No, not the Norse god. The ferret. Loki. Our ferret.
It's been about three weeks now since we had to put Loki to sleep. I'm finally in a place where I can wipe away enough tears to actually write a little about Loki. He was a part of our family for about 8 years. Now, I don't have a lot of photos of Loki - my kids were way better about taking pictures of him than I was, and my facebook stalking skills aren't that great, so I can't just snatch up the images from my kid's FB pages. But this graphic helps illustrate, quite nicely, exactly what Ferrets are:
Yes, ferrets are members of the weasel family. In their wild state, they kill and eat rabbits and other small game. They are related to the mongoose, as well, famous for fighting cobras. Though we were tempted to see what Loki could do against a garden snake, it's probably a good thing we never put him in the ring. He was pretty tame, as far as animals go.
Ferrets, by nature, are playful, lazy, and at turns incredibly bright and incredibly stupid. I've heard them described as "kittens that never grow up," and I think that's a pretty apt description.
As a child, I had only one pet: my dog, Rusty. We owned Rusty when we lived in the Philippines, and when we moved back to the States, we gave Rusty to a friend of ours, a guy named Vern. I think I was about four at the time. My fondest memories of Rusty were riding his back through a foot of water during monsoon season after watching the Lone Ranger. Poor, dumb Rusty. Rusty was apparently eaten by someone not long after we moved away. This happens in a country as poor as the Philippines. Being four, I wasn't really capable of understanding such things, so it hasn't left any kind of emotional scar.
Fast forward many years to a time when my wife and I talked about getting a pet. We can't have cats or dogs, since there are too many allergies in the family. The kids had proven that they can kill a carnival goldfish in a matter of hours. We had a couple of hamsters, but, honestly, I hate those things. They love to bite, are not very cuddly, and don't bond at all. Yes, one of my kids cried when "Legolas" died, and I felt really sorry for my son, but as for Legolas' passing I didn't really bat an eye.
So we did some research and learned from some friends about ferrets. As I said before, they are playful and fun, they sleep a LOT (like almost 20 hours a day), and, as I did not say before, they litter train very well. They are pretty clean critters.
We went to the Humane Society to see if they had any ferrets and found that we had just missed a pair of them a day earlier. We let them know that we might be interested and asked if they could call us when the next ferret came in so we could meet it and see what we thought. It wasn't long after that, maybe a week or so(?) that we got a call. There was a ferret in, and he was up for adoption. We dropped everything to go check it out. Keep in mind that we were trying very hard to keep this a secret from the kids. They knew that we were planning on getting a ferret, since we bought a ferret cage and un-veiled it at Christmas, promising to get one as soon as we could. But they didn't know what the timetable was. We wanted to surprise them!
As we arrived, we asked about the Ferret and were told that someone was playing with him right at that moment - a "try before you buy" get-acquainted thing that the Humane Society likes to do with potential pet owners. Still, they took us to the room with the understanding that the couple in front of us had "dibs" on the animal, if they chose to take it home. We peeked into the room to see a young couple and a very active young ferret. After letting the animal have a little break for food, water, bathroom, it was our turn next.
I'll tell you, I fell in love. I had played with a ferret before, when I lived in Pennsylvania, but this guy was different. First of all, he was gimpy. We were told that he had the limp because he had fallen off a stair landing and broken his leg, at one point. He seemed to get along fine, but he had a funny little waddle to his walk and when he ran, he bounded sideways a bit. It was cute, to be honest, and a little endearing. I like rooting for the underdog or, in this case, the under-ferret. We played with him for about 15 minutes and realized that if we got a ferret, we'd have to be careful to train it not to bite so darned much. Some of that had to do with youth - this one, who the previous owners had named "Samson" was not even a year old. Still a pup, or at least a young child, in ferret years.
We expressed our interest in having "Samson" come be a part of our home and family, and the Humane Society told us that they'd get back with us as soon as they had word from the other family. I don't recall how long it was, no more than a day, that we got our answer. The other couple had "passed" - we had our ferret! We drove over and, after filling out a lot of paperwork and getting some instruction on how to take care of his needs, we brought him home.
The kids were giddy.
The first order of business was to get this guy a new name. "Samson" wouldn't do. And since ferrets don't have very good hearing, anyway, we figured we could rename him and he wouldn't even know the difference. After a long and complicated series of blind voting and a runoff, we finally settled on "Loki". For those who want to know, the second choice (and it was very close) was "Felix".
