By Faye Klein
I grew up in Pittsburgh with sidewalks and neighborhoods that had little local grocery stores and bars. I am accustomed to the neighbor proximity of row houses and single-family dwellings that only had one bathroom.
Currently a resident of , I appreciate the walking trail, a lower tax rate and a big back yard, but I am a little embarrassed to say that I know very few of my neighbors and I mostly blame that on the lack of sidewalks rather than my lack of social graces.
Most of the people I meet are during my regular dog walks on the trail where I will wave hello to the daily walkers and stop and swap stories with those holding leashes. I know most every dog's name, but very few of their owner's names. If I want to share a story with my husband about someone on the trail, we have resorted to a variety of descriptive nicknames to identify them:"Tall Guy," "Black-Eyed Susan," "Big Red," etc. (getting the real moniker never seemed all that necessary).
Last night around 7:30 p.m., I went out to the back yard to tend to my sorry little vegetable patch—two raised beds with too many tomato plants crammed together, a red pepper plant that refuses to flower, a few assorted herbs, four heads of mixed lettuce (only one of which the rabbits actually like) and several prolific pole bean plants.
My big, older dog, Irwin, decided to join me, propelling himself through the dog door, despite the 90-plus degree temp on his way to play with his big, orange, plastic ball that he barks at and pushes around till his nose bleeds.
Just as I had two handfuls of tomatoes, Irwin stopped playing with his ball and bolted after something. I swiveled my head in that direction and saw a furry thing with a tiny little face peeking around the edge of the raised bed. Irwin was dashing toward it. For a microsecond, it registered as a raccoon, which is nothing to mess with. Even though we have a 4-foot high fence, we have had many visitors breach the barrier, digging under, climbing, jumping or flying over, including deer, rabbits, large turkeys and a number of well-fed raccoons.
My other, smaller dog has had face offs with the bunnies and turkeys. She tears after them, but does not seem to know what to do when she is upon them. Each time, she gets them back up against the fence and pokes and prods them until I manage come to their aid.
This time it was not the smaller dog, it was Irwin and I had to act fast. He had his face almost on it when I snagged his collar and struggled with him to pull him back and turn him around toward the house. Inside the glass door, I could see that my other dog had come to check out all the commotion. It is one of those rare times you wish you didn’t have a dog door. I did not want a repeat performance with my second dog. But luckily, she stayed inside.
Still struggling with Irwin and not quite sure yet what species the interloper was, I managed to get him inside and quickly slid the security panel into the dog door to keep them inside—and following right on our heels was the critter at large moving like a slinky. The front of the long skinny body would push forward. The back end would then catch up, pushing the middle section into an inverted "U."
Rodent? Yes. Weasel? No.
What in the world was a ferret doing in the backyard, I could not imagine, but I knew it was not long for this world out in the open like that. I dashed to the garage, and yanked out an old cat carrier I had (haven't had a cat in about eight years), knocking paint cans around and clanking caulking guns to the concrete floor.
By this time, I had screamed my husband's name many times and he finally heard me from the bedroom and decided to see if any of us were bleeding. He looked out the window. Yup, it's a ferret. It was still investigating the yard, completely nonplussed about having come within a hair's breadth of its demise and oblivious to the barking dogs.
It had to be somebody's pet as I do not believe ferrets are native to western Pennsylvania. I knelt down and called to it like it was a dog or a cat. He looked at me, bobbing his head up, but didn’t move. I put the cat carrier down and opened the door. Curiosity got the better of him and he looked inside. I thought for a second I had gotten incredibly lucky, but he backed out and skirted away.
I went for it. I scooped him up and he didn’t seem to mind one bit. I put him the carrier and shut the door. Now what? I don’t even know where the neighborhood dogs live let alone a ferret.
My husband said very matter-of-factly, "Kids like ferrets. Where there are kids is where this ferret lives."
The closest kids I was aware of were in the house across the street and another two doors down. I chose the latter, leaving the furry ferret in the garage. I knocked and the door swung open. We had barely said more than "hi" to each other in the years we lived as neighbors, but they recognized me.
“Um, do you know who might own a ferret?” I asked. The parents turned to their daughters for the answer to this all-important question after telling me that they, too, had experienced a couple of ferret visits, once in the garage and again inside the house!
The girls came out and said that they knew of another girl who lived around the corner who had a ferret. They pointed and tried to explain which house, but they did not know the address, so I asked one of them to join me in the car to identify the house. Her dad handed her gloves and she waited for me to get the car … and the ferret.
I picked her up and we drove down the street, made the first right and then went to the dead-end to the last house on the left (exactly what you would expect, right?).
It did not look like anyone was home, but I rang the bell and a little girl appeared behind the glass. She called to her mother who answered the door.
“Are you missing a ferret?” I asked.
“We thought he was in the house,” she replied.
I told her I found one in my back yard, some 10 houses away and she walked to the car with me while a large dog bounded out the door and loped behind us to check everything out.
No wonder the little fur ball was not afraid of my dogs.
“Yep, that’s Sam,” she said, and I opened the carrier door and she reached in to retrieve her fuzzy slinky.
I suggested that a harness might be wise if nothing more than to let other startled suburbanites know that this was a pet when it slipped away again.
Relieved that I did not have to babysit, research feeding reqirements and find a place for this new suburban visitor, I returned home and cleaned up the mess in the garage.
I’m sure that will not be my last animal surprise. But I'm hoping next time it will be a little less fragile and a bit more utilitarian—a pygmy goat, perhaps.
Editor's Note: Faye Klein is a Peters Township resident and Canon-McMillan Patch reader. -amanda