We lost another of our beloved pets on Tuesday of last week. Max T. Ferret was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over 6 months ago when we brought him into the vet because he was losing his ability to walk - his back legs were failing him. Pancreatic cancer is inoperable, so surgery wasn't an option. In pancreatic cancer, the cancer is peppered throughout the pancreas like bits of sand, so it's nigh on impossible to get to all of the bits, and since the pancreas cannot be removed (unlike the gall bladder or appendix, it's a necessary organ), the only thing we could hope for was to slow the progression of the cancer and maybe kick his legs back into gear through drug therapy. Thanks to Dr. Byron de la Navarre, whom we can't recommend highly enough, Max had many many more good days after his initial diagnosis. He started to falter, and we had to continuously up the dose of his meds, but his spirits never flagged. He never appeared to be suffering or in pain. On his worst days he just seemed really, really tired, but on his best days you would swear he was in pretty good health.
I got Max about 4 years ago. Like all of my ferrets, he was given to me by someone who could no longer keep him. My coworker's friend was getting married, and she didn't want her fiancee's ferret in "her" new house (I'm still angry about this, and don't hold much hope for that marriage. When they brought me Max, his owner was quietly fighting back tears and staring at Max with true regret and sadness, reluctant to hand me his cage, while his fiancee was going on and on about "how WONDERFUL Max was!" and "how much they'd miss him *tear!*"). I'd only before brought in animals whose owners truly couldn't care for them as they deserved. Max was obviously very, very loved and well taken care of by his previous owner.
As much as I wanted to help Max find a new home (I LOVES me the ferrets!!), I was hesitant to bring another ferret in when the two I had - Donnatella and Umberto - got along SO well. I told the owner I'd see how things went, but if they didn't get along, he'd have to find him another home. Max was about 5 or 6 at the time.
I prepared everyone for the initial meeting. I read all the Webbernet sites, called a few ferret shelters, and fretted most of the week before I brought Max home. Before they met, I gave them each a bath with the same shampoo so they smelled the same. I scoured the cage and put in all new litter. I even put in all new bedding. When I finally introduced Max into the cage, the three started to circle and sniff at eachother. I left the room after about 20 minutes with an ear open, listening for any signs of aggression or distress and ready to dash back in if I heard so much as a "DOOKA!," but I didn't hear anything but the ordinary, and when I came back a few minutes later, they were all piled on top of eachother in the cuddle cup, snoooooooozing away contentedly. I told my coworker to let her friends know had a new home.
I came to regret my decision a few weeks later when he started to terrorize Donnatella. He only attacked her whenever they were let out of the cage (he left her alone inside the cage, and they'd sleep in a pile like nothing had happened). When he'd start to attack her I'd put him back in the cage or into another room, trying to condition him to leave her alone, but he didn't learn to leave her alone until she got sick. He was an excellent ferret aside from this, but I felt bad all around - for Donnatella for the attacks, and for him because he was spending most of his time in the cage or in a room separate from the other two ferrets. He didn't seem to mind, but they're generally such social animals, I couldn't help but feel badly.
When Donnatella got sick, Umberto brought her food and used himself as a blanket to keep her warm. When Max got sick, he did the same for him, but to a lesser degree as the weather got warmer (the warmer it got the less Max needed an Umberto blanket, and Max's strict regimen included twice-daily doses of protein/fat rich food, so he didn't need to go up the levels of the cage too often get food). Nevertheless, it was obvious Umberto was keeping an eye on him. Our vet has never heard of anything like this mothering behavior of Umberto's.
Max was the most socialized (with bipeds) of my ferrets. His human obviously loved him and played with him extensively. One of their favorite passtimes was ferret bowling. To play ferret bowling, you curled Max into a ball (ferrets have no apparent bone structure) and slide him down a smooth hallway. He'd shake himself off when he came to a stop, then come running back for the next frame.
Like most ferrets, he was afraid of nothing, but he held a milder temperment than Umberto. Umberto would go into DOOKA!! ATTACK!! mode when startled, Max would simply change direction. Bu found him fascinating and would follow him about as though studying him.
Max had gone into convulsions before, but this time we couldn't stabilize him. Dr. de la Navarre's practice was still open so we brought him there to be put to sleep. We didn't want to take him to an emergency clinic where the surroundings would be unfamiliar (he'd spent a few weekend "spa-visits" there whenever we travelled out of town, our minds at ease knowing they'd take excellent care of him in our absence, so he was familiar with the staff and they with him), and we knew it was time. He'd been getting progressively weaker over the past 2 weeks and we had been watching him as closely as Umberto for the slightest sign of discomfort, which he showed no evidence of until the very end. Even then he was fighting like mad to stick around. While I was driving home from work that day, clouds started forming overhead. As soon as I stepped out of the car it started raining. By the time I got into the apartment it was pouring rain, and the winds were whipping like mad. Max was conjuring a tempest! We drove to the vet in the pouring rain and got drenched in the short jog from the car.
When we left, the winds had calmed and the clouds were parting.
The staff at Animal House of Chicago has been amazing. One of the vets who took care of him while we were away last weekend said she could not believe he was about 10 years old. Just couldn't believe it. Ferrets just don't live that long! Turns out they do when you give them the excellent care they do at the Animal House of Chicago.
Umberto is now alone - a situation he's never found himself in before. He has been spending alot of time sleeping, and appears lethargic. For risk of sounding as though I'm personifying my animals, I'd say he's grieving and lonely. If you know of anyone giving away any 4-month old ferret kits....
We were blessed and lucky to have had Max, and we, and Umberto, Aethelred and Bu, miss him dearly.