near Jan 1, 1994 - May 12, 2001
By February 1994, Ben and Jerry had been our ferrets for four years. We decided to add another ferret as a Valentine's day present to each other. Clare spotted a little sable ferret kit in a litter of ferrets at a pet store. Bill came to the store a bit later with Clare to check out that little kit. The kit explored the pocket of Bill's jacket and rode on his shoulder. She gnawed on his little finger with her tiny teeth. Then she had to poop. She was nice enough to back up and go over the back of Bill's shoulder. We put down a deposit and came back a few days later to get her. We put her in a small carrier to take her home. On the way home she began to cry "aa, aa, aa". When Bill put his hand in the carrier to comfort her she stopped. When we got home we put her in Ben and Jerry's original small cage (Ben and Jerry themselves were in the newer two story cage). She would cry whenever we would leave. Finally we put in her cage a small purple sleepsack from Ben and Jerry's cage. She went to sleep in the sleepsack comforted by the familiar smell of other ferrets.
Buttercup had digestive difficulties from having been weaned too soon. On the vet's advice we made her a soup containing mainly turkey baby food. One time we came back from a trip to find that our dog Lupi had dragged her cage several feet across the floor in an attempt to get her food. This must have have been a terrifying experience for a little kit.
We soon let her try the big cage to introduce her to Ben and Jerry. Ben and Jerry accepted her right away, which was surprising considering what a pest she was. She would enter a sleeping pouch where Ben and Jerry slept and go "bite, bite, bite". Soon both older ferrets would leave and Buttercup would be left by herself.
Buttercup grew into an active and playful little ferret. One of the toys present in the cage were objects we call (for lack of a better name) "cow-toys". These were little footballs of crinkly material sewn around some stuffing. Buttercup got the idea that it would be fun to hold a cow toy beneath her and use it like a sled to slide down the ramp between the floors of the cage. When she got to the bottom she would pick up the toy, carry it up and do it over again. This was very amusing to watch.
A maze of clear dryer hose runs around the perimeter of the ferret room. This consists of lengths of clear dryer hose connected by plumbing joints which also provide access to the maze. Ben, Jerry, and Buttercup used to chase each other through this maze. Buttercup figured out that she could exit the maze, run across the room and reenter the maze from the other side of the room. Thus she could cut Ben and Jerry off and ambush them. Most of the time in the dryer hose games, however, Ben would advance and Buttercup would retreat. Buttercup was an expert in running nearly full speed backwards inside a dryer hose.
Around September '94, when Buttercup was about 9 months old, we took care of Rocky, Cloudy and Spazz, three ferrets belonging to Wayne and Sylvia Baggett. Bill tried placing Buttercup in their cage on the theory that they would be more likely to accept a younger ferret. The second floor of the cage where the ferrets generally slept was paved with a neatly folded towels. For some reason the towels stayed neatly folded. Buttercup entertained herself by digging under the towels, leaving a network of tunnels in her wake. When Bill also put Jerry in that cage Jerry entertained herself by exploring the tunnels. Eventually some of the Baggett ferrets woke up and started to explore the tunnels too, making some of their own. We liked to say that Buttercup was teaching the Baggett ferrets bad habits.
In April '95 when Buttercup was about 1 year 4 months old we adopted Bridgett, a rescue ferret. Bridgett was about 1/2 year younger than Buttercup. Although Buttercup had accepted the Baggett ferrets Buttercup joined Ben and Jerry in rejecting Bridgett. Bridgett had to live in a separate cage for 7 months. In October '95 we acquired Jasmine to be a friend to Bridgett. Buttercup (and Ben and Jerry) accepted Jasmine right away. For some reason the presence of Jasmine also lowered the tension toward Bridgett and Bridgett was able to move into the larger cage. However there still seemed to be a residual tension between Buttercup and Bridgett. For the remaining 5 1/2 years of Buttercup's life Buttercup still made sure that Bridgett knew that Buttercup was the dominant ferret.
Buttercup liked Ben and respected Ben's dominance, when Ben was sick with lymphoma Buttercup would some times try to get Ben to play. After Ben's death in August '97, Buttercup, who at the age of 3 1/2 was now the eldest, became the dominant ferret. This dominance only lasted a short time as we soon (September '97) acquired Bonnie and Charlie, and Buttercup was unable to dominate Charlie. Charlie, for his part, did not try to dominate Buttercup, he just wanted to play.
One of Buttercups most endearing traits began after Ben's death. She would take a pile of stuffed toys and one-by-one put them away in a pouch or tent. Toward the end of her life we would judge how well she was doing by how many of her toys she would put away.
In June of '98, the very next week from the day that our dog Lupi died, Buttercup began to act uncomfortable, straining at the litterbox producing only small poops. We took her to the vet and had a barium series done. Surgery was scheduled and a hairball was removed and after barium and X rays, surgery was performed which removed some fibrous material from her stomach. An enlarged left adrenal was also removed. She had showed no symptoms of an adrenal tumor. However shortly after the surgery she started to show such symptoms.
