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Potion

Our beloved Potion. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 20??

 

Last night, we lost a very special little friend.  Potion the ferret has been one of our furry companions since my undergrad years.  I fell in love with her at a pet shop one day and couldn’t resist.  I had been researching ferrets already and was hoping to give one a home.  This particular ferret came from a breeder in Canada and was the only one at the independent pet store.  She was so tiny then…  And boy, was she a handful.  For such a little thing, she could sure bite.  She drew blood on more than one occasion, and it was only through the patient but stern training of my husband (who was still my boyfriend at that time) that she learned to trust us and have fun without chomping down.  After that, she was one of the most gentle little souls in our home.  She played with the cats, loved to explore inside the couch, and was always happy to lick our ears after a shower.  Later in life, she would show that same gentleness with our baby.  When she was younger, she regularly performed her “ferret war dance” with many a cluck.  Because ferrets are social animals, we brought home a friend for her – Puck.  They were the best of friends, although they also got into little spats.  It was a riot to watch them bounce around together…

When Puck passed away in the summer of 2012, it seemed like a little bit of Potion’s spark went with her.  Her friend was gone and she had less to do when we were away in the day.  We continued to take her out as often as possible and she still seemed in pretty good health.  She loved to chase and be chased by our little cat Samus.  When she got tired, she’d find a quiet place to hide and fall asleep.  This was always rather annoying because it happened before I needed to put her in her cage for the night.  It was a ritual that inevitably belated our bedtime. We used to have to coax her out by shaking a container of treats or gently kicking at the couch.  Sometimes she’d nip me through the fabric which always made my husband laugh.  She was gentle but could be a little spitfire too!

After I had my baby girl, we weren’t able to spend as much time with Potion.  We still took her out every night, but because we moved into a bigger house and had to attend to the baby, we kept her in our bedroom.  After a little while, I noticed that she was less active and seemed to be out of character.  She didn’t bounce and cluck like she used to.  She was losing fur and showing all the signs of the diseases that plague ferrets, especially the elderly.  It was everything Puck had experienced, but at a very rapid and sudden pace.  She continued to hide and fall asleep every night.  Some days it was hard to find her again.  I always feared I’d stumble upon her already dead.  I made a special point to tell her I loved her and gave her extra cuddles before bed just in case.  Puck’s death was a surprise and I’ve always felt bad that I wasn’t able to say goodbye…

A few nights ago, I noticed Potion was really out of sorts.  She didn’t seem to be eating or drinking as much.  Her stool was different.  She hardly wanted to move. I cuddled her close and stroked her head, looking into those little beady eyes that always shimmered with so much love.  I felt awful for not being able to do more for her.  Between all of our debt and medical bills, we just didn’t have the money to take her to the vet for tests that would only tell us what we already knew.  We opted to offer her the best comfort we could until the quickly approaching end.  We modified her cage so she didn’t have to climb to reach anything.  I carried her with me to the sink and gave her water right out of my hand.  We gave her soft treats which she still showed a great love for.

Last night I cuddled her close and whispered my love to her.  I noticed a couple of her nails looked long so I trimmed them to try and keep her comfortable.  I helped her into her hammock , stroked her little head, and said goodnight.

This morning I found her cold and still.  I pray she didn’t suffer long and I hope she knew how loved she was.  I hope she knew how much joy she brought to us even though the end was hard and she did not get as much of our attention after the baby.  Because it was anticipated, I don’t feel as shaken as I did when Puck passed away.  I had time to really come to terms with it.  I also firmly believe that Puck was waiting for her.  A few nights ago, she did something she’s never done – something that was Puck’s specialty: she stole something rubbery- my husband’s nice earbuds.  I was struck by how odd it was for her.  It’s like she was playing with Puck.  And last night, before going to bed, I picked up my baby and randomly started to sing “Reunited” by Peaches.  I feel like Puck was here, waiting to be reunited with her old friend.  And indeed, when the ground thaws, I will put Potion next to puck in the moon garden.

In case you’re wondering, no – I’m not planning to bring any more ferrets into my home.  Not now, anyway.  They are adorable and clever, it’s true.  They make me laugh and have so many good qualities.  They really do make great pets, however they really need a lot of attention and care – something I just can’t do with a baby.  So if you’re interested in caring for ferrets, please know that they need a lot of work.  Think about your current lifestyle as well as what you aspire for.  Think about whether or not you’ll have room in your budget for the end of life care they often need.  I didn’t think about that in college but I did the best I could …

As we enter the second day of the 12 Days of Yule and I place mementos of her around my Ancestral altar, I’m reminded of how precious life is.  No matter what you celebrate, take some time to show everyone in your life, including your smallest family members and friends, that you love them.  You never know when they will be called to the Otherworld.

 

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Our beloved Puck. ~Dec. 2005 – July 9, 2012.

Last night, when I went to clean the ferret cage, I immediately noticed something amiss.  Potion, our eldest ferret, was already awake and eagerly waiting a chance to run around outside their cage.  Puck wasn’t in sight.  She usually slept inside a brown hammock I made.  She was always lazy and slow to rise, especially since her health started to decline, but she was usually up and ready to go by the time her roommate was.  When I gave the hammock a gentle nudge, there wasn’t any movement.  After doing this a few more times and calling her name, I reached in the hammock and knew right away that she had passed away when I felt her cold skin.

