This week I lost a most beloved friend and magnificent fellow organism. For those who do not know the love of animals, I am sorry for you. For those who do, then you can understand the sense of loss that permeates my humble world. Boris the ferret was here, then he was gone, and an empty space and shell occupy the space that his exuberant spirit once filled.
Ferrets are very high maintenance friends. Mustela putorius furo, the scientific nomenclature for a ferret means “stinky, mouse-killing thief.” We have found all these descriptions to be true. While highly intelligent, they are also like children with attention deficit disorder. No corner, nook, cranny or crack in the woodwork remains unexplored, and you will have a difficult time getting one to sit for a cuddle on your lap for more than a few seconds at a time. The joy of a ferret comes from their incredible joie de vivre, energy and humor. Yes, they definitely have a sense of humor.
My first experience with ferrets was quite accidental. I was sent on an expedition to the pet store to procure a guinea pig for son Duncan who was suffering a great grief over the loss of a pet gerbil. In their small enclosure, the guinea pigs all ran away from me, while in the next cage, a single albino ferret begged for my attention. The choice seemed like a no brainer at the time, but truth be told, I was totally unprepared for my life with ferrets.
In spite of the ferret’s, who came to be known as Winter, overtures, I assumed that ferrets, like gerbils and guinea pigs, could be confined to small cages and played with at the discretion of a young child. Winter quickly educated me. Whenever caged, she cried incessantly like a baby, but when out and about she was as happy as a proverbial clam in mud. She raced around the house emitting a giggling noise, known in ferret lover communities as a “dook,” and when finally exhausted, would curl up and sleep preferentially in dresser drawers (accessed from underneath and behind). A cage for a ferret (in their estimation) is a completely unnecessary furnishing.
We quickly realized that in order to live at peace with our new rambunctious pet, we would have to adapt. We “ferret-proofed” the house. Holes in the foundation, broken screens to the outdoors, access to the pantry, etc. were sealed off. Newspaper was placed in every corner. Ferrets have very clean potty habits and can be litter trained. They always go in corners.
In exchange for our efforts, we were able to share our space with a spirited creature that always provided us with joy and laughter. Ferrets are probably the only animals that literally jump for joy on a regular basis. When a ferret lives with you, they will actually jump up and down and spin around, dancing at the sight of you and emitting their special ferret dooking laughter whenever you cross their path. The ferret excitement with life is contagious.
A ferret will also connive and plot to undo your every ferret-proofing maneuver. Winter devised methods for scaling the pantry shelves to steal the granola bars she coveted, no matter what we devised to dissuade her. Boris never abandoned his quest to undo the barriers we constructed against his escape for the entirety of his life with us. Like people, some ferrets are craftier than others.
Two weeks ago Boris developed a cough. Upon examination by his vet, it was determined that he suffered from acute, aggressive lymphoma, not an uncommon disease unfortunately in the ferret world. In spite of medications administered with the intention of rendering remission, the disease prevailed. Within a week of diagnosis, my dooking, dancing, vibrant Boris went from exuberance for life to comatose.
He died. Early Monday morning, lying next to me on a pillow in my bed, my precious friend breathed his very last breath. Then the shell just lay there and he, Boris the excessively rambunctious ferret, was most definitely gone. What does an agnostic do with such information?
I have a body. As morbid as it sounds, it has been too cold. The ground is frozen. I cannot place the shell of Boris beneath the beautiful maple tree that holds the shells of his former friends. The body of Boris rests swaddled in a shroud on a bed in another room waiting for the thaw. The body of my beloved, magnificent friend.
I go and check on him from time to time. At first, the rigor mortis made it impossible to make the semblance of comfort possible. But now, almost 48 hours later, the shell is supple, so I have manipulated the body into a comfortable, ferret position, much like a mortician would mold sleep upon the body of one of his clients. In doing so, I find, this shell, this biological capsule, now slowly decomposing, is NOT Boris. He was here, but now he’s gone. What remains of him that I have here are just “remains.” The fantastic spirit Boris is gone.
I don’t think Boris, as I knew him, has gone to heaven or any other, “other” place. When I place his body in the ground, it will decompose and ultimately become part of the maple tree that blesses this space each fall with a beautiful display of maroon and red. And in those colors I will remember him and the joy he gave to me. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.
But I also cannot believe that the energy that was Boris has evaporated into nothingness. He was too vital a force for that. The laws of thermodynamics state that energy is neither created nor destroyed. My precious friend is out there somewhere, freed from his decaying form. Fly free little buddy. I will miss you.