The Sound and the FURRY

A local ferret shelter needs us all to come to a weaselization

Peterson and crew shudder at the thought that the nation's top pet-stuff retailer intends to peddle ferrets in its 700-plus stores.

They fear a stray-ferret population explosion.

The ferret is commonly cited as the third most-popular U.S. pet, but figures vary wildly: In 2001 the American Veterinary Medical Association estimated the nationwide population of pet ferrets at 991,000. A year earlier, Performance Foods Inc., which manufactures Totally Ferret chow, put the figure at 7,354,892. According to the American Ferret Association, 44 states are home to at least one ferret-rescue organization, with an average of three per state. (FURRY's all Missouri has; Ferret Luv in Overland shuttered its doors last year, and a Jennings shelter closed in the mid-'90s.) Each of these shelters, says the AFA, houses anywhere from 40 to 100 animals up for adoption. By Peterson's count, his shelter has taken in 1,300 ferrets, found permanent homes for 930 and reunited 14 that had been lost or otherwise separated from their keepers.

Kurt Peterson, and friends.
Jennifer Silverberg
Kurt Peterson, and friends.

"We get a lot of people who want to donate their ferrets," affirms Kevin Koening, a naturalist at the Saint Louis Zoo. "The problem with ferrets is that even with their scent organs removed, they're still smelly, and they'll rub furniture. They're extremely active, and some people aren't prepared for them to nip."

Adds Peterson: "[Often] ferrets are impulse purchases, even though they take more effort to care for than people realize."

FURRY volunteers fear a nationwide boom might fuel the creation of ferret mills.

"Our ferrets are produced exclusively for PetsMart, not bought from breeders," counters Dr. Nick Saint-Erne, a PetsMart vet. "We're trying to take a very cautious and effective approach in introducing ferrets that are healthy."

Saint-Erne says PetsMart began test-marketing ferrets in three states in January and now offers the critters in twenty of its stores. "Everything done in every PetsMart is coordinated though the corporate office," he explains. "Ferrets are put in certain stores based on a variety of demographics, and not every store has ferrets, nor will they."

Peterson isn't about to let down his guard. But for the St. Louis area's go-to ferret man, there's other work to be done.

Like the breeder he's been trying to get shut down in Ellsinore. And the new office space he'll have to find as soon as Grasso Plaza landlord Greenberg Development Co. finds a tidier tenant. He thinks he's got a lead on 800 square feet in a new strip mall nearby, but moving this mess is going to be a tough slog.

"What is it about ferrets? Why am I such a ferret advocate?" muses the man who also supports four dogs, four birds, a snake, two crabs, a tankful of fish and four foster cats.

"Because they have no other voice. There's no one else here."

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