and Wilson are enthusiastic about the joys of ferret ownership, they make it clear that they’re not for everyone. A member of the American Ferret Association education committee, Houseman has helped write several articles about making the choice to become a ferret owner and being sure you’re ready for the critters. With a lifespan of six to 10 years, they are not short-term pets. They’re also curious, tenacious and inventive.
“Ferret-proofing i an art form ... right down to having metal screens in your windows as opposed to nylon, and making sure there are no gaps under your kitchen cupboards,” Houseman said, adding that the traits that can make ferrets such fascinating pets can also make them a challenge. That’s another reason social interaction is key: Bored ferrets get into trouble, she said.
Robin Landes, director of the education committee of the American Ferret Association, has owned ferrets for about 30 years. In that position, she works to dispell a lot of myths around the animals and to educate potential new ferret owners on issues from the cost and medical bill factors to the serious misconception that they are caged animals like a hamster or guinea pig.
While ferrets should not be strictly caged, she also said there’s a lot to be considered before letting them wander a house.
“Ferret-proofing is a very serious issue,” she said. “Do you have a safe place? Not only can this ferret be safe from himself ... because they are very inquisitive ... but can they be safe from other pets? Dreadful things can happen if you’re not vigilant.”
Helms agreed. “I think people see them in the pet store and they’re sleeping a lot,” she said. “While they do sleep a lot, they do need a lot of one-on-one. They need human interaction, new toys, new smells.
“You can’t buy them and forget about them. People just don’t think.”
Wilson also said that people need to take the responsibility seriously.
“They need to make a commitment,” she said. “Ferrets are very attached to their people. If you can’t afford to take care of them when they’re sick, or you just think for some reason, you’ll get bored with this ... don’t do it. This animal will get attached to you and it’s heartbreaking for them when you give them up.”
In addition to this, ferrets have very specific dietary needs, Houseman said. As obligate carnivores, they eat strictly animal protein, and cannot digest complex carbohydrates. Some common foods, such as onions, are toxic to them.
The critters, members of the weasel family, also have special medical needs, and require a veterinarian who has experience with them. Common medical issues include adrenal gland and pancreatic diseases, Houseman said.
“Medical bills, they can skyrocket in a heartbeat,” she said. “Every special need can be a challenge.”
Even with the challenges, though, Houseman said that ferrets are the best of pets, combining playful and mischievous personalities with the best traits of dogs and cats.
“It’s a total riot,” she said. “I absolutely could not imagine my life without them.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
• Contact Ferretpallozza on Facebook, by calling 348-8119 or by email at email@example.com.
• For more information, visit the American Ferret Association at www.ferret.org.