Hobby got out of hand, grew into ferret shelter

NEIGHBORS

April 21, 1994|By MICHELLE HOFFMAN

The homes on Red Tulip Court in Taneytown seem different only in their colors. But 405 Red Tulip Court stands out because of its threatening sign to trespassers: "Warning: these premises patrolled by an attack ferret."

Actually, it's protected by 11 ferrets at the moment, each one waiting to "attack" visitors with a kiss and an invitation to play.

"We used to have a sign in our car that said 'Show ferrets on board,' " said Terry Fike, owner of the otter family cousins. "That is, until one guy tried to run us off the beltway while trying to show us his ferrets. We don't use that sign anymore."

Seven years ago, when Mr. Fike and his wife, Joyce, were looking for a house pet, Mr. Fike found that he was allergic to cats, so he purchased a ferret from a friend. The Fikes have been ferret lovers ever since.

Throughout the years they have won various awards for their ferrets' roles in "fun matches," contests to decide longest or smallest tails, fastest ferret to crawl out of a bag or tunnel, biggest yawn, and other talents. Their animals also have won awards in ferret shows, which are similar to, but not as strict as, canine shows.

In 1992, the Fikes founded Carroll Ferret Rescue, a nonprofit shelter for ferrets, in their home. They take in unwanted or sick ferrets, which they rehabilitate. They offer boarding, breeding, and adoption services, so the ferrets have a place safe to live until they can be relocated to new homes.

The Fikes will even watch your treasured ferret while you are on vacation.

Eight of the 11 residents are family members. The most interesting family ferret is Long John Silvermitt, whose right foot was nipped off by his mother after he was born. He has white paws, or mitts. When he plays, one cannot tell that he is missing his right back foot and three toes on his left back foot.

Mr. Stubs is the friendliest ferret. He visited Mr. Fike's son Christopher's fourth-grade class at Taneytown Elementary School two years ago for a class project. Mr. Stubs is the one Mr. Fike uses when he introduces prospective clients to the world of ferrets.

Both Long John Silvermitt and Mr. Stubs are called "convenience ferrets," because they have both been descented and neutered. Pet stores usually sell this type of ferret because most people do not like the potent smell of a ferret's scent gland when they become agitated and because they do not plan to breed their pet.

Long John's and Mr. Stubs' supple bodies are much smaller than that of Rascal, who is a whole ferret. Rascal's body and head are broader because he has not been neutered. He is used as a stud for breeding.

"Of all the ferrets I own," said Mr. Fike, "there are none I don't trust people to handle. Ferrets like people. They would rather be in a roomful of kids than alone," he said.

"Owning a ferret is like having a permanent toddler," Mrs. Fike says.

The Fikes screen potential owners and educate them on the responsibilities of ferret care. They say ferrets are not destructive, but curious critters who like to play.

Ferret owners must make their homes "ferret proof." There cannot be any space below or between washers and dryers, refrigerators or stoves, because a ferret can get stuck or electrocuted.

Owners also must ensure that there are no access holes in walls where a ferret can get stuck.

"Because they have such supple bodies," said Mr. Fike, "anything they can put their head in, they can pull their body into as well."

Ferrets like to eat high quality dry cat food, bananas, raisins and such salty snacks as potato chips. Although they love ice cream and milk-based foods, those are hard for the animals to digest.

Every year, ferrets must have rabies and canine distemper shots. Canine distemper is fatal for ferrets, said Mr. Fike.

The Fike family and their ferrets are members of the Central Maryland Ferret Fanciers, a club in Frederick; and the American Ferret Association, Inc., a nationwide organization of ferret clubs.

Carroll Ferret Rescue is a "hobby that got out of hand," said Mr. Fike. He said he and his wife began the shelter because "no one was doing it in this area. The Humane Society will not adopt and find homes for ferrets like they do for dogs and cats."

He said he has worked with the Humane Society, which is now making referrals to the Fikes so their ferrets can be adopted.

"It is out of love and respect for the ferret that I am so involved in their care and preservation," said Mr. Fike, as he petted Mr. Stubs.

People who may be interested in Carroll Ferret Rescue's services may call 751-1526 and leave a message.

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