Not A Good Year for Friends So Far

Norm Stilson, longtime shelter director of the Greater Chicago Ferret Association, died yesterday.

I first met Norm when I went in to volunteer at theferret shelter . I had been needing something to do that wasn’t work, needing to get my head out of my job at least once a week. He was gruff and standoffish at first; I would learn that it was because he wasn’t expecting me to stay. Volunteers would come in, work an evening, and never return. It’s a dirty job, cleaning out cages and feeding sick pets, and it’s a depressing job sometimes. People suck, and Norm was usually the one who had to deal with whatever moron had left his pet in his apartment after he moved out, or set it free in a park to be chewed on by raccoons, or put it in the dumpster. Norm was usually the one who wound up taking all those animals in, giving them a clean safe warm place to sleep, and — no matter how filthy or frightened or sick or abused they were — holding them a while to make them feel better.

He eventually realized I wasn’t going anywhere, and we bonded over the stupidity of the TV news, which we’d watch while working on cages or meds. He’d save up especially goofy sentence constructions during the rest of the week to tell me when I got there, and I’d tell tales from the newsroom and about the ferrets he’d found us that we’d taken home. He taught me how to dispense nasty-tasting medicines so that a sick ferret would only spit half of it back at me, and it was his lessons in feeding and nursing that helped us bring Stripe back from the brink so many times.

The world is full of misery and nonsense, and tasks to accomplish, and sometimes it seems like we’re terribly short on examples of people who do the job in front of them, who ignore everybody else rearranging the deck chairs and pick up the bucket and start bailing some of the water out. Norm worked harder than any ten people I’ve ever met. At one point the shelter housed more than 120 ferrets, and all of them, every day, got a clean cage and some time to play outside their daily confines, because of Norm, who worked from the wee hours of the morning until nearly midnight in those days. All the while, no matter what aggressive moronity he’d had to deal with, he’d pick up one or the other of the ferrets during playtime and smile and say, “Hello, little kiddo.”

He found us our Stripe and our Joey and our Puck and our Riot, and for that alone, I owe him more than I could ever repay.


8 thoughts on “Not A Good Year for Friends So Far

  1. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor, Athenae. Is there someone who can take up the torch he carried?

  2. The world is full of misery and nonsense, and tasks to accomplish and sometimes it seems like we’re terribly short on examples of people who do the job in front of them, who ignore everybody else rearranging the deck chairs and pick up the bucket and start bailing some of the water out
    well, I’ve written and deleted a bunch of blathering crap because I can’t find the right words to express how much I agree with you.
    So, let me just say that I do, also how much I admire people like your dear friend Norm.
    I’m sorry for your loss, and for the ferrets’, but also glad you and they had access to such a spirit.
    At moments like this, the concept of rewards in the afterlife is brought up, and that’s not a bad thing. But watching that video, I suspect Norm was pretty deeply rewarded by what he was doing while he was still alive.
    Peace, A.

  3. A, I am so sorry for your (and the Ferret rescue world’s) loss. I am sure there is at least one and hopefully more folks inspired to carry on his work.
    May he rest in the arms of the Goddess, may his family and friends know peace!

  4. So sorry for your loss, A. What a wonderful human being Norm was. I’m sure there are a lot of ferrets who were delighted to see him at the Rainbow Bridge.

  5. My heart and deepest sympathies go out to Mary Stilson, the ferret shelter and all you wonderful volunteers who continue to rescue those fantastic creatures. Norm’s spirit will live on in each of us who had the great honor of knowing him and his love for the unwanted ferrets in this world. I know that I am certainly a better person for my experiences at the shelter and will pray that someone will pick up where Norm left off and will continue to do what Norm loved best. God bless you Norm.

  6. To Athenae and all those who have given their well wishes. First, thank you all for your kind words. Yes, he was a beautiful human being. Forty-three years of loving him taught me that. He also taught me the love for life and animals that he so generously shared with all who cared to take the time to learn.
    Second, don’t worry about the shelter and all the ferrets. His work will be continued by people he personally picked to take over. I have met them and know them and I am sure that they are fully capable of carrying on his work and love for the “little critters” as he was so fond of refering to them.
    In case you are wondering, I am his son. I am actually responsible for introducing him and my mother Mary to the love of ferrets. I was a volunteer at Lincoln Park Zoo and we recieved a call into the Children’s Zoo from Anti-Cruelty that they had some 10 week old kits that they could not keep. They asked if we could take them, if not they would be euthanized.
    The Senior Keeper sent someone over to pick them up and after they arrived she said that we could not keep them there and that if anyone wnated one to take them NOW. I brought home a little female, much to my parents surprise and made a home for her. They were not especially happy, but once they got to know what a ferret was really like and how special they are…well the rest is history. Her name was Princess and she is memorialized on the board in the shelter.
    So if you truly want to thank anyone, thank Princess. She was the true inspiration of all the love.

  7. i had the great honor to know norm, if only a for too short a time. i met him years ago, and was instantly drawn to him, knowing that somehow he would be one of the people that would change my life. & that he did. not only working with him at the shelter, and learning his gentle caring ways with ferrets, but more importantly, with others, taught me alot. i got to know him very well, and we spent many hours together, and he adopted me as one of his own. sometimes, i think he couldn’t decide if i was a daughter he should take over his knee, or a ferret that needed to be chased around the room. either way, he loved me in the only way he could, with his entire heart, as i did him. tonite as i sat in his chair comforting 1 of the many babies that will miss him greatly, i could hear him say “it’s ok sweetheart”. now i’m not sure if was for “gin gin” or myself, but either way it brought comfort. through my tears, we both settled into a quiet peace that only norm could bring. i will miss everything from our almost daily talks, to help getting directions, to his guidance with life’s daily struggles, to his never ending knowledge on so many things. i can’t even begin to imagine life, let alone the shelter, without him. those shoes will always be too big to fill in my eyes. i only hope that someday i can pass on to someone, 1/100th of what he gave to me.
    i miss you deeply, “stormin norman”, my “ferret whisperer”, & always will

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