Sunday, April 20, 2008

A town called "Ferretsville"

New London United States Pennsylvania Levi Farnsworth Ohio Ted Cunningham Mississippi - SI Vault

History of how Ferrets came to be in America and a town called Ferretsville, in Ohio.

In this article, ferrets were sold as rat exterminators and it became a big business in this town. Times changed, new methods of pest extermination using chemicals, ferrets soon met their demise and were outlawed.

This is part of the article about a ferret named Parker.....

With the questing instincts of a fox and a build like a wet noodle, the ferret rivaled any hunter. So society passed laws against him, Ferretville, U.S.A. died and the author was left with memories of a wriggly pocket

The first ferret I knew well was a white one belonging to my grandfather. In theory, this hob lived in the basement and was employed as the family rat chaser. In practice, he was usually found either asleep in a broom closet or sitting up on his hind legs begging for toast and cheese in the kitchen. Occasionally my grandmother, exasperated by this vicious killer, would chase him downstairs with a broom, ordering him to go catch a rat and stop pestering her for cheese sandwiches. As far as I know, this ferret never leaped at her jugular vein. Between then and now I have known other ferrets, all of which were considerably more personable and peaceable companions than myna birds, Pekingese dogs or Siamese fighting fish.

A few years ago I bought my last ferret at black-market prices from a poacher friend. He shall go unidentified and un-located, for if he were caught with his dozen ferrets he would be treated harshly. This ferret was a little brindle female who, when she was brought to my houseful of children, dogs, cats and assorted livestock, took up residence under the refrigerator. She was named Parker (after the famous Nosey) in recognition of a ferret's most notable characteristic, which is not lusting after blood, but insatiable curiosity.

Ferrets are congenitally unable to resist exploring holes, nooks, crannies and cracks. Parker, like all ferrets, had an ideal build for this investigatory work. She weighed about a pound, was 16 inches long and as supple as a serpent. She could get her sharp-pointed little head through a hole two inches in diameter, and anyplace her head could go her shoulderless and hipless body could follow. She squirmed into heating ducts, into the innards of radios and pianos, into boots, into the decapitated corpses of hollow-bodied dolls and under bookcases and rugs. Her only violent act was committed against a clumsy German shepherd who stepped on her one morning as she was emerging from her den beneath the refrigerator. In a chattering rage, Parker twisted around and bit the stumblebum on the nose. Forever after, this boob of a dog treated Parker with great respect. Parker had only two habits that ferret detractors could call depraved. She would run nylon stockings as she tried to climb up the legs they encased, and she would steal dish towels, dragging them into her pad under the refrigerator.

Despite her easy adjustment as a house pet, Parker was, after all, a ferret, whose traditional line of work was supposed to be chasing things out of holes, not dusting under chairs with her tail. So in the spring of her first year we took her to the farm of a friend, Glenn, who had a pasture full of rabbit and woodchuck holes. In the evening Glenn and I, with Parker in my pocket, set out on one of the last great ferret hunts.

One of the advantages of ferreting is that the principal participant, the ferret, does not need much training. All a ferret's instincts urge him to go down any hole he is shown. The man, who is supposedly in charge of the operation, only has to put his ferret on the ground, sit down and wait to see what comes up. The difficulty is that sometimes a ferret gets into a hole he likes too well. He may follow a maze that brings him to the surface a long way from the original entrance; he may decide to curl up and take a nap; or he may, on rare occasions, decide to catch himself a meal, which he will eat in leisurely fashion despite any pressing appointments the man waiting above ground may have. Even love may detain a ferret. One oldtime ferreter tells of dropping a she-ferret in an amorous physiological condition down what he thought was a rabbit hole. Actually, there was a he-mink in the burrow. These two close cousins proved simpatico, and the ferreter claims that whatever went on in the dark was tempestuous and took the devil's own time to accomplish. However, he was never able to prove that his ferret was not all she should have been since, as the saying goes, there was no issue.

