First let me get across how big a victory this release is - PHOENIX DID NOT HAVE A RABIES VACCINATION, and his previous owner had signed an order allowing him to be killed for rabies testing. That he is alive today is a testament to prior legwork and good relations.
It seems really strange for me to be writing a story for people to publish. I have been asked by several people to write Phoenix's story, and feel that it is important that it gets done and get to as many people in print as possible. So because of this, I am sending it to each of the people who requested, and hope they will publish it, with their own editing and knowing others are doing the same to spread the news . . . We can win!
Friday, February 21, I left at 6:30 A.M. to go to Columbus. I had planned on spending the weekend in Columbus at the Pet Expo, educating people about ferrets for the Ohio Ferret Shelter Association, but, boy did I get a big surprise that night.
I checked into my motel room after the Expo at 10:30 P.M. I expected to have a fast food dinner and let the fuzzies get some well earned exercise and fun; after eleven hours of showing how good ferrets are, it was only fair. While checking in the clerk gave me a message, "Call your husband at home, it is important."
I called to find out that a ferret was being quarantined in the Cleveland City Kennel, after supposedly biting a five week old baby 50 times. The injuries required 100 stitches. There were messages on the answering machine from various media persons, wanting to talk to the local ferret expert. Where was the media when the ferrets were in the nursing homes making people feel better and smile? Local ferret expert? What a laugh! I am still learning - I know more than some, but not as much as a lot of ferret people out there. My husband said the machine was full.
I packed up and headed for home the next morning. There were calls from the media, local humane societies, ferret people, and some I never heard of! But I got them all returned and hopefully calmed everyone down, and prayed that the work I had done with Animal Control wouldn't be flushed down the drain. Calm and diplomacy had to rule.
Animal Control over the past two years had been gently educated, and most of the people there became "ferret friendly." I had spoken in depth to them, given them all the studies and worked out a 10-day quarantine before the HSUS change or new CDC recommendations, but we never had to test it. I am positive it was a big help that I had worked this out with them ahead of time.
I contacted a friend of mine, an Animal Control Officer from another municipality, who was friends with John Baird, the head of Cleveland's Animal Control. She asked him to consider the idea that I should be able to care for the ferret while in quarantine. Technically, you are not to handle an animal accused of biting, especially in this type of situation. But the hints worked . . . well not as I hoped, but I was able to go in daily, examine, play, and cuddle the ferret.
When I got there the first day, I brought with me a cage, hammocks, litter boxes, food, nail clippers, treats, distemper vaccine. The works.
I was brought into the back of the kennel, through a locked door, and to a padlocked cage. I got my cage set up, and opened the one Phoenix was in. John Baird gave me a strange look. He must have expected me to wear gloves, but I look at it this way - that ferret cannot do anything to me that another ferret hasn't. While I was setting up the cage, Phoenix was curious, but timid. There were dogs barking, and he had been under the spot light - literally, there had been all kinds of camera people there. But he did not exhibit any aggressive behavior at all.
The first comment I made was he needs a bath. I cleaned and treated his ears for ear mites, which he did not fight. Gave him a distemper shot - with no help or distraction of Ferretone. He was very content to be cuddled and handled. He was as sweet and mild a ferret as one could ask for.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch - Linda Iroff from North Coast Ferret Shelter West volunteered to handle the media, phone calls, and generally keep everyone updated. If it wasn't for Linda, half the time, I would have forgotten to post what was going on.
Rebecca Dockus and Marilyn Stroud got copies of the police report, and talked to the police and various officials to keep up to date on that end.
Lisa Waltz, the wonderful attorney for our ferret shelters, drew up the transfer of ownership contract. That was the clincher - the fact I was willing to sign my life away for a little ferret.
By the end of the 10-day quarantine I had gotten to know the people at the City Kennel a lot better. They are overworked and underpaid, but they do the best they can for the animals. I wanted all the ferret community to know that they were doing everything they could to help make sure the ferret is taken care of, and that they wanted to see him in a good home. Linda got the word out, and within days they had received hundreds of positive phone calls, faxes and letters. They were amazed by the response.
I had several conversations with John Baird, head of Animal Control, and he kept me abreast of all that was happening in the court room, and how the prosecutor's office felt about the situation.
Part of what helped was the previous work I had done with Animal Control. I never was a pest, but I would drop off information occasionally and stop in to say "Hi." Another was the fact that the ferret community did not react to Animal Control in an attacking manner; we were supportive, and showed our appreciation for what they were doing. They were not backed into a corner, which is the reason Animal Control went to the Prosecutor and Judge on the ferret's behalf to throw out the kill order and release the ferret to my shelter.
Another key was the contract transferring the ownership of the ferret to my shelter, with the understanding he remains with me for the rest of his life. Which I do not mind, considering all the bad publicity and the severity of the incident. In a less severe situation, it may not be necessary.
The prosecutor in this case did not blame the ferret, nor did the judge; they blamed the parents, who are awaiting trial on eight federal charges of child endangering. I have been told that I may be brought into court as a "friend of the court," because of my knowledge of the ferret.
We all have our own opinions on what is right and wrong, what to feed, how to train, free roam, litter, you name it, but when push came to shove, we all worked together and we succeeded. That is one thing we need to remember, we all want the best for our fuzzies and we all have different ways to achieve them, but working together gets results.
I think that the keys to the success here were team work, the gentle education, the positive feed back they got from the ferret community, and the willingness to work together and be cooperative.
May we never have another case like this, but if we do, may we all work as well together and be as supportive.
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