As much as some people eagerly await the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, some people in the ferret community await the opening of the Ferret Giving Tree. The Ferret Giving Tree is an Internet phenomenon that began in 1998. It’s a way for people to be a Santa for a ferret in a ferret shelter so that the ferret gets a gift for the holidays. People browse the website to see ferrets that need Santas and choose whichever they want. Literally thousands of ferrets have benefitted from the Ferret Giving Tree since it first began, and the numbers keep growing.
“Over the past three years, we have at least tripled the number of ferrets,” said Melanee Ellis, a Ferret Giving Tree administrator and its only full-time volunteer. The tree had been managed mostly manually until 2009; that year Lynn, another volunteer, wrote code that automated many of the tree’s functions.
Last year, the Ferret Giving Tree listed 952 ferrets. As of November 19, 2012, fifty ferret shelters are registered and 278 ferrets are waiting for Santas (282 have already been claimed by a Santa).
“Our shelter has been blessed year after year from folks all over the world sending Christmas gifts to the furkids that sometimes will spend the remainder of their lives with us,” said Brenda Johnson of the Lakeroad Ferret Farm Rescue/Shelter in New York. She first posted ferrets from her shelter on the Ferret Giving Tree in 2008.
“It has opened relationships with folks that have kept in touch and made sure the ferret they chose off the tree had special things for other special holidays,” Johnson said. “It is an amazing place to find amazing folks doing amazing things for the ferrets and their shelter families. Kudos to the folks that put the Giving Tree together and maintain it so the ferrets at shelters get a special Christmas.”
Shopping for or making gifts and shipping them takes time, and the administrators of the Ferret Giving Tree allow for this. Ferret shelters have approximately 45 days to register and submit ferrets for the tree, beginning in early October and ending on November 30. Ferrets are posted to the tree between October 15 and December 15. Starting on November 1, people can choose ferrets for which they wish to be Santa.
The reasons people choose a ferret vary. It might be because of a ferret’s name, its story, how it looks, the ferret shelter it’s at — whatever.
Donna Spirito of the Educated Ferret Association in Massachusetts fondly recalls a special ferret at her shelter that got a gift from his Giving Tree Santa. The ferret, Spot, arrived at her shelter as a senior with a medical concern. He recovered and was so sweet, Spirito made him a mascot.
“On his first Christmas with us as our mascot, he received a wonderful box from the Giving Tree,” Spirito said. “Oh how he loved his new hammie and especially his ferret chew stick.”
Ferret shelters provide a photo of each ferret and its name and profile that not only tells a little about the ferret, but it usually includes suggested gifts and contact information for the ferret shelter’s veterinarian if people wish to help pay part of the shelter’s veterinary bill.
And no gift is too small. As stated on the Ferret Giving Tree website, “Even the smallest of gifts can mean the world to these special little ones.”
“We list what the kids wish for,” Johnson said. “Mostly treats, FerreTone, blankies and novelty bedding because they are the things that are considered a luxury in a shelter environment.”
And Johnson has found that Santas are generous not only to the ferrets the shelter has listed on the tree, but to other ferrets in the shelter, too, as not all ferrets in a shelter typically get posted. “It has been our experience that the Santas send the kids everything on their list, and sometimes even double and triple it for the furkids that did not make it on the Giving Tree that year.”
The Ferret Giving Tree does more than just make ferrets happy, as pointed out by Chris Mathis of the Oregon Ferret Shelter in Oregon City. “If people only realized how wonderful the shelter owner feels to think for just once a year someone else takes time to share with our little charges.” Mathis said. “We know not everyone can own another ferret, but there are a lot of people who can share in the life of a ferret in permanent care or waiting for a home.”
Mathis’ fondest memory of the Ferret Giving Tree involves a ferret named Grampy that was 7 years old, had adrenal gland disease and had difficulty moving. “The volunteers all loved that old fellow,” she said. “That Christmas we put him up on the Giving Tree. Some wonderful lady made him his very own hammock and sleep sack out of flannel and fleece. He loved to cuddle in it. He one day went to sleep to cross over the bridge in the sleep sack. Today when I run across the hammock or sleep sack, I fondly think of the lady who took her time to make a special set of bedding just for Grampy.
At the Greater Chicago Ferret Association in Illinois, Tracy Tye Stephens said the arrival of Ferret Giving Tree packages is exciting for volunteers, too. “Moira and I took some video of ferrets ‘opening’ wrapped gifts.” To see the video on the GCFA Facebook page, click here. To see other videos and photos of ferrets with gifts, click the Next button in the top right.
In addition to the Santa gifts and inspiration for shelter operators, the Ferret Giving Tree has another bonus. “I do often get emails from people who want to adopt the ferrets they see on the Tree,” Ellis said. “I just tell them to contact the shelter the ferret is listed with to see about adopting.”
More ferrets are likely to be posted on the Ferret Giving Tree between now and December 15 and although 282 already have Santas, hundreds more are waiting.
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