Experience and Qualifications
If you are an experienced ferret owner, then you already know a lot about ferret medical issues, and you are looking for a vet that knows just as much as you do and more. If you are a new ferret owner, you want someone who knows ferrets well enough to be able handle anything that happens to your ferret, and who can teach you more about ferrets.
So, here is how I got into ferrets, how many ferrets I have been lucky enough to share my life with, and how ferrets got me to go back to school to become a veterinarian.
I got my first ferret back in 1993. Her name was Sasha. I hadn't really been looking to get a ferret as a pet, but a friend of mine whose dad bred dogs mentioned that her dad had started to breed ferrets as well. I told my husband, then boyfriend, who had always thought it would be kind of cool to have a ferret as a pet. So, we went and picked out Sasha, a petite little dark eyed white. And, we were hooked. A few months later, we went and adopted Seera from the same breeder, a little silver female. We started reading everything we could get our hands on about ferrets. We found a book written by the couple that founded Path Valley Farms, and used that for our primary source of information on ferrets. There wasn't much available on ferrets back then.
A few months later we were checking out different pet stores and looking at the ferret kits. At one pet store, I, being used to our two sweet little female ferrets reached my hand into a cage to pull out a gorgeous sable boy. He promptly latched onto my hand so hard that my husband had to just about bang the top of the cage on his head to get him to let go. We said no to him, and went looking at other pet stores. But, we couldn't get him out of our minds, and discussed the likelihood of his finding a home with his nippiness. So, we went back and bought Stitches. Boy that was an interesting ride home. It was our first experience with a high energy nippy ferret, and you know, he ended up being one of my favorite ferrets ever. I have so many entertaining memories of him, even though he didn't live anywhere near long enough.
About then, we got a computer (yes, this was a long time ago), and were one of the first people in Hastings to get online through the first online provider in Hastings, tcgcs, which stood for the computer geek computer services. Once we got online, we discovered the ferret mailing list, and everything that we were doing wrong. We also discovered ferret shelters. In 1995, there was a post on the ferret mailing list from a shelter in Manhattan, Kansas, Ferret Family Services that was looking to find a home for five ferrets that had lived together in their previous home. We emailed FFS that we would be interested in adopting them. By then, she had already found a home for the five, but said she had a group of three if we would be interested. We were, and so we drove about 3 hours to a foster home to pick up the three ferrets. The foster home had quite a few ferrets, and we talked with the foster mom about what it was like rescuing ferrets.
All the way home, we discussed how there was not a ferret shelter in Nebraska, and considered starting one. Also around that time period, I discovered a ferret club in Omaha, Ferret Fanciers of Omaha. The person who hosted the club meetings at that time was a member of a national club called Legion of Superferrets. Between my visits to the club meetings, my talks with him, and our visit to the ferret shelter in Kansas, we decided to start a ferret shelter in Nebraska. Hence, the Legion of Superferrets of Nebraska Ferret Shelter was born in 1996.
I ran the the LOS of NE ferret shelter for 3 ½ years out of my home with the help of my husband and some very good friends and volunteers. In that time period, I had over 300 ferrets go through my home, and I had a 100% adoption rate. Now, I will confess, some of those adoptions were to me. Living in the small town of Hastings, there weren't a lot of ferret knowledgeable vets around. So, working first with Dr. Polly Lewis, and then with Dr. Patrick Wahlmeier, we learned about ferret medicine together. I also drove up to Omaha regularly for ferret club meetings, and met Dr. Carol Curry, who treated most of the ferrets of the club members.
I was driving back to Hastings one night from Omaha after a ferret club meeting that Dr. Curry had spoken at. I had asked her some ferret medical questions about lymphoma, and her answers hadn't quite matched with what I had read online as the latest medical treatments for lymphoma in ferrets. As I was driving, it was like a lightning bolt hit me. I thought, I could do this, I could go to vet school, and then I could do all the ferret medicine I wanted. So, I called my husband from the car (yes, we had cell phones back then) and told him I wanted to go back to school. I had previously had one year of college after high school, I had been pre-med, and dropped out after the first year thinking that there was no way I wanted to go through three years of chemistry. My husband was a little less than thrilled when I told him how many years it could take, but he supported me. The next day, I drove to the University of Nebraska at Kearney and enrolled. And yes, I did suffer through 2 more years of chemistry. Unfortunately because I was taking 15 credit hours a semester, spending about 10 hours a week driving back and forth, and still working 30-40 hours a week, I had to close down the ferret shelter for lack of time.
I spent two years getting all of my prerequisites in at UNK, and was lucky enough to get accepted into Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine on my first try. While I was at KSU CVM, I organized two separate ferret presentations and wet labs for all of my fellow students who were interested in learning more about ferrets while I was there. My junior year, during our exotics class, Dr. James Carpenter who co-edited the most recent edition of Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents, Medicine and Surgery which is considered one of the best books on ferret medicine, was our instructor for part of the class, and taught the whole two days that we had on ferret medicine. At the beginning of the first day on ferret medicine, he announced to the whole class that the next two days were dedicated to me, the ferret person. So, you could say I was known kind of as the ferret nut at school by my classmates. I even had classmates ask me medical questions about their own ferrets.
I knew when I graduated that I wouldn't be able to practice on just ferrets and make a living, and I didn't have a huge interest in working with other exotics, especially not birds or reptiles. During my senior year, I did an externship with Dr. Arnold at All Feline to get to know better how to handle cats. Yes, like most of my classmates, handling cats scared the crap out of me - they aren't generally happy to be at the vet. Shortly after my externship, Dr. Arnold offered me a position at All Feline with the promise that I could see as many ferrets as I wanted. She did draw the line though at changing the name of the clinic to All Feline and Ferrets Hospital. :-) So, since May 2004, I have been working at All Feline Hospital. I see probably 98% cats, and 2% ferrets. While I genuinely enjoy working with cats, and feel that I have gotten very experienced with cats, including owning three of them, ferrets will always be my first love.
While I don't currently live with any ferrets, in between 1993 when we first got Sasha, and 2004 when my last ferret Ringo passed from insulinoma, I owned 23 ferrets of my own, plus the over 300 ferrets that came through the ferret shelter that I cared for. So, you could say that I am pretty familiar with ferrets. I keep up on the latest updates in ferret medicine and attend the American Ferret Association's medical symposium every few years when they have one. I will do my best to keep your ferret as healthy as possible, and to treat them to the best of my ability when they get sick.
Dr. Shelley Knudsen