I wanted a rabbit, first of all. I’d lived with someone who had one, delightful little fuzzball as playful as a cat and snuggly and friendly. So after Mr. Athenae and I moved into a pet-friendly apartment, I pushed for a bunny.
We went to a pet show, intending to look at bunnies. And as I headed toward the bunny table, I turned my head and noticed Mr. Athenae entranced by another booth, run by a ferret shelter. Somebody had handed him a little squirrel and he was letting it clamber all over him, looking delighted. A debate was born.
We went back and forth for months. Bunny. Ferret. Bunny. Ferret. Finally we visited the ferret rescue, where I held a ferret. It lay in my arms, peaceful as could be and twice as cute, and I thought, “This won’t be so bad. It’ll sit and watch TV with us. It’ll be fine.” More time passed. We wandered into a pet store and saw an older ferret that had been returned after the new owners didn’t like it. Mr. Athenae fell in love.
Now, I had no idea that the ferret I had petted at the shelter was old, blind and mostly athritic and couldn’t have run from me if he’d wanted to. So when we brought home a six month old, scratching, biting, clawing crack weasel who climbed the bookcases and shit under the couch and took flying leaps at our ankles, I was a little confused. Had we asked for a ferret and gotten a Tazmanian Devil instead? The poor little thing for the first few months of his life must have thought his name was “No no no no no bad ferret OUCH, dammit!”
We had bought books. We had looked at web sites. We were so ready, we were going to be such good parents. The books said that ferrets didn’t mind water. So we gave ours, who had been in a cage with five other ferrets for a month and smelled like five ferrets, a bath. Or rather, Mr. Athenae gave the ferret a bath as I was sick of being impaled on its fangs for the crimes of trying to pet it and trying to feed it.
What the books didn’t tell us is that ferrets have a body temperature of 104 degrees, and what felt to Mr. Athenae like a nice warm sudsy sink felt to the ferret like an ice bath, and this was the last straw for him with these crazy humans. I was sitting in the living room when I heard a screech, a crash, and a skittering noise, and down the hall flew a soapy little animal, skidding and sliding and squishing out of Mr. Athenae’s hands every time he got a hold on him, flinging suds everywhere, until he finally sought shelter underneath the TV cabinet and remained there for two hours, glaring at us.
About a week after that incident, I decided to try to make friends. Peanut butter, in incredibly small amounts, makes ferrets very happy. So I got the jar of peanut butter and sat on the couch, the ferret next to me. I opened up the jar and put a little peanut butter on my finger to give the ferret. He climbed into my lap (“how sweet! he finally wants to cuddle!”) and stuck his entire head into the jar. When he pulled it out, he was Peanut Butter Ferret from the neck up, happy as could be, and started rubbing his head all over me and the couch and licking up the tastiness.
He could move 15-pound barbells, placed in front of his cage door to prevent escape, with his walnut-sized head. He staged a jailbreak during The West Wing and dug his way inside the box spring, where he curled up and napped while we tore apart the stove, thinking he got in there somehow. He pulled the candy bar wrappers out of the garbage, licked off the chocolate and spent the night bouncing (literally) off the walls. When he slept, he tucked his tail over his head and turned himself into a little ball of fluff, and we forgot what a complete holy terror he was when he was awake. I spent three nights sitting up feeding him pureed meat and cream with an eyedropper when he got sick and refused to let Mr. Athenae touch him.
This past Wednesday morning, when I woke up not merely hung over but actually still drunk and pretty much wanting to die, he was sitting at the pet gate that keeps him in one room of the house while we sleep, and looking up at me expectantly. “I don’t care that the earth is caving in, lady,” his pointy little fuzzy face said. “The sun came up, I’m awake and I want my raisin. So hop to it!” It was, I think, the most comforting thing that happened all day.