Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Be still, my--no, seriously. I'll hurt you.

*the previous picture, I probably should've added, is of Pixie*

Weeeeeeeeeeeeee, so the fur-kids are up for the night (or morning). And Yogi, of course, is threatening a tantrum. Oh, well.

So, since I am in the mood--how about a little bit of backstory, hm?

At one time, I didn't even like ferrets. No, really. I had my first encounter with one that belonged to a friend. It was an albino, named Kilo, and I'm not sure about the sex. All I remember was that it was really aggressive, and I spent half my time at my friend's house afraid it was going to jump out and go after me (which it had done, numerous times before. And, no, it wasn't trying to play). So, that cinched it. They were not for me.

So, then, how did I come to be owned by them? Good question; let me explain ;)

My trip into 'exotic' pet ownership began...oh, about 7 years ago. My dad had brought home two stray dogs (the conversation about my stepsister and me keeping them as pets went something like this--my dad: you can keep them, but they're going to be natural dogs. me: okay; what does 'natural' mean here? my dad: no bills besides food. my mom: well, they have to have their shots. my dad: yeah, okay, they get shots. my mom: well, and if something happens to them, I'm not going to let them suffer--they'll go to the vet. my dad: right, but nothing else. my mom: what else is there? my dad: okay, they can just keep them, then. me: sounds great). They grew, they played, we nursed them through parvo (Ben was only sick for about three days. Iron will and a veritable ton of pedialyte). It was great.

One day, though, my step sister was outside, and suddenly came back in. She had saved a baby rabbit from our cat, Indy. We called it Woodbyne, and took care of it, even though we knew it really had no chance of survival. Woodbyne lasted about a week. Awhile later, my parents decided that they would surprise her and get her another rabbit. We went to (of all places) a feed store. There, we picked out two: an agouti female and a dwarf gray male. We brought them home and everyone adored them.

However, I wanted one of my own. Eventually, I talked my parents into buying me the white rabbit with black 'kohl' around her eyes and staining the tips of her ears. She was cute and tiny, and I named her Poppy. We were going to have her in the same room as the other two, but they were bigger and my step sister's female took extreme offensive. So, happily, I got to move her into my bedroom. We did everything right: regular vet check ups, a spay (that went wrong and left her with a cystic ovary, which needed another surgery). Two years later, I knew she was kind of lonely. I had a problem: she didn't like other rabbits since the incident when I first brought her home. So, what to do? I decided to get a guinea pig. We brought him home and I named him Quill (he was a dark gray with blond highlights at the tips of his hair--looked like porcupine quills). We got him check ups and a neuter (which, surprise, went wrong and left him with necrotic tissue that created an abcess and was pushing his organs out of his body--which we got taken care of on the vet's tab. We spent the summer ferrying him an hour and half to our vet every other day for check ups and weekly anesthetics so they could do deep flushes). Quill loved Poppy, Poppy loved me and liked and tolerated the squirmy thing that burbled at her constantly and tried to groom her. Things were going well. Two years after that, Poppy got sick. Our new vets thought it had to do with the spay from hell (couldn't find anything else wrong), and started her on hormone replacements. It didn't do much good. She got depressed, would just sit on the nightstand in front of the window (moved there for her convenience) and wait for me to come home from school (I'd see her in the window when we left, and when we came back she'd be right there peeking out. By the time I got in and to my bedroom, she was at the door. I even had to put her food and water up there--along with a piddle pad for her accidents-- so she would eat during the day. The vet still couldn't find the source of it). One day, on a weekend, I woke up and went to let her out. She was just laying there. I put her in my lap as my mom called the emergency vet, and my brother in law came and took us there (a two-three hour trip). Poppy died on the way.

