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Ferret fans fret festival could be last after 21 years of furry fun

By CHRIS GAROFOLO
Sunday News Correspondent

September 24. 2017 12:15AM
Manchester resident Jaime Metzger spends time with Emerson the ferret on Saturday morning at the 4 Li'l Paws Ferret Festival at the Londonderry Senior Center. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/Sunday News Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY - It was a frenzied finale for ferret fanatics and their furry four-legged friends.

For 21 years, Sue Kern has played a part in the 4 Li'l Paws Ferret Festival, a popular gathering for the quirky creatures and their owners. But until anyone wants to pick up the proverbial hairball from Kern, who has organized the festival for the past 15 years, the annual jamboree for everyone's favorite domesticated polecat could slip away.

"Unless someone is willing to take this over, this will be the last ferret festival," said Kern, the founder and operator of the ferret-only 4 Li'l Paws Shelter, a state-licensed nonprofit accommodating up to 15 animals. A speciality clinic is needed because many veterinarians are not familiar with ferrets, which are prone to medical issues, including cancers to their pancreas and lymphatic systems.

Hundreds of ferrets, and their owners of course, converged at the Londonderry Senior Center on Saturday for what could be the final festival.

Guests were greeted with the musky odor of the ferrets as they entered, a common smell for any pet parent, but that fragrance was quickly overwhelmed by homemade brownies and donated pulled pork sandwiches.

Tables were packed with raffle items; one had a box with free harnesses. A playpen was set up for new friends to meet and greet as their owners chatted about proper care. Ferrets were prepped and groomed for beauty competitions and other games, such as a tube race and a timed tournament to see which animal could slip out of a paper bag the quickest - although some of the animals enjoyed playing in the bags and opted not to escape in any expedient fashion.

It is the largest ferret function in New Hampshire.

"There are loads of ferret owners in this area," Kern said. "Today is going to be really special because longtime friends are going to be coming to say our goodbyes together."

Amy Blanchette, of Farmington, walked Toby the ferret around the center's hardwood floors. He explored under a pile of folding chairs and underneath tables before Blanchette put him back in the playpen for a quick meal.

"There's such a small group of us left that it is hard, it's sad," Blanchette said. She owned ferrets for 17 years before her last one recently died and now helps at the shelter and fosters ferrets like Toby while Kern recovered from hand surgery.

"These funds that come in from this one annual festival are what basically defray a portion of the vet costs," she said, adding ferrets are a great pet to relax with at home. "They bond very well with humans, they are very loving and intelligent."

Ferrets, in the same genus as weasels, have a long, slender body, about 20 inches.

The name ferret is derived from a Latin word translated as "little thief," predominately linked to the animals' uncanny ability to store and hide away items.

They are banned in some countries and heavily-regulated in others because of the potential damage to wildlife. Laws in the U.S. have become more relaxed as they have become more popular pets over the past 30 years.

While most ferrets can sleep between 14-18 hours daily, Jaime Metzger of Manchester made sure Emerson stayed awake as she caressed his head.

Like Toby, Emerson is one of Kern's ferrets. Metzger has three of her own.

Ferrets are very interactive creatures and enjoy clowning around with each other and their owners, Metzger said.

"Their happiness is infectious. They are so happy to be alive and it is the coolest thing in the world," she added. "They are so misunderstood."

Proceeds from the festival go toward "the vet bill," Kern said. Her shelter ferrets require updated rabies and distemper shots.

Even if the festival disappears, Kern said every day with her ferrets is a gift.

"It's like a lot of pet owners you talk with - they're pet owners in that they own an animal and that's the end of it. Ferret people are different, (the ferrets) are part of your family," Kern said. "There's a difference between a pet parent and a pet owner. People who own ferrets are very involved with their ferrets."

Toby the ferret clowns around Saturday with Amy Blanchette during the annual 4 Li'l Paws Ferret Festival in Londonderry. Organizers say this year’s fest could be the last. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/Sunday News Correspondent)


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