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Belfast mum opens NI’s only ferret rescue centre after daughter’s pets win her over

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Melissa and her daughter Chloe with ferrets Diana, Lola and Richard

Melissa and her daughter Chloe with ferrets Diana, Lola and Richard

Melissa and her daughter Chloe with ferrets Diana, Lola and Richard

A mum who agreed to let her daughter have two pet ferrets has turned her east Belfast home into Northern Ireland’s only dedicated ferret rescue centre.

Melissa McNally applied for charitable status for The Ferret Glen in September last year.

With 23 ferrets in her care and hutches and cages spread around her home and garden, she now spends most of her spare time caring for ferrets.

But the mother-of-one fell into the role of rescuer by accident after agreeing to let her husband Joe (30) and daughter Chloe (12) get two ferrets two years ago.

“We already have five rescue dogs, so I thought that was quite enough, but Joe had grown up having ferrets as pets and he’d always wanted to have them again as an adult,” she explains.

“I couldn’t imagine living with ferrets, but he said they make really lovely pets, then of course Chloe jumped on the bandwagon and spent hours researching everything to do with ferret care. Eventually, I couldn’t say no. We ended up getting two so they could keep each other company.”

When brindle ferrets Wendy and Nora joined the family in spring 2020, Melissa (30) soon saw why Joe loved them so much — they had such big personalities and were so much fun to have around.

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Melissa with Mary the ferret

Melissa with Mary the ferret

Melissa with Mary the ferret

While they sometimes had a bit too much energy, even for Chloe, the family really took to them.

“Chloe thought they were the best thing since sliced bread and even took them for walks in a tiny harness,” Melissa says.

“One night, she asked if they could have a sleepover in her bedroom. The following morning, she was like a bear with a sore head. ‘I didn’t get a wink of sleep,’ she said. ‘Wendy and Nora were bouncing round the room all night, keeping me awake.’

“So, we settled the ferrets into a cosy hutch in our garden, although they had free roam of the house during the day.”

Melissa was so enamoured with the animals that when she spotted a Facebook post from a man looking to rehome two more, she couldn’t say no. It turned out that he was looking for someone to take in the ferrets because he was moving house and his new landlord didn’t allow pets.

When she told Joe she wanted to give them a new home, he was surprised and reminded her they’d signed up to look after two, not four.

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Dinner time: Maggie the ferret grabs a piece of meat

Dinner time: Maggie the ferret grabs a piece of meat

Dinner time: Maggie the ferret grabs a piece of meat

Eventually, they agreed to take them as a surprise for Chloe, who was, predictably, delighted.

In May last year, the new additions, named Penelope and Mark, joined the family.

However, their old owner forgot to mention they weren’t neutered, and soon Penelope started getting fat.

“Six weeks later, we had eight kits on our hands. Luckily, our German shepherd Sheba surprised us all with an unusual maternal instinct,” reveals Melissa.

“She acted as a second mummy to our ferret babies, watching over them like
a hawk and even licking them clean until
they were old enough to go to their forever homes.”

It was around this time that albino Mark did a disappearing act.

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Cute: Chloe with Diana the ferret

Cute: Chloe with Diana the ferret

Cute: Chloe with Diana the ferret

Melissa went out to the garden one morning to find the hutch door open. The three female ferrets hadn’t gone far, but Mark was nowhere to be seen.

She posted a message out on a neighbourhood app, appealing for people to keep an eye out for him.

He was found a few hours later on the pathway near their house where Chloe usually walked him in his harness.

“He’d stuck to where he knew. We were so relieved to have him home that I completely forgot about my post on the app until a couple of days later (when) another lady got in touch,” Melissa recalls.

“She said a ferret had climbed up her leg as she walked to the shop near Connswater, so she’d brought him home with her.

“He’d spent three days shut in her bathroom while she tried to work out what to do with him.

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Dozy: A few of the rescue centre’s guests fast asleep

Dozy: A few of the rescue centre’s guests fast asleep

Dozy: A few of the rescue centre’s guests fast asleep

“She was desperate for help, so I agreed to take him. We named him Arnold.”

It wasn’t long before another ferret found its way into Melissa’s care.

“In summer 2021, I got a call from a nearby vet surgery. They’d had a ferret handed in and wondered if I’d consider taking it,” she says.

“I asked them how they knew I kept ferrets and they said they watched Chloe walk up and down the road outside their surgery every day with various ferrets on leads. I was like, ‘Damn, we’ve been rumbled’.”

By this time, the McNally household was filling up with ferrets, so Joe suggested they look for some more enclosures.

Melissa found a couple of second-hand hutches online and others were donated by well-wishers.

In September last year, she officially founded The Ferret Glen and filed an application for charitable status so she could raise money for the centre.

“I researched dedicated ferret rescue centres online, but I couldn’t find any at all on the island of Ireland. That’s why I decided to set up my own,” she explains.

“Chloe set up a Facebook page and we didn’t expect an immediate response, but within a week we had seven more ferrets.”

There are currently 23 residents at The Ferret Glen, many of them looking forward to finding their new forever homes. Melissa has also started boarding ferrets to make a bit of extra income for the centre.

The family is in the process of building a dedicated enclosure, and Melissa, who is self-employed and works from home, makes sure all the ferrets get lots of playtime, training and time to socialise every day.

“I have to teach them not to bite and how to use a litter tray before they can be rehomed,” she adds.

“A couple of weeks ago, Joe walked into the living room with bare feet and ended up having to hop across the floor, with ferrets running at him from all directions, climbing his legs and nipping at his toes.

“I had to laugh. After all, he was the one who started all this by suggesting we get a pet ferret. Be careful what you wish for.”

For more information about The Ferret Glen, visit www.facebook.com/theferretglen

FERRET CARE TIPS

  • Ferrets live up to 15 years, but their average lifespan is six to 10 years, so make sure you can commit to one.
  • They are sociable animals and are better kept in pairs or small groups — ideally littermates of the same sex or neutered males and females.
  • Ferrets are naturally active at dawn and dusk. They’re playful, interactive animals that need plenty of exercise, toys and playtime.
  • They can live indoors or outdoors in a secure cage or hutch but will need plenty of space to exercise daily.
  • Ferrets can be litter-trained and also trained to walk on a lead.
  • Ferrets are carnivores and should be fed commercial ferret kibble, a balanced raw meat diet or a mix of both.
  • It is advisable to have your ferret microchipped and neutered.
  • Ferrets have poor eyesight, so they can occasionally bite if they feel threatened. Spend time handling your ferret and gaining its trust. Always use both hands when picking up your ferret and hold it close to your body for extra support.

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