The second order of business was assigning who would do what in taking care of Loki. Someone had to clean his litter box and feed the little guy, and though he had a fairly sizeable cage, we needed to take him out of his cage a couple times a day and play with him. Of course, that chore was not difficult.
All was not bliss. We had to teach Loki not to bite, which wasn't helped by the fact that one of my sons actually liked the fat that Loki bit and would entice him to bit people's feet (including my son's own feet - I still don't understand the attraction there). And there were the inevitable disagreements about whose turn it was to clean his cage and litterbox. I don't know that that fight ever went away.
Still, we had many good times. We taught him not to bite (so much), but let him play rough when he wanted to. He learned just how hard he could bite and get away with it. The only exception was this strange, blue brain made of foam that he would latch onto and not let go. Ferrets don't make many sounds, but when he clamped his jaws down on that blue brain, he would make the strangest noises and we had to prise him off the darned thing. He would NOT let go. I think that, in some alternate dimension, ferrets fight an alien race of floating blue brains. I'm pretty sure of it, in fact.
From time to time, Loki would get sick, usually from eating something he shouldn't have in the yard. Oh, yes, we would take him outside from time-to-time and, later in life, he would actually walk over to the front door and beg to be let out. After taking him outside on a couple of winter days, though, he learned that when we opened the door, he might not want to go out after all. We couldn't let him out for too long - not that he could really get away. He was too slow for that. But for fear of birds of prey snatching him up (we have owls and eagles that sometimes frequent the neighborhood). He could hold his own against most other animals, I'm guessing. I always wondered who would win in a fight between Loki and a cat. If his instinct kicked in, I'd put my money on Loki, hands down. But he was so tame that he probably wouldn't know what hit him until it was too late.
Needless to say, we bonded. It didn't dawn on me until after he was gone, but for about three years, I was working a 4:10 shift at work, which meant that every Friday, Loki and I were alone, together, at the house. I took care of him a lot in that time, and had some great time playing with him and helping him explore the house. That was one of his favorite things to do, just to burrow under anything he could and investigate every nook and cranny of the house. He was particularly fond of laying down by my closed bedroom door and scratching at it, trying to get inside. I think he thought that Shangri-la was on the other side.
As happens, Loki grew old. A few months ago, he was looking really run down and he wasn't eating properly. So we took him to the vet and discovered that his blood sugars were all out of whack. This is fairly typical for older ferrets. They develop insulinoma, in which their body produces too much insulin, which does bad things to blood sugars. He stayed in the animal hospital for a week, and we got him regulated with twice daily doses of prednisone. The picture I am including below was from the time right after he came home. He was feeling cuddly and I had just given him his meds and I thought I'd snap a picture of him.
It's good that I did. About three weeks after he came home, I got home from work and discovered that he was in a bad way. He had bloody stool and was shaking almost uncontrollably. The meds didn't pull him out of the situation and he couldn't even walk properly. We had suspected for some time that his eyesight might be going, and it was apparent, that day, that he was completely blind. I bathed him and called my wife. We knew it was time. This would be our last trip to the vet.
I took Lokin around, because he couldn't walk himself, for one last exploration of the house. I was careful to take him into my old bedroom, which had now become my youngest son's bedroom, that Shangri-la behind the forbidden door. I wanted him to see it before we had to let him go. He seemed as thrilled as a very sick, very old ferret could be. I like to think that it was a bit of a "treat" for him.
So we called the kids that were in town and let them know that it was time to say goodbye. Unfortunately, we had just taken our oldest son to college in Iowa, and he couldn't be here. This was particularly painful because he, above all the rest, really did the most to take care of Loki, especially when Loki was entering the elderly stage. That's my one regret about having to put Loki to sleep when we did. Loki was in a lot of pain and discomfort and was definitely ready to go. But I wish Kaiser could have seen him one last time.
I cried for days. I almost called in to work, but somehow made it through the first day by staying at my desk and not talking to anyone. A few days later, as I was getting ready to take a shower, I remembered giving Loki that last bath and I cried like a baby. I haven't cried like that in a long, long time. Tears well spent, though.
I'm so glad that Loki could be a part of our lives. I had heard of people having a hard time losing pets before, but I never expected it to be so difficult. I'm wiping away tears as I write this, but overall, things are getting better. Time heals all wounds, and we will do our best to remember all the good, fun times we had together. We had a pawprint cast taken as a reminder of him, which is on our kitchen wall. He always loved the kitchen, usually because he could snatch up some tidbit from the floor before we could grab it from him. Little rascal!
We miss you, buddy . . .