Our sweet Claire.
I keep checking the cage because somebody’s got to be in it.
Sixteen years ago we bought a scratching, clawing, angry baby ferret home from a pet store and named him Fox. Fox in Socks, because he was a light tan color with very dark brown feet. Fox bit us and shit under our couch and used to steal one of every pair of my shoes and hide it just as I was trying not to be late for work, so about a year into keeping him as a pampered housepet we went to a shelter and got another one.
Named Stripe. Fat and dumb and lovey, without a stripe on him. Then we got Little Joe, who was the size of a small cat, and liked to push dinner plates off the table with his head. Of the Original Three, Joe died first, of a gastric ulcer and complications from the same. Then Fox, of old age and orneriness.
We got Puck, a fat white beastie who chased us up and down the hallway, who loved Stripe as only an idiot younger brother can love his older sibling. When Stripe died, after a series of increasingly huge tumors took over his body, Puck was devastated, so we got Riot, who we tried to rename. Riot stuck.
And Bucky, who liked to play with his stuffed animals like they were dolls, arranging them and disciplining them severely when they stepped out of line. Bucky was Mr. A’s ferret and would groom him obsessively, licking from elbow to wrist, which was as cute as it was disgusting.
We got Claire, our first girl, when Puck died of cancer. Claire was the only ferret in the shelter Riot didn’t try to kill. He didn’t like her, exactly, but he didn’t try to eat her and that was good enough for us.
Tilly came home after wrapping all four of her legs around my wrist as I fed her. She looked like a tiny plushy kitty and adored everyone and everything. She lasted 11 months and died of heart failure. Riot had adrenal cancer, lost all his fur, grew it back, lost it again and died in my arms two months before Kick was born. Bucky held on another year before liver disease got him.
Claire was the last. Other than Riot, who she’d come to love, she didn’t really like other ferrets or people much either, and it didn’t seem fair to take on a new pet along with a new baby. She was happy to be an only ferret, since it meant all the toys belonged to her, and we gave her as much love as she would allow before she scampered off.
My point is, for 16 years, there was always someone in the cage. Dumping food all over, emptying the water bottle, tearing up the bedding, kicking litter everywhere. Jumping up and down on the plastic floor mats at 2 a. m., running up hundreds of dollars in vet bills by eating something mysterious, sitting on our feet, and stealing all our stuff.
Claire had just gotten an encouraging review from the vet two weeks ago. She was eight, with insulinoma and a high tolerance for the steroids they give to control it, but we felt like we were making progress. She gained a little weight, depleted the food bowl a little faster.
Saturday night she had a massive seizure. She’d been out playing that morning with our houseguests, but when I went in to give her evening meds she was lying on the floor of the cage. She couldn’t move her back legs. She had thrown up blood. She couldn’t keep her eyes open or hold her head up.
And she let me hold her and hold her and hold her, which is not something Claire has ever done. I petted her head and scritched the spot on her back that would make her tail puff up with excitement, and told her she had done so, so well, and that it was okay to go. She suffered for as short a time as I was able to manage. Our houseguests stayed with Kick while I took Claire to the vet, for which I’ll always be grateful.
I hope when Claire got to the meadow, all the boys were there to meet her, and that Bucky tried to stash her in the box with the rest of his stuffies again. I hope Tilly, who Claire never quite took to, forgave her for being a princess and let her sleep snuggled up in her plushy fur. I hope Fox regaled her with stories about having to be our Starter Ferret, that Joey showed her how to climb, that Stripe and Puck chased her around while she got the lay of the land.
In the 16 years we’ve had ferrets we’ve spent hours and hours cleaning up after them, paying off vet bills, gluing stuff they broke. The storage on my phone not taken up with baby pictures is full of videos of a ferret’s tail or back legs as they ran away from my trying to capture their antics. They’re like puppies that never grow up, kittens who can only be litter-trained 75 percent of the way, wild squirrels who’ve gotten inside somehow. Almost any pet would have been easier than this. Stopping at one, or two, or even three, would have been easier than this.
But oh, the laughs they gave us. Here are Puck and Bucky, in as pure an expression of fuzzy joy as it is possible to capture:
And here’s Claire, fending off an attack from both Bucky and Riot:
We haven’t had an empty cage, not since day one. I don’t quite know what to do. We’re contemplating a move next year, into a bigger place, and it seems unfair to get pets when our time is so taken up with the other little critter in the house (who really wants a dog). Between a shortage of space and money and the likelihood of major changes soon, we’ll probably wait a year or so before adding anything to the household. It would make perfect sense to wait.
But I don’t remember how to live in a house without animals in it. I keep walking back to the cage, which I’ve cleaned out. I keep thinking I hear them. I keep thinking there’s gotta be somebody in there.