Run, Tilly, We Told Her. You See That Door, You Run.

Tilly never tried to get into the kitchen. Or the living room. Or out of the office. Or out of the cage. If we wanted her in another room, we had to pick her up and take her there. Open doors held absolutely no interest for her. She was happy right where she was.


I still can’t believe … was.

Yesterday Tilly was breathing really hard, like she’d run a marathon, and I could feel her little heart pounding right through her rib cage. We rushed her to the vet. Having ferrets is living in terror of illness, because when ferrets get sick, it goes like this: Day one theyr’e fine. Day two they’re a little mopey. Day three they’re in critical condition.

The vet ruled out an intestinal blockage. He ruled out trauma, like falling or being stepped on. He ruled out a hernia. He ruled out a cold, the flu, pneumonia. She showed no indications of cancers. That was when I started to get really scared.

Heart conditions aren’t terribly common in ferrets Tilly’s age. She wasn’t even two.

But that was all we were left with. Fluid was building up in her chest and she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was enlarged, crushing down on her lungs. It might have been building for a while, and it hit a tipping point, they think. The vet gave her drugs to try to draw the fluids out. He tried to draw the fluid out with a syringe. He had to shave a patch of her beautiful coat. She had the softest fur I’ve ever felt on a ferret, like baby fluff. She shed like a cat. I was always covered in her no matter how much I lint-rolled myself.

She spent the night in an aquarium, with oxygen. When I left her yesterday she thought the tank was hilarious. She kept trying to nudge me through the glass. She kept batting at the little tube like it was a toy.

By morning the fun was over. Her breathing had gotten worse. She was gasping now even in the oxygen. She couldn’t find a comfortable place to sleep, kept turning over and over. Her kidneys were being compromised by the heart medications. There were options, the vet told me on the phone, so gently, but they’re all horrible. They could keep tapping her chest to draw out the fluid. They could say the hell with the kidneys and keep going with the meds. More invasive tests. Exploratory surgery.

I don’t know why this happened. She had had an exam at the vet just two months ago. There was nothing — no heart murmur, no lung problems — to indicate this was going to happen. She was starved when we got her, absolutely starved. It’s possible that weakened her heart and this was always there. She was always an exceptionally lazy pet. It’s possible this was congenital. It’s possible there was a tumor in there somewhere, undetected.

After we got her I spent three weeks hand-feeding her. She spent most of her time on my lap or in my arms or on the couch or in the bed. She loved being held. She loved being cuddled. She liked nothing more than to ride around in Mr. A’s sweatshirt pocket. I once watched Jerry Maguire twice in a row one Sunday because she was passed out on top of me and I couldn’t bear to move her. She was warm and soft and every once in a while would turn over and whack me in the nose with one of her paws.

She was so layabout it worried me sometimes, so I made a concerted effort to get her to exercise. She chased a feather thing on a stick and took a run at Claire’s catnip fish and even chased Bucky and Riot. We called her five-mile-an-hour-Tilly. She could work up a good head of steam, and when she’d try to turn a corner her legs would go out from under her and she’d skid like an ice skater before she righted herself.

Oh, how she made us laugh. Every day. Every day of the ten short months she was ours.

But she never did make for the door. Bucky and Riot and even Claire will dash for the kitchen if I go inside to get something. They’ll always go right for the opening I don’t want them to get through. Tilly, meanwhile, hung back, watching in amusement as they got reprimanded and carried out. She waited, letting me come and pick her up and put her back in the cage.

Seeing her breathing get harder, hearing that the meds they could give her would only break some other part of her tiny little body, knowing she was hurting and it wasn’t going to get any better if we waited a day or an hour, we held her while the vet gave her a sedative. We petted her and told her she was loved, and thanked her for loving us for as long as she could.

And we told her to ignore all her instincts. We told her there was a meadow beyond that door up ahead, and when she saw it open, she shouldn’t hang back. She shouldn’t wait.

Run, we told her. Run.


49 thoughts on “Run, Tilly, We Told Her. You See That Door, You Run.

  1. This is a beautiful tribute to Tilly, A. As a devoted reader I know how much you loved her, and as a devoted tender to two cats, I know how hard this is.

  2. I’m so sorry, A. I’m in tears. My heart hurts for y’all because I know she was such a joy.

  3. I’m so sorry, Athenae. Dealing with a sick, beloved pet is the worst. I’m going through it now. My heart goes out to you.

