Like Taking Pacifiers from a Baby (Another Ferret Story)

by Tina Blue
January 12, 2001

          In another article ("Ferrets Have a Rubber Fetish") I describe how a female ferret named Dinky used to steal rubber flip-flops from the baskets I kept them in for the children in my home daycare. The ferret I have now, Ivy, gets her rubber fix from baby bottle nipples and rubber pacifiers.

          At first I didn't realize that Ivy was the culprit when small baby bottles started disappearing. I would look away for a few minutes, and suddenly the toddler who had been carrying a bottle around no longer had it, and usually said child was giggling when I asked where the bottle was.

          After it had happened a few times, I stopped letting them have bottles except in the high chair or while I was holding them. I didn't worry much about the contents of the bottles--I only put water in them except for at meal times or when I was holding the child. There would be no nasty "yogurt" once I finally located the missing bottles.   But I don't like not knowing what's going on, especially where small chidren in my care are concerned, hence the ban on ambulatory bottles.

          Then one day I went into the back room where my ferret Ivy holes up when she isn't out visiting with us. There, in the corner by her cage, I found three four-ounce baby bottles, each still partly filled with water. I also found several pacifiers! I never used pacifiers with my own kids, but several of my daycare kids, both infants and toddlers, were already hooked on pacifiers when they came to me, and the parents wanted their children to continue using them, so despite my own prejudice against pacifiers, I didn't take them away. But there had been a tendency on the part of the pacifiers to disappear, and I had not understood why.

          What was happening was that Ivy had been swiping every pacifier that had been dropped on the floor. Once I knew what to watch for, I actually caught a thirteen-month-old infant throwing a pacifier out of her crib at the ferret, just to watch with obvious amusement as the little devil snatched the prize and scampered off with it!

          With such evidence, I also began to suspect that the strangely giggling toddlers whose bottles had disappeared had actually handed them to Ivy, just for the pleasure of watching her run off with them.

          A sort of pacifier lockdown was put into effect from that time on. Pacifier babies and toddlers had to learn to use their pacifiers only under limited conditions, so I could make sure they weren't giving them to Ivy and that Ivy wasn't somehow managing to steal them while they weren't looking.

          One evening I was babysitting during my non-daycare hours for a friend's six-month-old daughter. Karina was a pacifier baby, but like most, she was hooked on only one type of pacifier. In fact, her mother sometimes complained about the fact that Karina's favorite type of pacifier was often hard to find in Lawrence stores, so she had to stock up whenever she went to Kansas City.

          When Andrea came to pick up Karina that night, she sat down on the floor, where her baby was playing on a blanket. Andrea placed her diaper bag to the side of the blanket, and we had a little visit while enjoying little Karina's charming baby antics.

          Then Ivy showed up. She joined us by Karina, and I quickly grabbed the pacifier that had fallen out of Karina's mouth.

          "You have to be careful with Ivy," I warned Andrea. "She will steal this pacifier if you give her half a chance."

          "Oh, come on," Andrea replied. "She's not going to take it with me sitting right here!"

       At that very moment we both noticed that Ivy had practically disappeared head-first into Andrea's diaper bag, leaving only her little rump visible.

          "What is she doing?" Andrea exclaimed through her laughter.

          We soon had our answer, as Ivy backed out of the bag with one of those rare, precious pacifiers in her mouth! When she saw us watching, she began to scamper backwards, fearing that she would lose her prize if she didn't get away quickly, and if she didn't keep her eyes on us.

          Andrea couldn't stop laughing. She thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. I offered her a few dollars to replace the lost pacifier, but she wouldn't hear of it. She thought that Ivy's little performance was worth the price of admission.

          From that time on, Andrea would try to get Ivy to do her little trick again. Whenever she saw my ferret, she would casually take a pacifier out of her bag and leave it lying on the floor beside her.

          Ivy's longing was palpable. She would stare at the pacifier for awhile, without ever losing track of where Andrea was. But she could tell Andrea was watching, so she wouldn't go after the pacifier. That is, she wouldn't go after in until she noticed that Andrea's attention had flagged for a moment. The she would make a sneaky ferret-dash for it.

          A sneaky ferret-dash defies the laws of physics. The ferret will be at point A, and she will want to reach point B, but for some reason ferrets seem to have a prejudice against actually traversing the space between point A and point B. Instead, as far as I can figure out, they find a multidimensional wormhole, so that they can pop out suddenly at point B without having crossed over from point A, though it may be that they have to swing by Alpha Centauri at some point along the way.

          Or maybe it's just that they are small and fast, and like to travel quickly along walls and under furniture. Whatever the case, any ferret owner will tell you that you can be looking directly at a ferret one minute, and then the next minute she will show up on the opposite side of the room, with no evidence of having crossed over the intervening space.

          So whenever Andrea stopped watching the pacifier for even a moment, Ivy would suddenly appear halfway down the hallway, racing for cover with the pacifier in her mouth.

          I don't even want to know how much Andrea had to budget for Ivy's pacifier habit. It's a good thing that Karina was only an occasional visitor. If she had been in my daycare forty or more hours a week, her mom would have had to take a second job to support Ivy's addiction.
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