By L. Vanessa Gruden
I wanted to adopt a ferret, but I contacted two different shelters and no one ever got back to me. I ended up buying my ferrets in a pet store — it was really frustrating.
I’m sorry about your bad experience. Lacking details, I can’t answer why either ferret shelter didn’t answer, but there are things that might have contributed to that. Some are particular to small home-based shelters; some are things you might have done inadvertently. I don’t want to offer excuses, but MOST ferret shelters really want to place ferrets in loving homes. Here are things that could have gone wrong.
1. Initial Contact
Don’t assume an email was received! These can get lost or filtered out by servers before reaching their destination, and you’ll never know. With phone calls, voicemail sometimes malfunctions or your message is too garbled for a return call.
I’ve sometimes tried contacting people only to hear a recorded message stating their voicemail hasn’t been set up or their phone isn’t accepting calls. Caller ID rarely shows the ferret shelter name. Also, for security, the shelter operator might use anonymous calling; if your phone setup rejects unknown callers, these won’t get through.
Reply emails don’t always arrive, either. Our shelter, the Ferret Association of Connecticut, hosts its website on a big commercial company that hosts some spammers. Until we changed to a different email system our mail was frequently blocked, even to people who had us as a contact. If someone attaches their adoption application, your Internet provider might block the message, too (AOL is notorious for this). Try reaching out another way — you might be able to message them through a Facebook page.
Only big SPCAs have full-time, paid staff. Ferret shelters nearly all have volunteers who work other jobs and do ferret rescue in their spare time. People sometimes have other things going on that have to take precedence over their volunteer work. You might need to be (gently) persistent.
A 2 a.m. phone call with an excited, vague message like “Call me back right away!” will make most volunteers cranky. Remember, many times you’re phoning someone’s home; being awoken by random ringing at odd hours might paint you as a big black “NO WAY.”
I specifically look for adopters who demonstrate patience and maturity; you need both to deal with often-pesky ferrets. People who appear to lack consideration or be unable to leave a detailed, coherent message fail my prescreening tests.
5. “Can I Come Adopt Today?”
Don’t expect same-day adoption. The ferret shelter operator might be working, out of town or just have other plans. Anyone who seems to be in a big rush to adopt sends up red flags. Many ferrets are abandoned because of impulsive purchases; the shelter operator will worry you’ll give up an animal just as impulsively.
Many people don’t consider that, for security, a home-based shelter volunteer may feel more comfortable having another volunteer, spouse or relative present before inviting in a stranger. Be prepared for the ferret shelter operator to prefer making a specific appointment.
6. Language Or Speech Patterns
Most volunteers don’t have alternate language skills. If your primary language isn’t English, try to find a friend who can help translate and ease communication; you may need their assistance throughout the adoption process. Hearing-impaired adopters can use TTY relay services, but may also need a friend to help during the interview.
Ferret shelter operators often get youngsters calling about adoptions — too often without a parent having approved the idea first. If you’re young, make sure you let the volunteer know your parents are involved. Some ladies have a voice timbre that makes them sound like a child — you probably know if you do! — so make sure the shelter operator knows you actually are an adult.
7. “I Want A Fill-In-The-Blank Ferret”
People occasionally have pretty offbeat requirements. Many years ago I had a potential adopter insist he wanted a ferret to match his wife’s hair. I’m not kidding! Being too determined to find a white, black, blue or whatever ferret makes the shelter operator wonder if you are seeking a loving companion or a new iPod.
Some insist on a very young animal. Ferrets less than 6 months old are fairly rare in shelters because, unlike cats, there are no feral colonies regularly producing litters. Ferret kits can be quite a handful and most good ferret shelters don’t recommend them unless you’re already an experienced caretaker.
Instead of dictating a laundry list of what you want, describe your knowledge, your existing family and housing to the shelter volunteer, and trust him or her to suggest suitable animals.
8. “How Much Are Your Ferrets?”
It’s natural to want to know adoption fees (they’re usually posted on websites or clearly discussed upfront). But if that’s your ONLY question, the volunteer will be offended. Shelters spend a lot of time differentiating themselves from pet stores; they love their little rescues and don’t like being approached like the ferret was a can on a shelf and you expect a “scratch and dent” discount. It shows your interest in the animal if your questions are aimed at what the ferret is like, what their story is, or what kind of home he or she needs.
The shelter operator will also worry, if your primary interest is what the ferret will cost, if you have the resources to provide ongoing care. As we’ve covered in previous articles, a ferret’s initial purchase is one of the smaller outlays. There will be hundreds of dollars more in supplies, quality food and vaccinations. The shelter operator cares that you can afford not only the adoption fee, but to provide ongoing good care for your new pet.
I haven’t covered everything here; other shelters might have their own reasons for not contacting you. If a ferret shelter failed to connect due to no fault of your own, please try approaching a different group using the insight you’ve gained by reading this, and hopefully next time you’ll find a ferret who really needs the second chance at a happy home you’re willing to offer.