I was heartbroken. I think the hardest thing I've ever had to do was clean out her cage and dismantle it. I cried for weeks after she died, and even now cannot tolerate the thought of having another rabbit. What was worse, though, was Quill. He barely ate, didn't play, didn't make a sound. He just laid there. It was hard, because he had been Poppy's. When she was alive, he didn't want anything to do with me, besides getting food and being let out. Now, I had to really try to make a connection (and I kind of resented him for being alive when my rabbit wasn't; I'm pretty sure his thoughts were along the same lines with me). It happened, though. He began to wheek at me (though he never burbled like with Poppy), and would crawl into my lap for attention. Then, I messed it up. My mom and I thought he would do good with a companion. We decided to get another guinea pig. Quill hated him on sight, utterly and completely. Yarrow, though, adored him and tried everything to convince Quill to be friends. It was a no go. Quill died some six months after, and Yarrow followed him, still a baby. When I talked to my vets about it, they said Quill must have died from his depression, and Yarrow from the stress.

I was convinced I was a horrible person. I had killed them, somehow or another. After a while, my mom said that I needed to think about another animal. She had always wanted a ferret, and thought I should take a look. She made arrangements at the pet store, and we went down (after getting lost for about an hour or so). There, I saw an albino, a sable, and a cinnamon. I held the albino and wasn't interested. I held the cinnamon and loved him. I couldn't put him down, even when the owner went to hand me the sable. No. So, we went to the front and I paid for him and took him home. He was wild and crazy, and I was completely enamored and REALLY overwhelmed. But the next morning, my mom kept talking about the sable. How cute and adorable it had been. So, I told her, 'well, call them and reserve it. Merry Christmas.' She did, and we went back and paid for the sable (a little girl as it turned out). After two days of not being able to think of names, I finally had an ephinany. I had been constantly saying/yelling/screaming 'hey, you, stop that' to my little boy. I named him Yew. My mom, on the other hand, read that altered jills are called sprites, so she named her female Pixie. There followed, after that, two weeks of the most dreadful moments in my life. I hate to say it, but we were completely out of our depth. In the beginning, there was no ferret-proofing, no nothing. These guys escaped out the cage, out the room, and almost ate my stepsister's rabbits, almost got eaten by our dogs, almost got lost, squashed, and mutilated. After awhile, my mom got tired, stopped coming in to see her ferret, left the cleaning/caretaking up to me. I was upset. I could barely handle one, but two without help? I thought about rehoming them; I set up ads; I talked to potential adopters. I was horrified. These people knew less than me. They wanted to cage them all day; didn't want to clean, didn't want to pay the nominal fee (a tip I got to weed out the less-than-serious people). I decided to hell with it, then. As stressed and sleepless as I was (with end of terms coming up and all), I knew that I could buckle down and get these ferrets taken care of properly, and wouldn't have to worry about who they ended up with. So, I did.

I enjoyed Yew. He was my baby and he knew it. It took forever for me to get to know Pixie. For the longest time all I could think was 'she isn't mine, she's my mom's' and so we didn't bond immediately. She was actually a year and a half old before I really could say I loved her. My mom saw it, one day. Came to me and said that Pixie adored me instead of tolerated me. I was happy. Suddenly she was my baby. The cutest little girl I knew. I don't think it really rivaled Yew, but it almost did. At two, I switched them to raw food. There was hair pulling and tears and sweat and blood, but it happened. That's when I noticed Yew's teeth. They were turning green. He needed a teeth cleaning (which involved anesthesia). My vet was amazed at his ability to vomit whenever he felt like it and for any reason (something I had gotten very acquainted with).

Then, this year, three days shy of their third birthday (they had been littermates), Yew got sick. I syringe fed him pedialyte and chicken baby food and ensure. I was trying to nurse him through the night so we could take him to the vet in the morning. Once, I had to leave the room, so I put him in the carrier but left the door open. I turned to leave and saw him drag himself to the door and lay down again (he and Pixie always waited there whenever I left the room). He would raise himself up and give me kisses as I held him in my lap. I stayed up all night, praying for him to just live. At around six a.m. he slipped into a coma. I knew then he wasn't going to make it, since the vet opened at eight. Even if he was still breathing, he was too far gone for the vet to do anything, and I remembered the pain of Poppy dying en route and me not being able to hold or touch her. I wouldn't do that to another animal; I wanted him to die at home, being able to hear my voice and feel me with him.

