Today, the Counter and the Bookshelves--Tomorrow, Mt. Everest! (Another Ferret Tale)

by Tina Blue
January 12, 2001

          When my ferret Ivy was younger, she was a remarkably proficient climber. Most people are surprised to discover that those little low-down, close-to-the-floor creatures can climb all the way up to high counters and shelves. I know I was quite startled the first time I walked by a bookshelf to find Ivy standing there staring at me from eye-level!

          I finally got to see how she had managed to get up there.

          In a space behind the open counter in the kitchen, I kept several plastic crates filled with toys and stuffed animals for my home daycare. Ivy used the crate with the stuffed animals to get high enough to pull herself up to the second of the wall-mounted shelves that line the walls of the space behind the counter.

          From the second shelf, she pulled herself up to the back area of the counter--which, remember, was wide open rather than enclosed. From the counter, she was able to skip the next shelf by standing on some boxes stacked back there and pulling herself up to the fourth shelf, the one I had found her on that time, looking straight into my eyes.

          The stuffed animals were the key. Ferrets have long claws and clever forepaws, and they can use anything soft, especially anything made of fabric, to drag themselves up. That's why so many ferret owners find their little mischief-makers on the top shelves of their closets. All those hanging clothes jut look like ladders to a ferret--an obvious invitation to get up to the top of the world. Considering how small ferrets are and that they are burrowing animals, with a natural affinity for the ground (Ivy, are you listening to this?), that climb up to the highest shelf in the house must be considered rather an impressive feat.

          And speaking of impressive feet, you should see hers! For a little one-and-a-half-pound ferret, she has astonishingly large, muscular forepaws, from pulling herself up onto things that are far higher than anything that small should be able to get up onto.
          Her little climbing tricks were very cute, but sometimes they could get troublesome.

          One day she came to be picked up and cuddled, but when I put her close to my face to say hello, I couldn't help noticing that she had apple-cinnamon oatmeal breath.

          The little acrobat had climbed up to the shelf where I kept a box of flavored oatmeal packets for the kids' breakfast, and had opened several packages!

          She obviously did not care for the "strawberries 'n cream" or the "maple and brown sugar," because she had only opened one of each and had not tasted them. If she had, I would have smelled them on her breath. But she must have really liked the apple-cinnamon, because she had opened both packages and had enjoyed quite a little meal from them.

          You could smell apple-cinnamon oatmeal on her breath until well into the next day.

          I had to form the habit of keeping all of my packages of elbow macaroni up on the shelf above my own head. If I kept them on any of the lower shelves, Ivy would get into them. She didn't try to eat them--she just liked to open the package and throw the dried macaroni around.

          One day, I caught her up on the kitchen counter itself--not the back part near the toys, but the front part, where I kept plastic plates and cups in a set of three stacked baskets. She had pulled herself up to the top basket, which was as high as my head, and was face-first into it, with the back end of her body hanging down out over the edge of the basket.

          Obviously I was going to have to wash and sterilize everything anyway, so I just stood there and watched for awhile, to see what it was she was rummaging around in there for.

     Soon she pulled her head back and allowed herself to slide back down the three baskets to the counter. In her mouth was a rubber pacifier. I have described some of Ivy's escapades with rubber pacifiers in another article ("Like Taking Pacifiers from a Baby" ), and if you have read that article, you understand that her penchant for rubber pacifiers was nothing less than a full-blown addiction. When she was jonesing for a pacifier, she would risk almost anything to get one.

          When she turned around and saw me watching her, the little junkie panicked, thinking I would take her pacifier away from her. Looking desperate, she started to scramble frantically backwards with her prize, trying to find the way down without taking her eyes off of me.

          I caught her just as she reached the back edge of the counter. I picked her up and tried to take the pacifier out of her mouth, but she wouldn't let go! That little devil wrestled me for it exactly the way a dog would!

          She wanted that pacifier so bad I just had to let her have it. I put her down on the floor and asked what she planned to do with her new pacifier, but she didn't stick around to discuss the issue.

          Instead, she raced down the hallway to the back room, where she no doubt added her new treasure to the growing pile of pacifiers in the corner next to her cage, and next to the smaller collection of four-ounce baby bottles that she had stolen because their rubber nipples were the next best thing to pacifiers.
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