Riot was the ferret I thought would finally break us. Two days after we brought him home, I said to Mr. A, “I don’t know if we can keep him. I don’t know if we can do this.”
In those two days he’d jumped every gate we put up, peed in every corner of every room he was allowed in and a few he wasn’t, trashed the cage, bit his brother, knocked an antique clock off a windowsill FOUR FEET OFF THE GROUND, and dug a hole in the lining of our brand-new couch. He chewed a lipstick, a vase full of flowers, a pair of my shoes. He wouldn’t eat the food we had for the other ferrets, but he loved throwing it all on the floor. He wouldn’t drink from a water bottle, and when we gave him a dish he just splashed all the water out.
Forget about reprimanding him. He’d just blink up at us, innocently: Who, me?
Our previous ferrets, Fox and Stripe and Joe and Puck, had inured us to chaos, I’d thought. They’d taught us everything we needed to know about how to properly corral, train and enjoy ferrets. I’d thought. Now our house was starting to look and smell like a zoo, and there seemed to be no controlling this animal. He seemed to sense when it was bedtime and chose that moment to flee. I broke two toes on my left foot when I fell chasing him one night, trying to catch him to put back in his cage.
“Give it a few more days,” Mr. A said. I glared at them both and limped off to the couch.
Those few more days turned into six years, most of which were spent teaching me how charming a furry streak of destruction could be. Riot curled up in my shoulder bag and slept there, only waking up when it was time for me to go to work. He took such pleasure in his climbing it became difficult to reprimand him; I cheered instead when he scaled a particularly slippery chair-back and jumped onto the piano. He grew to adore Puck, grooming him insistently every morning and night, and nudging Puck to play when Puck grew old and lazy.
(He learned to obey us in one way, by coming to his name, and to the clicking sound I made when I handed out treats or shook the treat bag. And when he first got adrenal cancer, more than two years ago, lost all his fur and looked like a naked chicken, he started answering to Chicken, too.)
He never was much of a snuggler, though. Never liked behind held or petted the way the others did, found it too limiting. Sometimes he’d deign to let me scratch behind his ears or pick him up a moment, give my hand a lick, but then he just wanted down.
He wanted out, over, under, or into something he wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near.
In the past year his adrenal cancer was joined by pancreatic tumors, though medication held the latter at bay for a while. But in the last couple of weeks, he found it hard to make it to the litterbox, and we had to separate him from Claire and Bucky while they were in their cage because of his mess. He loved Claire, and they both hated being apart. She licked his ears when they got out to play together, and he tried to bat at her, but he didn’t really have the energy anymore.
He hadn’t run in a while, not the way he used to, with me frantically chasing him, and it’s been a long time since he got up on the table and knocked anything off. The meds he was on stopped working as well as they had, and in the past week he’d started to hurt.
His last few days at home were full of all his favorite treats, warmed towels to sleep in during the chilly fall nights, and as much petting as he’d tolerate. Even at the vet, though, he wouldn’t let me hold him, squirmed as he always did. I told him he was a good boy and we had loved him, but as usual, he was focused on other things.
He had someplace he wasn’t supposed to be, and he was gonna get there as fast as possible.