Joie de vivre

The dance begins.

I roll a pink, well worn tennis ball against the couch, and it bounces back toward me before she pounces, grabbing it with two tiny paws, then jumps back, mouth open, feet spread apart, head up. Then she dashes forward again, rolls the ball onto her belly, all four feet grabbing it, scratching at it, before she lets it go and backs up again, watching, waiting for it to move again.

There’s nothing quite like the complete abandon in the way a ferret plays. They jump to one side, head up and mouth open, hopping sideways like spastic puppets jerking on strings. Then they’re off, running headlong into furniture, rolling over each other then springing apart. Then the dance begins again: hop to the side, dance around in a circle, dash at the adversary but keep moving until the piano collides with your head. Roll in a mass of fur and feet and open mouths, then back away, see what happens, make a sudden dash to your favorite hiding place, but peek out, just your tiny nose visible, until something interesting lures you out again.

Vesper was our first ferret, a gift for my husband in March 2009. We brought her home as a tiny, fuzzy, and rather frightened kit, who bit anytime we tried to pick her up (can’t blame her – our hands were as big as she was). But even that first day she was exploring. She ran around the edges of the room, dragging dust out of the corners I didn’t know existed. Then would she venture into the middle of the room, investigating the couches, checking the fridge for openings, squeezing under doors.

Vesper the explorer (she sees her favorite treat higher on the piano)

As she grew older, and more accustomed to us, the biting and hiding stopped. But the curiosity never did. A new pair of shoes? Must be smelled, hidden in, then dragged away to one of her several lairs. Laundry basket? Definitely need to get into it. A box near the piano bench? A staircase!

And she loved to play. A golf ball was her favorite toy to chase, and a fuzzy brown bear was her most prized possession. I’d take it out of one hiding spot, and the moment she found it she’d grab it by the neck, and hide it safely away again. Soon her favorite spot was down in the couch cushions; I still find that little bear safely hidden in her make-shift burrow.

Anytime we brought her something new, her tail would bush up like a bottlebrush at the new scent. Then when she started to play, doing her ferret dance with her head up and feet spread apart, she’d start to cluck, too, like an excited chicken. Her very favorite thing to chase, though, was my feet whenever I wore the lose pajama pants we both loved. She’d chase me across the living room, clucking and dancing when I pulled them out of her reach, then chase me back toward the front door, her long body close to the floor.

Then Alaska joined us this spring, a companion to Vesper, and Vesper’s tail took on an almost permanent bottle brush state. When Vesper curls up in the couch for a nap, Alaska pounces. If Vesper comes up to one of us, begging for attention, Alaska follows. And while Vesper likes to explore first and play second, Alaska only wants to play. She pounces on Vesper, pounces on the cords hanging from our drapes, pounces on anything that moves. (She steals anything that doesn’t move, trying to move and hide things many times her own size).

Alaska one, pink tennis ball, zero.

Finally Vesper loses patience, and she has age and (for the moment) size on her side. Then the two are a blur of fur and and clucks and bushy tails and occasional hisses when one or the other gets too excited. Now Vesper won’t let Alaska find a minutes peace; she blocks the hiding spots, pins her to the floor, reminds her just who is in charge here. But Alaska wiggles free, assumes the dance posture, and pounces and they are off again in the fight that is more of a dance and doesn’t end until one or the other, exhausted, curls up for a nap. When you look for them in the sudden quiet, two little heads peer back at you from two little bodies intertwined behind the cushions.

They’re a never ending source of laughter of games; I’m never bored of watching Alaska pounce on balls or watching Vesper find yet another way to circumvent the gate and head upstairs. And I love watching them snuggle up for nap time warmth, and covet the rare moments when one or the other curls in my lap, sighs, and falls asleep.


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Filed under Ferrets, Play

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