Failure is An Option: A Confession


I was a bad ferret mom, and sometimes the regret over that breaks my heart.

But let me start at the beginning. My first ferret was a rescue from a lonely deplorable state at a pet store. This was back in 1992 when ferrets were not common pets as they are today. They were mainly raised for laboratory use here in the states. Not much was mainstream knowledge about their care and feeding other than that they use a litter box and eat cat food. Cat food at that time was pretty much the worst of the worst because pet nutrition wasn’t like it is today. It’s getting better, but we still have a long long way to go.

Couple the lack of knowledge with my OCD and a bad marriage, and well, you get bad pet mom. The foundation of my pet care knowledge came from childhood:

  1. You fed the dog whatever crap you could get at the grocery store.
  2. You disciplined it with an iron fist when it was bad, i.e. keeping it in the cellar or the garage when you weren’t at home, or worse, keeping it in a crate; hitting it with newspaper; screaming at it, etc. All the things my parents did to discipline us back then.

My OCD presents as an obsessive, albeit unattainable, need for perfection, coupled with the rigid control of my schedule and environment, then slathered in a constant dripping anxiety due to persistent thoughts of being inadequate. Grocery shopping had to be done on Fridays. House cleaning on Saturdays. Nothing could ever be out of place. I could never be late to anything.

Add to that, seven ferrets (over twenty years.)

Ferrets are unadulterated chaos, which was basically me throwing jet fuel on a house fire. The bad marriage didn’t help. I cried. I screamed at their little faces. I crated them for time-outs. I punished them with hysterical meanness. I’m probably over exaggerating, but that’s what it feels like when I look back on it.

There is an upside though. Many OCD people have a relentless need for knowledge. When we tackle a project or a hobby, we apply all that learning and skillage into a meticulous work ethic. We keep doing it, and we keep learning until we get it right, knowing full well that right doesn’t mean perfect. If you channel the Obsessive part of the OCD into something constructive, you can learn how to mitigate the anxiety and you can do some pretty awesome things. Once you understand what perfect really means, it doesn’t have to cripple you, and Divorce was the first step in the process of gaining real control of my life. Not the illusory control I thought I had. Once I got that churning pile of shit out of the picture, I could refocus my energies on something else. I could focus on the truest joy in my life: animals and nature. I’ve been a tree-hugger since I was a very small child who could stare at a duck until it got dark, causing her parents an undue amount of anger and worry.

So I joined ferret clubs. I read every scientific paper on nutrition that was published. I read a ferret veterinary manual cover to cover, several times. I talked to behaviorists and naturalists who understood how these creatures lived in the wild, and I focused all my energy on how to live with them versus being just a pet owner. There is a difference, and it worked: For me, and for the ferrets. I was even interviewed for Ferrets USA magazine for a “Living with Free Range” article. My ferrets were not caged or sequestered. My last ferret, Baldrick, lived to be almost 9 years old. Never sick a day in his life, aside from being deaf from birth.

My ferrets were loved and pampered and adored beyond measure. I eventually learned to live in chaos. I learned to let things go in order to stay calm through parvo, through various cancers, and eventually, through Baldrick’s old age.



Lightly Orchestrated Chaos


I applied that same obsessive knowledge seeking into my garden, which has become a twenty-year compromise with Mother Nature. Failure is an option because it’s an opportunity to learn and to try something else. Even if it’s cat litter, or in this picture, some new Rudbeckia.

I also wrote five novellas and hundreds of published flash fiction stories with that same obsessive delight. Probably because writers control their fictional worlds, though it never seems like it when we are actually in the throes of the writing. It always seems like more chaos and obsessive thoughts, but in a good way, I guess.

And lastly, for twenty years I have had the privilege of living alongside a myriad of wild creatures, including feral cats.

My need to know expert-level shit has allowed me to appreciate all of them from the skunks to the snakes, and it has given me the opportunity to care for two of the most beautiful creatures in the world.

It hasn’t been easy with Moon and Rupert, even after seven ferrets. It’s been frustrating and tiring with setback after setback, just to get to this point. And this point is still tenuous, but we’ve come a long way from two scared creatures who had never felt love or comfort. I like to think that the small successes are because I’ve come a long way too in that I have come to appreciate that true perfection lies in the cracks, scratches, chips, nicks, pits, dents, blemishes, stains, spots, and frailties.

A poop on the floor is just an accident.

Sweeping up cat litter 10 times a day is good exercise.

A 4×4 Wood Post in the middle of the living room is modern art.



An Orchestrated and Tenuous Calm


It’s not compromise so much as it is understanding the need and nature of a thing. Like Moon in this picture. He still gets very tense over his perception that Rupert is trying to usurp his territory. Moon is very bonded to me, probably because he has a little OCD as well, and he’s lying on one of my sweaty workout shirts. For some reason it pacifies him when I give him something special, especially if it smells of me. This allows him to share the bed with Rupert like there is some sort of invisible safe space boundary in my stinky shirt. Moon will smack or chase Rupert about something else later on today, but this is a start, and a start is better than fussing over one’s own obsessive thoughts and fears. Moon still succumbs to his anxiety now and then, but it’s much better than it was when we first brought him in.

I can’t say that I always have “it” under control either. When things get really tough, like when Moon and Rupert were in the hospital, or when it was time to let each ferret go, I’ll still reach for a cigarette even though I quit smoking full time a long time ago. Those are the really rough times when I can’t control something, can’t get out of my own negative headspace, and I guess a cigarette is no worse than some of the other alternatives, that is, when I can’t hug a kitty.

I’d always prefer to hug a kitty. Or even a possum if the opportunity presented itself. That’s just how I roll.

Note: There is a lot more to OCD than most people think. Not everyone exhibits the same symptoms, and for obvious personal reasons, I did not go into some of the really serious manifestations that can develop during overly stressful situations. If you think you have OCD, you should seek a proper diagnosis and help to mitigate it.  


4 responses »

  1. I am right there with you. When I think back to all the pets I had as a kid and how poorly we tended to them, I feel horrible. They weren’t abused or neglected or mistreated; we just weren’t good at taking care of them because we didn’t know how. Our poor dog was given table scraps, and sometimes there wasn’t much of that for them to eat. I’m definitely a better parent today! I just hate that I learned the hard way.

  2. Me too. As an adult, I’ve never personally had a dog, but we watched Cesar Milan religiously, and then Jackson Galaxy. It made a world of difference in how we approached rehabilitating the cats. I wish we had a guru when the ferrets were alive, and I wish I had realized earlier how wrong my parents were about everything really when it came to caring for things. And I hate the pet food industry. Nermal died of pancreatic cancer at 5 years old. Baldrick lived to 9. The only difference in their upbringing was the food. Now I educate myself and keep up with the best nutrition research. As for the OCD thing, nothing teaches you to chill and deal with it than a bunch of hooligans running around your house. Bless their little weasel souls.

  3. Besides snuggling with my kitties before I got up this morning, this story put a big smile on my face as I sipped my coffee. Thank you! This was beautiful.

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