  4. So sorry. Your loving tribute brought tears to my eyes.
    Our little friends rely on us to do the right thing when the time comes. You repaid Tilly’s trust by making the hard decision she needed.

  5. I am so sad for you, A. I feared this was possible when you mentioned her suddenly racing heart, but nothing — for anyone — ever truly prepares for personal losses. Such a wee one, for such a short time.

  6. Oh, Athenae. I’m so sorry. I love reading your ferret stories and watching the videos. This is her last, but there will be more.

  7. No, no, no! Oh Tilly. So sad for all of you. What a little love she was. So sorry, A.

  8. I love y’all, and I’m crying over your loss…Tilly knew love and fun and I’m sure if it had been up to her, she wouldn’t have bolted from y’all’s love for a century or more.
    Mondo hugs and healing.

  9. This seriously has me crying! When I lost my DeeDee a few months ago I was literally devastated. She was young and my first ferret ever. I also like you had a fav and DeeDee was my favorite. After reading this it reminded me how intense the pain was in the beginning. I really truly am so sorry for your loss.

  10. Oh, little Tilly-bean. I’m so sorry for your loss. Hugs to all of you. *sobs*

  11. Oh, sweetie. So, so sorry. We do love our furry monsters, don’t we? And it is always, always truly hard to have to say goodbye. She was too young.

  12. Very saddened – but what a beautiful way to remember her. May she now run without limits.

  13. Animals, even the tiniest, silliest, stripiest weasels, are superior to us in many ways, one of which is they always,no exceptions, live in the minute, the second. To the extent they know/understand death, it’s only in those moments and it’s not an abstract notion, the moment they see the hawk over their shoulder. And if they outrun the hawk, death is forgotten till the next time.
    And the rest of the time, they just live and romp and sleep and eat. That was the LIFE you and Mr. A gave her and it was as long to her as forever and it was fun and crowded and happy and there was always food and snuggling.
    A luckier little ferret than her (and her bros) there never was.

  14. I was OK until the end. I weep for Tilly and all the animals who’ve brightened my life.

  15. So sorry. I’m still missing my baby dog, and it’s been almost two years. Good thoughts and prayers of compassion be with you.

  16. I am truly sorry. I hope that somewhere in the future things get better for you and all of those that loved this amazing animal.

  17. Thanks, you guys. You’re all incredibly sweet and kind.
    I always forget how much this sucks. I think we’re designed that way for a reason.

  18. A. I am so so very sorry. Tilly touched my heart as well. Thank you and MrA for sharing her with us.

  19. Pets give us so much. Mine are definitely therapy animals (but without official designation).
    I feel for you.

  20. Aww, so sad to hear this. I especially enjoyed Friday Ferretblogging when Tilly was featured; such a cute, pink-nosed little sweetie! I hope you can find comfort in thoughts of her frolicking happy and pain-free in the meadow just over Rainbow Bridge. Condolences to you and your family (human and critters both).

  21. Beautiful & loving tribute to Tilly. Good, kind, gracious hoominz. Surely, she is frolicking on the other side of the Bridge, grateful for the life you and Mr. A gave her (and the rest of the gang). Peace to all.

  22. I’m so sorry. I remembered when you adopted her and you weren’t sure she’d make it.
    Know this: she had a better life with you than she’d ever known. If she was ever happy, it was because you made her happy. You were the best home and the best place she’d ever been.

  23. So sorry to hear of your loss. There are no words. It never gets any easier. Know that your friends are sending love and light.

  24. I’m sorry she’s no longer with you. That was a moving tribute and she was clearly loved.

  25. Such an affecting story of and testament to a dear companion … been there (with cats), know the whole lovely and horrid cascade of events, trials, feelings. No doubt Tilly’s at peace; may she also be feeling chuffed at all the delight and love she and you shared.
    And that you so movingly have shared with us. Hugs to all who knew Tilly and will never forget her.

  26. I’m so sorry. My deepest condolences.
    I don’t even like ferrets (long story) and I’m blubbing at work. You can write a bit, Mz. A.

  27. Oh, my dear, your sadness is so palpable and your tribute so moving. I am terribly sorry for your loss.

  28. Oh, Athenae …
    May her soul find companions in the Summerlands, and all the memories in which y’all cherish her be filled with tenderness, and love, and joy.

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