To avoid these annoying delays, ferrets are sometimes harnessed and worked on long leashes. In this way they can be dragged back on demand, except when the leash gets tangled on a root or around a stone. When this happens there is nothing for the ferreter to do but get out a pick and shovel and start digging. This kind of thing tends to take the fun out of a hunt, particularly if the ground is frozen. A muzzle is also sometimes used on a ferret. The idea is that the animal can now chase, but cannot dine, on his quarry. The risk of this method is that if the ferret meets up with a hole owner who is ready and willing to dispute a passage, the hunter is likely to become the hunted. Still other ferreters hunt only mated pairs. They send the female underground and keep the male with them, as a sort of hostage. The reasoning is that the little lady will hurry back to her husband. The female is never kept waiting for the male. If nothing else, this procedure ought to interest young wives and marriage counselors.

Parker, Glenn and I were innocent of any fancy equipment or philosophies when we set out on our expedition. As it turned out, we did not need them, for Parker took to woodchuck holes like a woodchuck will to a sweet-corn patch. She dived down the first hole we showed her and came up a few minutes later at the mouth of an interconnecting tunnel. She had earth on her nose and a pleased gleam in her eye. Then, as we followed, she began to work down the fence row, diving and surfacing in the loam like a porpoise in the sea. The only disappointing aspect of this operation was that Parker was the only creature who came up out of any of the holes.

"I know there's chucks in there," Glenn complained. "They sit around stuffing themselves on clover all day. I see them when I'm plowing."

External evidence confirmed this claim. Many of the holes had fresh earth and woodchuck table scraps at the mouth. Occasionally, while Parker was underground, we would hear an ill-tempered rumbling. Even so, Parker would come up alone, with a worried, apologetic look on her face. Finally we decided that since it was getting late the woodchucks must all have been sacked out and Parker had been far too much of a lady to rouse them.

Eventually Glenn raised a young rabbit that bolted down a hole in the bank of an old quarry. We picked up Parker and ran to the spot. This burrow had two entrances and we put Parker in the one we thought the rabbit had used. Almost at once there was a satisfying commotion. Shortly, both animals emerged, but there must have been some underground confusion, for the rabbit came out of the hole Parker had entered and the ferret popped up from the far exit. They stared at each other for a brief moment and then the rabbit jumped. The bunny was clearly adolescent, but it already outweighed Parker about two to one. With sort of the rabbit equivalent of a straight arm, the quarry simply ran over the vicious ferret. When the dust settled, Parker picked herself up and looked around groggily after the fashion of a T-formation quarterback who has been blitzed. The rabbit was long gone. It was a humiliating experience for both Parker and me. We got no sympathy from Glenn, who howled hysterically, "She's a tiger, a tiger. Please don't let her get me."

In attempting to rebut the various slanders that have been circulated about ferrets it would be unrealistic to claim that all of these little animals are as ineffectual as Parker was on this occasion. I admit to remembering a great white ferret who was once dropped down a wide-mouthed hole. There was an almost instantaneous explosion of action. Two fox pups followed by a vixen came boiling out of the den, with the hob ferret in close and ferocious pursuit. Most ferrets do chase things-it is their nature- and catch them, too. A ferret worked frequently can probably take as many rabbits in the course of a year as a man driving to conservation meetings can kill with his car. Even Parker might have become an efficient ferret if given a little practice. It was just that at the time of her maiden hunt she was more accustomed to dealing with dish towels than game. After this first and last field trial, she was retired and lived out her days in the kitchen, operating from the security of her refrigerator den, where no rabbit could get at her.

In time, as all creatures must, Parker came to her reward. Though she was mourned, she has not been replaced. What with all the assaults recently being made on law and order, I did not want to contribute to the breakdown of public morality by keeping a bootleg ferret, and I did not have the time or money to license one. However, my recent visit to New London renewed my craving for these weasels. Deciding to live dangerously, I inquired about buying one in this Cooperstown of ferretry. I had no more luck than Parker did with the rabbit. Rumor has it that there is one retired ferret rancher near New London who keeps half a dozen of the animals for old times' sake. But this man will not admit to such carryings-on and so, lacking a search warrant, there is not a ferret to be had in what was once Ferretville, U.S.A. There is nothing left in Our Town now but Chenango Charlie and the girls' choir and those nice old ladies on their porches.

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