I felt like two people all at once; a grieving animal mama and someone more matter-of-fact all at once.  I knew I had to take the hammock out of the cage and keep our healthy, living ferret away from it until I could clean.  I knew we shouldn’t put the hammock on the bed because there were bodily fluids.  I knew we should take her to the bathroom.  I knew I had to wash her little, limp body. And yet as my body went about all these necessities, my mind and heart wept.  Her death, while inevitable, still felt out of nowhere.  She’d been losing fur and weight since winter of 2009.  We knew she was sick but, being such a small critter, we opted to give her the best life we could until her time came.  She was always a bouncy, playful, hungry little thing.  She seemed that way right up until my discovery last night.

It’s said that animals hide their pain really well.  I’ve always worried that she was less comfortable than she was letting on.  All the same, she always poked her head out of her hammock to say hello each morning and I always rubbed her nose and said hello.  I’m pretty sure that ritual happened yesterday morning.  But then I became so wrapped up in everything else.  The cats needed feeding; the plants needed watering, the dishes needed to be done; laundry needed to be folded and put away.  To top it off, I have a big, work-related exam coming up and I spent some time studying yesterday.  I also made meals, ran, and, yes, watched some shows on Netflix with my husband.  It was one of those days where I didn’t spend as much time around the ferrets as I could have.  When I found her like that, I felt so terrible.  It seemed as if it had only happened maybe an hour at most before I went to clean the cage.  Would it have been any better if I found her before?  In her hammock, she looked like she had passed away in her sleep.  I hope that’s so.  I hope she didn’t suffer long.  More than anything, I wish I had been able to tell her I loved her one last time, maybe give her another treat.  I hope she knew how much she meant to us, that she always made us smile and laugh.  She was such a goofball. When we got her as a kit, the pet store clerk thought she was a boy, so we named her Puck.  Shortly after, we realized she was female, but we kept the name since she was such an imp.  That’s just how she was with her little bandit mask. Even towards the end, she was always playing, chasing, nipping,  and giggling in that way ferrets do.  She was such a thief.  Puck always stole our shoes, wallets, and keys.  She wasn’t afraid to chase our two female cats, Esmerelda and Samus.  They’d all grown to know each other and we weren’t afraid to have them play together.  Puck loved it when I put her under sheets and parachuted them up and down – she’d jump up and go “Dook!  Dook!  Dook!”  She sometimes fought with Potion, but they played and snuggled more than anything.  Whenever I picked Puck up, she licked my face.  After a shower, she loved to lick my toes.  She loved to dig and no houseplant was ever safe from her strong claws.  It was annoying and endearing at the same time.  I’m going to miss all of these things about her.  When I woke up to take a shower today, and brought Potion in the bathroom to play while I did, there was only one ferret licking my toes.  Today there was only one face peeping out of a hammock.  It’s not often the eldest pets outlive their younger companions.  I hope Potion isn’t too lonely without her friend.

After finding Puck, Weretoad helped me wash and dry her little body.  It was so small and flat seeming suddenly.  Her fur looked dull and her beady black eyes less shiny.  Whenever I’ve lost an animal companion in the past, another family member always dealt with it.  I mourned, but I wasn’t cleaning or burying.  This was the first time I took direct responsibility.  For a long time after, we just looked at her and stroked her fur as if she were still alive.  Her body went through the motions – twitching, gurgling.  It was uncanny and sad.  At times I worried she really was still alive and suffering, but she was cold and there wasn’t any pulse or breath.  My husband and I both cried.

Weretoad suggested I wrap her in linen so I cut out a rectangle of black linen.  Arranging her on it, we each gave her one last kiss and pinned the fabric over her.  I used pins with red and green heads to symbolize the blood of death and the green of rebirth.  I pinned a sprig of juniper onto her burial shroud – once more to symbolize new life.  Again, it was me as two people – mourning yet doing things very purposefully.  My spirituality was there, giving meaning and strength to me as I fumbled.

We buried her this afternoon.  It stormed in the morning but that finally subsided.  We decided to bury her in the moon garden so that we could take her with us when we finally get our own home.  It just didn’t feel right to bury her in a place we wouldn’t always be able to visit.  So I told the plants growing in the half barrel moon garden what was happening and almost instantly got the feeling that it was ok.  I carefully removed some stones and a few of the plants.  I gathered some incense and water.  We placed her in the soil and said, “In the name of fire, water, and earth, we give you back to the Earth mother.”  We poured the water, lit the incense, and gingerly returned the earth and plants to their places.  We said goodbye and shared our love.  It was a simple ritual, but it felt right that way.  The Kindreds who care most were listening, that I’m sure of.  The gate I opened and closed was a hole in the dirt.  The Earth Mother is the ultimate Gatekeeper of death.

It’s so hard to say goodbye to a beloved animal companion, even when we know they are no longer suffering and that death is just part of life.  When you take a furry baby in, you do so knowing that you will probably outlive him or her.  They are with you for but a short time, and you learn from each other and give each other joy.  That is all life is – comings and goings.  Sometimes our encounters have great significance and lasting impact on us.  Someone once told me that pets leave pawprints on our hearts.  It’s very true – even when they are as small  as our Puckapuck was.

May the Kindreds welcome you to the Otherworld, little imp.  We will miss you and see you again down the road.

The Puck Memorial Moon Garden – Dedicated on July 10, 2012.

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