Furry competition at ferret fest

Event in Parkville has many diversions for enthusiasts, including a contest for best pet

October 23, 2005|By RONA MARECH | RONA MARECH,SUN REPORTER

Dog and cat lovers, step aside. A new breed of ferociously fanatical pet loyalists has arrived: the ferret people.

Champions of the soft, squirmy critters came out yesterday for Monster Mash, a championship show and ferret fest that was a benefit for the Baltimore Ferret Club and Shelter. In a huge hall with a faint, but distinctive, barn smell, hundreds of believers converged for unlimited access to all things ferret.

"They're just the most endearing, intelligent, interactive pets I've ever had," said Barbara McGivern, who drove to Parkville from Pennsylvania with several of her 17 ferrets. She set up a playpen where she had a good view of the ferret wonderland.

Visitors could buy ferret snacks, ferret lounge chairs, ferret hammocks, matching ferret-and-owner boas, "beware of the ferret" signs, Ferrets for Dummies books or the limited edition "ferret in a can," a variation on a jack-in-the-box. They could shop for new pets or add to a remembrance board, taping up notes with messages like "In loving memory of Pepe and Poohbear."

Some displayed ferret tattoos or showed off ferrets dressed up for Halloween in pumpkin and princess costumes. Others browsed with their ferret pals in strollers -- yes, ferret strollers -- and papooses -- yes, ferret papooses.

But that was all secondary to the main event, the ferret show. Ferrets don't get on leashes and parade around rings, but certified judges prod, poke and pet the critters, looking for qualities such as good color and bone structure, clean teeth and ears, and a friendly disposition.

"You look for cuteness, too," said judge Randy Corbin, as he peered into the twitching face of a sable creature. He elaborated: "Like people, some just look like they should be photographed, and some don't."

When Sammy, Jennifer and Arch Manlapaz's prized 1 1/2 -year-old, was declared the winner, Jennifer Manlapaz of Baltimore held her gray-and-white creature aloft and planted a kiss on his furry head.

"You have a proud mommy and daddy," she crowed before she and her husband trotted off to take a picture of their little champ with his trophy.

Ferrets' popularity soared in the 1980s. There are now an estimated 8 million to 10 million pet ferrets in the United States, according to Tara Palaski, of the American Ferret Association, an Annapolis-based organization founded in 1987. The growing number has meant more ferret shows, shelters, farms and breeders.

For responsible people who want independent, smart, playful companions, ferrets make "awesome pets," said Palaski, who likes to point out that the misunderstood ferret is related to weasels, not rodents. She has 15.

Ferret math, as ferret lovers will explain, means it's impossible to get just one. Kim Fox has 22 in her home, which doubles as Something Up My Sleeve Ferret Rescue. But she couldn't stop herself from acquiring No. 23 yesterday.

"I'm hooked," she said. "Most of my guys are old and ready to pass. The energy from the babies is very heart-healing."

Fox calls herself an animal communicator. She claims she can telepathically exchange thoughts with pets, including No. 23.

"I asked him if he wanted to come home with me," she said.

Apparently, he said yes.

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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