Sunday morning, sometime around 7:15, our ferret Robbie died. I thought I’d get that out of the way first thing.

In 2001, our first ferret, Davey, died and by summer, we were ready to bring another little friend into our happy household. It was to that end that we stood in a pet shop in Richardson—six pairs of eyes examined us, twelve tiny perfect jewels behind six little bandit masks. They were the biggest ferret kits I’d ever seen at the time, bigger in fact than Davey had been when he was full grown. The big baby ferrets were the colour of lightly burnt toast, with little pink noses that twitched adorably as they sniffed our hands to try to locate treats.

One of the ferrets, a gregarious male, had an unusual white blaze on his head, shaped very much like a sword. As we had recently enjoyed Liam Neeson’s turn as the eponymous Scots hero in Rob Roy (for about the fifth time), the name seemed ideal for a huge, charismatic rogue*. That little sword really cinched it.

The word ferret derives from roots meaning 'thief.' You can see vestiges of the Indo-European root (meaning 'to carry') in such words as pilfer and filch—it’s appropriate, because ferrets will make off with just about any damned thing in the house.

Robbie started his career in a big way—he started with our hearts.

*In the event that my estimable reader saw, and did not enjoy, this film, he or she is cheerfully invited to pretend that I am talking about the 1953 classic, Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (starring a Michael Gough, who was apparently young at one point).

There is an axiom among the aficionados of small, domesticated mustalids that the "perfect number of ferrets is always one more." The old-timers call it 'ferret math'—that tendency to keep adding one more ferret to the household. We have never succumbed to the lure of four or five ferrets running all over the house—two is a pretty good number for us. Robbie had a chocolate-brown playmate named Indiana (named for Indiana Jones, of course) and later, a little scamp of a ferret girl named Ayumi Tanukiko.

Rob grew big—really big. Until I saw some ferrets who had been crossbred with polecats, I had never seen a ferret as big or fit as Robbie. Turns out Rob Roy was indeed a good name for him, even though his little sword faded into a tiny pinstripe over time.

The word that comes to mind when I think of my little mustalid friend Rob is affectionate—he was a gentle giant in the truest sense of the word. I never saw him bite anyone, unlike Davey, the juvenile delinquent who developed ridiculous nicknames like "Bitey McNibbles" and "Sir Bitesalot" ... or tiny Ayumi, for whom play-bites are her favourite way of saying "hello." Robbie’s preferred greeting was licking, nuzzling, and cuddling. He was hard not to love.

In the span of a ferret’s life, six years is a long time—there are some health problems that plague older ferrets.

Monday night, a week ago, Robbie became weak. Past midnight, my stalwart best friend and platonic life partner, Suzi and I had to race down unfamiar freeway to an emergency ferret vet many miles away.

The diagnosis was not particularly cheery: insulinoma. This disease is not rare in older ferrets, it is a type of pancreatic cancer. The insulin-producing cells of the pancreas (beta cells I think they’re called. I’m too worn out to go look it up.) grow out of control, flooding the body with too much of the sugar-regulating hormone and leading to a blood sugar crash. It is treatable, but not curable.

Robbie seemed better for a few days, but this was a lot of strain for his little body to go through. Saturday night, he was very weak. We've had enough pets to know that this could be the end, we hoped not, but we tried to be realistic.

I’d love to leave this on an optimistic note, or say something clever and creative, but I really don’t feel like it. I’m a little numb. At least it was a quick end, something I guess most of us hope for. At least he had a good long life (six years is not a world record or anything, but it is pretty good for a ferret and the longest any of our four have made it so far). At least ... at least ... at least ...

As with so many pets (and humans too), who have 'gone before,' he is gone from this life, but Robbie lives on forever in our hearts.

I close with a quote from a distant acquaintance years ago:

"You don’t own pets. You just pay rent on them until it is time to give them back to god."

If you want to see some pictures of Robbie, this journal is reproduced (with some tweaks) on my blog at