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A Local Woman’s Quest to Help

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Local Woman’s Quest to Help Lane County’s Ferrets

Nate Gartrell, EDN

In 1993, Melanee Ellis was going through a rough patch. Her mother had just died, and she was feeling depressed. She wanted some animal companionship, and had always been curious about ferrets, so she decided to buy one as a pet.

One of Lane Ferret Shelter's guests lounges in a hammock

A year later, Ellis moved from Alaska to Lane County. She wanted to network with other ferret owners in the area, so she took out an ad in the paper and organized a ferret/human party.

“We had like 20 people and 35 ferrets,” Ellis said. “And we started talking about having a shelter.”

From there, Lane Ferret Shelter and Rescue was born, and it has been housing ferrets for the past 16 years. In 2003, a decade after Ellis bought her first ferret, she took exclusive control of the shelter and has been running it out of her home ever since.

Ellis values her time with ferrets, and gets satisfaction from helping them find new homes. Her efforts in Lane County have not gone unnoticed. The shelter’s annual Ferret Agility Trials, for instance, got the attention of the Animal Planet channel, which interviewed Ellis and took footage as part of a show about small animals.

Still, Ellis has seen her fair share of struggles. In 2009, all 15 of the shelter’s ferrets caught Swine Flu, and Ellis had to take care of them all at once. She carefully monitored their conditions, though, and all 15 ended up surviving.

It’s something Ellis says she never wants to do again.

“It was horrendous,” she said, adding she had to treat the ferrets with nose drops and hot steam.

Another pressing problem Ellis faces is the increasing number of owner forfeits that have occurred during times of economic hardship. Ellis sometimes has several dozen ferrets to keep track of, and sometimes the requests can get overwhelming.

“People call and say, ‘Will you take a ferret, or two, or ten?'” Ellis said.

One such owner gave up four ferrets to the shelter after being out of work for 18 months. The owner didn’t want to give away the ferrets, but could barely make ends meet, and simply didn’t have a choice, Ellis said.

Despite these setbacks, Ellis does what she can to find good homes for the ferrets. She welcomes offers for adoptions, but conducts careful interviews with each potential adopter, to make sure they’re aware of what good ferret care entails.

“They have to know several things, like what kind of shots [ferrets] need, and what kind of food they eat,” Ellis said. “And they can’t just say, ‘ferret food.'”

Ellis successfully found families for all 15 ferrets that caught Swine Flu in 2009, and hopes to eventually do the same with her current batch. To accomplish this, she holds frequent weekend events in public markets, and pet shops, all the while remembering what her ferrets have done for her.

“You will never be depressed around ferrets,” Ellis said. “They pulled me right out of my depression.”

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