Back to Article Index


Bear the Household Helper

These articles and images are copyrighted and may not be reprinted, re-used, reposted, copied, or otherwise distributed without permission from the author.

You should not rely on the veterinary advice or information provided on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any specific situation. Always consult your own veterinarian for specific advice concerning the medical condition or treatment of your own pet or animal.

Bear the Household Helper

© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

As I drove up to the ferret shelter, I was already imagining a little female ferret kit with silvery fur. As I later drove away from the shelter, my imaginings had been replaced by an older, brown, male ferret. “How did this happen?” asked John, my husband. I didn’t tell about Bear’s pleading eyes. I told him that Bear had been surrendered to the shelter by a father of an autistic boy. Although Bear had been good therapy for the son, the boy would unintentionally hurt Bear because of a motor skills problem. A doctor recommended a dog, and Bear was sent away. The son requested that Bear’s name be kept. “Besides,” I said, echoing the shelter operator’s words, “older ferrets don’t need to be litterbox trained and they don’t get into as much trouble as a baby!”
John and I worried about introducing an older ferret into an established ferret household. We braced for the inevitable dominance squabbles to determine who was top ferret. Oddly, all my ferrets accepted Bear immediately. When new ferrets arrived in the household, Bear took on the job of showing them around (“Here’s the extra water bowl, and there’s an excellent sleeping spot behind this cabinet….”). His daily job was to open a bottom drawer in the kitchen so other ferrets could climb in and play with the plastic grocery bags and sleep in the dishcloths. Bear didn’t join in the fun, but would open the drawer whenever requested by another ferret.
Even on his last day three years later, Bear was on top of his job. He ate his baby food with the other senior citizen ferrets, and went to open the bottom drawer. The other ferrets waited patiently for him to finish, for Bear was slower these days about getting his job done. He saw the waiting ferrets safely into the drawer and tottered off to his sleep sack for a final, peaceful rest. Bear was not only a helper, he was a teacher. He taught us that love is patience and life is helping others. The brief time we had together was a rewarding lesson to never regret extending your heart to an older animal. John has taken over Bear’s drawer duties with a tear and a smile.