At exactly 10:06, laying in my lap, my little boy passed away.

Afterwards, I laid his body down and let Pixie out of the cage. As macabre as it may sound, I let her sniff and explore his body. She stayed by him for a long time, kept nudging him with her head. I watched and cried and tried talking to her. She'd leave and wander back. Finally, she smelled him again, pawed him, then sat on his head. It was the oddest thing I had seen. I suppose that was the signal that she realized he was gone, because she stayed away until I removed him.

I stayed close by Pixie in the days following. We bought a new cage (the old one was hell to clean and unsuitable, really, for ferrets even though it was designed 'for' them, or so they said). New bedding and toys and hammocks. It wasn't enough, though. I could see her just fading away. I read all the tips. Say the deceased ferret's name so that the surviving one knows you know something's changed. Say the surviving ferret's name in a positive and happy tone. Give love, affection. Pixie would try to play for about five minutes, then just lay down and stare at me. Just stare. The room felt empty and different. Everyone felt it. My mom did. Even the dogs and cats tiptoed around the house. It's amazing how big a ferret's personality is inside that tiny body. They pack a lot of life, and suddenly that was cut in half. No one was coping well.

I lasted eight and a half days. Then, I decided that I needed to get another ferret. For me, but for Pixie as well. That was the soonest I had ever gotten another animal, and I felt strange and guilty. But we packed Pixie up and went. If we were going to do this, then Pixie was definitely going to have her say about it, as well. We picked out another sable. I immediately loved the coloring (dark all over, with just the barest bit of white around the mouth). After, I saw he was a boy. Pixie didn't mind him; she smelled him and didn't puff up or hiss, so we got him. I named him Yogi on the car ride home. It just seemed to fit.

We got them home and gave them baths, then let them free in the bedroom. They romped and played like the best of friends from the get go. That was the most life I'd seen in Pixie for a week. I knew then that no matter what, I had finally made the right decision.

Of course, Yogi had his issues. He was a biter; he played a little rough for both Pixie and me. He had very poor muscle tone from being in the pet store for so long (it took him a week to realize there was more things in the room than the floor). But Pixie and I disciplined him, and she taught him to climb and how and when to get into things. It was great. Then I noticed Pixie's poop. It was black and tarry; I knew what that meant. Digested blood. So, we went to the vet. Got Yogi his shots, and Pixie started a round of horrid antibiotics for ulcers. For 14 days, I had to give five types of medicines to her, twice a day for most; three times for the others. She became lethargic and anorexic. So then I had to supplement feed twenty cc's of Carnivore Care three times a day, plus pedialyte. Slowly she started to come around, though the anorexia has been the hardest thing to get over (she still will go off her food once and a while). Then came the round of tests to check for adrenal disease and insulinoma. I was anxious and moody the whole time. I annoyed her something fierce. Sometimes I would look at her and just cry, because I was so sure that she would die, too. During those occurrences, she would lay down in front of me and watch. There was this look in her eye that said, 'would you just stop?' and I would. I'd calm down, and she'd jump on me and give me a kiss or just let me hold her for a bit.

Her tests all came back negative. I still get worked up over her, now and again, and she still tells me to back off. It's all good. She's playful again, and doesn't hesitate to get into trouble or alligator-roll Yogi. And Yogi is still the little terror. He's happy and healthy and weighs in at over three pounds at just five months. Pixie weighs over two pounds. Yes, I am a stickler about keeping an eye on weight. Everyone is happy for now, and I believe that Yew (for all this sounds so silly) will watch out for them, and give them the years that he should've had but didn't get. And I'll will always keep my promise I made to him before he died, when I told him that we will always love him, and that I'll take care of Pixie (who he adored and bullied) for him.

Mmmm. So. That is the strange and convoluted back story to where we are today. And, yes, I am well aware that not many, if any, will read this. That's fine. This is for my benefit, nobody else's. But for those that do, and can understand the pain of loving a creature unconditonally and having them die, it may be good to know that you aren't alone, and that others out there feel the same depth of loss and grief.

That's it.

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