We all know you have to be a special soul to make it into The Weyr, but some folks will go to extremes.
Three years ago I started getting phone calls from a guy obviously on speed. Every time he called I had to shut out all the sound from around me and concentrate on what he was saying his speech was so accelerated and disjointed. In the background, every time, I could hear a woman screaming, not just yelling, screaming, at him, at the walls, at nothing, just screaming. Every time. At first he called about once a week, then a couple of times a week, eventually a couple of times a day. He wanted me to buy his ferret.
Shelters don’t buy animals, we are buried under souls people would willingly pay us to take. But I was fearful for this four legged child so I kept answering the phone, kept talking to the guy, trying to convince him to let me just have the ferret. He finally agreed, but wanted to meet me at 9pm in a dark parking lot to give me the ferret. I figured he was going to extract payment one way or another and declined. I put that politely, right? Eventually I was able to talk him into a daylight meet in a very public parking lot.
We were to meet at 4:30pm, broad daylight, next to a bank located in a large shopping mall parking lot. What he didn’t know was the ‘we’ included both my nephew and myself, both carrying concealed handguns, and a not so concealed weapon, Tonka – the 90 pound, four legged, official Protector of the Weyr, standing in the open back of my pick up truck. The deck was heavily stacked against any funny business.
He called my cell about every 20 minutes, starting at 5, with excuses and stories on why he hadn’t arrived yet and kept calling for nearly two more hours before showing up. I was afraid he was not going to come at all. But just before sunset he pulled in and got out of his car popping the trunk release as he exited. I was praying the ferret was not back there, but knowing well the kind of person we were dealing with, didn’t doubt it. Nor did my nephew and I doubt anything in that trunk could be serious trouble and two hands surreptitiously slid smoothly into loose fitting shirts and a pair of hands tightened on the grips of two different pistols. Tonka just leaned over the edge of the truck with that glint in his eyes, watching.
The only thing in the trunk was an 18 X 30 inch cage, one half totally taken up by a litter box, that he proudly displayed. That left an area for the ferret to move, eat, sleep and live in of about 18 X 15 inches. Fuel on the fire. “Where’s the ferret?” He happily hopped back into the front seat of his car and reached across the seat for something we could not see. Two hands went back to guns. One set of teeth clicked in anticipation as the tension in the air increased again. He knew there was trouble, but also knew it wasn’t time yet.
The guy popped back out of the car holding a silver blaze boy under its arms, body dangling in the air. I snatched the ferret who was clearly dehydrated and emaciated, and spun away. “See he’s in good shape!” Mr. Oblivious said. “I’m glad you think so” I growled and headed for the truck. He started to follow me, talking nonsense at 100 miles an hour, jerking with every step. My nephew stepped between us, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” To this day I don’t know if the threat implied Tonka or himself, both were as tight as bowstrings.
We got the poor kid home and set his carrier down on my kitchen floor. I started throwing together ferret soup and medicines I already knew he was in need of. While that was mixing I opened the door of the carrier and saw he had eaten an entire bowl of dry food. Enough food to last the average ferret a day to a day and a half. I grabbed the bowl to unclip it from the carrier door, and a shot came out from inside the blankets and grabbed me. It would be the only time in his life with us Beathovan would ever bite anyone, but not the last time he would be fearful of starvation.
I left the bowl where it was and instead filled it by hand. He immediately emptied it. If I reached for the bowl, he reached for me. It didn’t take much to figure that one out at all. I pulled him carefully from the carrier, making sure to avoid any appearance of taking his food away, and set him down. He walked less than three feet and fell over. My heart broke. Besides being starved, his muscle development had been so retarded by confinement in that too small cage he could not walk. In addition to those hardships, there was the tell tale blaze of white starting almost at his nose and running back between his ears and beyond proclaiming he was born deaf. Two years old and already a life filled with hardship and pain. I wish it had stopped there. It did not.
Here was an otherwise healthy child who after rehabilitation could be as right as rain suffering from criminal neglect. How sad. How frustrating. One of our volunteers took him to rebuild his body, rebuild his trust and give him a life. Her boyfriend called him Beethovan, after the deaf composer.
Within a week of moving to her house, ‘Tov got bitten by a spider. He swelled up, his skin mottled, in some places pealed and almost all of his hair fell out. We got him through that and on the road to recovery. He finally realized his food bowl was not going to disappear and he was learning to climb ladders and run. There were other ferrets there, although he was not sure of what to make of them and the need to protect his food bowl surfaced with a vengeance. W ho could blame him? He started to settle in. He even found a friend in the quiet, demur little albino female, Lovey. But things were amiss and his troubles not over yet.