In November of '98 first Jasmine, then Buttercup, and finally Bridgett caught the flu. It seemed to hit Buttercup hardest. She stopped eating hard food and drinking water on her own. A BUN (blood urea nitrogen) test value of 88 (normal up to 33) showed that her kidneys had been affected, probably from becoming dehydrated. We started force-feeding her and Bill started giving her subcutaneous fluid injections. by January her BUN level was down but still slightly above normal. Tamoxifen did nothing for her but Arimidex seemed to help her adrenal symptoms (mainly hair loss) for a while. However by February '99 it seemed to lose its affect. Finally in March of '99 her second surgery was done. Dr. Weiss removed two-thirds of her right adrenal and 20% of her pancreas. Unfortunately the tumor was malignant. Her recovery from surgery was a bit rocky as she needed cortisone supplements to replace the corticoids that had been produced by the adrenals. Also her respite from adrenal symptoms was short-lived and by May '99 hair loss was beginning to return. A shot of lupron seemed to cause most of her hair to grow back. A normal BUN test result in June meant that Bill no longer had to give her fluid injections.
She received a second shot of lupron in late September '99 (each shot is supposed to last 4 months). Her hair came back and her coat grew luxurious. By the end of the December, Bill was able to finish weaning her off of predisone. For most of that period her activity level stayed good and she rode on Bill's shoulder during the turn of the millenium. Then in February, 2000 some adrenal symptoms began to return. Another shot of Lupron was given but those adrenal symptoms were slow to diminish (although her coat stayed luxurious). More ominious was the news in late March that her spleen had become enlarged. An ultrasound on April 26 confirmed the size of the spleen and found that the right adrenal tumor had grown to about the size of a golf ball. Fortunately it did not look like it was blocking the flow of blood in the vena cava. The ultrasound also found that her left kidney was very small --- meaning that probably she was living on her right kidney. It was worrisome that her good kidney was near the tumor. With the death of Jasmine two days after surgery in June '99 on our minds it was hard to commit ourselves to surgery. Also, by early May the lupron shot was finally taking effect. Still, surgery seemed the best option.
Surgery was performed May 17, 2000 by Dr. Charles Weiss. He removed all of the tumor that was not adjacent to the vena cava, then froze the part near the vena cava with a cryoprobe. He told us that the adrenal tumor had not yet made contact with her kidney but soon would have made contact. He also removed her spleen. There were two tumors on her spleen which he said were probably unrelated to the adrenal tumor. We hoped those tumors were benign rather than lymphoma. Charlie was a a blood donor for a transfusion for Buttercup.
After surgery, Bill started fluid injections to help keep her kidney from being damaged by possible dehydration from surgery. We also increased her hand feedings from 3 a day to 4. Buttercup recovered well. Her appetite was good and there was no sign of kidney damage. Also, we got the good news from pathology that the spleen tumors were benign.
Through the of the summer of 2000 her condition improved but then toward the fall she began to act uncomfortable. In September, after an xray seemed to show another stomach blockage and surgery was again performed. However rather than a blockage, the surgery showed a thickened stomach lining. The pathology of the stomach tissues reported Inflammatory Bowel Disease. A large dose of predisone did not help. After some rounds of antibiotics and more blood tests, in December she was started on Imuran. At first it seemed to help, but then blood tests showed that she was fighting an infection. We stopped Imuran and started her again on antibiotics.
By the end of March 2001, Bill thought he felt a lump on her right side below her ribcage. Unfortunately Dr. Weiss confirmed its presence and verified that it was of large size. The infection she was fighting may have been in a necrotic region inside the tumor. Through April we tried to keep her comfortable. Bill brought her into his office at work every day to keep an eye on her. In mid April she seemed to have another good period, begging for treats and putting some of her toys away in a tent in the cage. But then she began to get worse again.
On the evening of Friday, May 11, we realized the end was near. On Saturday morning, she was still alive but had not moved from her pouch all night. She still completely refused food and sometimes made little groans. We took her to Dr. Weiss for euthanasia. However, she left us in her own time, dying in the waiting room before we were called in. Bill was holding her as her heart stopped. The time was about 11:45 am and she was then about 7 years 4 months old. She will be buried at Sugarloaf Pet Gardens next to Lupi and Jasmine.
Buttercup always had a strong bond with Bill. She was very good at communicating what she wanted. When we would take her outside for a walk and the surroundings got too scary for a little ferret she would climb a little ways up Bill's pants leg and look up at him, asking to be picked up. Near the end of her life when she was tired of exploring Bill's office and too weak to climb into the cage herself she would go up to the cage and look up, asking Bill to put her in the cage so she could go back to bed. Bill hand fed her for two and and half years and spent much time over those years preparing her medicines. That is a long time for a human and ferret to grow close.
In Maryland, little flowers called buttercups bloom in early May. Buttercup survived to one last buttercup season. The next time you see a field of buttercups blooming, please remember her.
Last modified 30-Nov-2001.