We routinely visit our foster homes. It allows me to socialize with people who ‘get the ferret thing’ and more importantly, observe the ferrets in their own environment. Most ferret illnesses manifest first in a sublet change of personality and these are easiest to spot when the ferrets are relaxed at home. What I noticed at Beathovan’s new home was worrisome. Dirty litter boxes and cages, nearly empty food and water bowls, things that just should not be happening. I knew the people he was living with had medical issues and the boyfriend had been spending a lot of time hospitalized, so we talked about the lapses and the girl who’d taken him home promised things would be better. They were – for a little while. Then general care started to slip again. Again we talked about it, but this time the repercussions of not taking care of him were included in our discussion. And then the final straw. They brought home a pregnant pit bull who’d never even been around cats, let alone ferrets.
I have nothing against any of the bulldogs from the smallest to the largest. I know several of them personally as loyal, gentle companions. One of my vets is a bulldog person. They are her passion. I asked her input on the situation and her comments were not supportive of leaving him there. In fact they were barely polite. Beathovan came home, and at caretaker’s request, Lovey came with him.
Here in the safety of the Weyr, Beathovan bloomed. He gained weight and stamina. He became a self confident little boy who loved to play with pinecones. There is still one under my couch and one in his stash bowl in his room. He got to be rough and tumble, bouncy and trouncy, and learned to love life. He learned to trust. He learned to love soup.
To communicate with the deaf a couple of things generally have to transpire. They have to learn sign language and to read lips, Tovan did both, and they have to look at you to ‘hear’. Hearing can be selective even without impairment be can realllllly selective when all you have to do is turn your head or look the other way to ignore what you don’t want to know.
Because we have nothing but old, sick or challenged folks here, at least twice a day, and some times four and five times, ferret soup gets made and heated up in the microwave. Could you please tell me how a deaf ferret, asleep in another room, at the other end of the house can hear the ‘ding!’ of the microwave when it’s done cooking?
Beathovan seldom missed it. Nor did he miss a drop of soup on that plate or a chance to beg for another.
There is a price here for a second bowl; in his case that price was he had to share with Lovey. I’d pick up the bowl; he’d dance back and forth in front of me, looking up into my face the whole time, “more, more, more!”
I’d sign and say to him, ‘where’s Lovey?’. He’d wiggle back and forth, “I don’t care. More soup please!”
“No, where’s Lovey?” “I don’t care where’s Lovey! I need more soup!” “Tovan, where’s Lovey?” and I’d put his plate in the sink. I could hear the grumbling as I walked away, “darn that girl! Always having to look out for her! Drat! Drat! Drat!” and he’d storm off. A few minutes later they’d both emerge from the bedroom, her blurry eyed behind him and him practically trotting back up the hall, “I found her, now can I have more soup?” Of course he could.
Life for two years was good to Tov. As long as he brought Lovey for that second bowl, he always got two. The backyard was full of pinecones, his for the collecting, and although he never took it for granted and always had an emergency stash just in case, his food bowls were never empty. He had a ferret family who loved him and in return he loved and nurtured. He was a good friend to every member of that family as they slowly, one by one, slipped away.
Eventually the day came it was his turn. Lovey was all that was left of his family, although there were other ferrets in the house, they weren’t his. On a Sunday night, 3 weeks ago, Tovan started feeling ill. Lovey curled up beside him and for the next four days refused to leave his side, an echo of the comfort he’d provided others. He took his medicines bravely, ate what this Momma told him to, let the doctor poke and prod on him, but he kept slipping. Thursday we knew his only chance was a surgery he would not survive.
How do you tell someone who can’t hear you that you love them? How do you say I know the medicine is nasty but it will make you better? How do you say you are so brave, and such a good boy? How do you say I have to risk your life to try to save your life? How do you say I love you so much please don’t go? How do you say goodbye?
Lovey is now all that is left of her once very large family. Tovan, who she dedicated every single moment to from the time he became ill until the time he left us, so much wrong inside we elected not to wake him from surgery, was the last. We are watching her very closely as ferrets have been known to suicide under less stressful losses. She seems to be doing okay, but has forsaken all of the beds they used to share. She follows me around and curls up at night with Marvin and I.
To gain entry into The Weyr, you must be in need. Beathovan chose a Path certain to bring him here. I wish he had not felt the need to suffer so to assure his entry. He could have had a place in our hearts for much less.
You can’t see it, but he can, I’m signing ‘I love you’.