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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Ferret chic in middle England
Dr June McNicholas and pet ferret Burnet
The pet of choice for young, single women
Ferrets are the latest must-have accessory for today's upwardly mobile career woman, a recent study suggests.

The image of the typical ferret owner as a northern man in a flat cap with a ferret or two in his trouser pockets is long gone.

A survey of 142 ferret owners in the English Midlands suggested that women are just as likely as men to keep the furry animals.

In fact, 93 of the ferret owners surveyed were female.

Ferrets are like kittens with attitude

Dr June McNicholas
Young, single people are now the most likely group to keep ferrets - most of those surveyed were aged 26-45 and 77% were childless.

The authors of the study believe that changing lifestyles, with more people working long hours, living alone in small flats, are behind the increasing popularity of ferret ownership.

New image

Dr June McNicholas, a lecturer at the University of Warwick, and a ferret enthusiast, told BBC News Online that the image of ferret keeping has changed dramatically in recent years.

Ferret owners have come a "long way from flat caps and Compo in trousers", she said.

They will happily sleep most of the day and wake up to play... in the evening

Dr McNicholas
Domestic ferrets are not rodents as is commonly believed and are not always thought of as pets.

They have traditionally been kept largely by men as working animals for catching rabbits and were commonly thought to be vicious.

But Dr McNicholas said ferrets make ideal pets and were devoted to their owners. She likened them in temperament to a small dog.

The female ferret owners in the study described their pets as affectionate, playful and intelligent.

"Ferrets are like kittens with attitude", said Dr McNicholas, who suggested they could make an ideal companion for the single, working woman.

Commuters' friend

Think of them as "kittens in a leather jacket".

They are good company and a pair of ferrets in a cage can be very entertaining, she added.

Ferret facts
Male ferret = hob
Female ferret = jill
Baby ferret = kit
Average lifespan = 10 years
Adult weight = 1 - 5.5lbs (500g - 2.5kg)

Commuters returning late at night can keep ferrets without feeling guilty. "They will happily sleep most of the day and wake up to play when you return in the evening," Dr McNicholas said, a ferret running up her leg as she spoke.

Ferrets are also considered suitable apartment pets, as they are happy in a cage and easily house-trained.

The study also noted an increase in the number of rabbits being kept as house pets, rather than hutch animals outside the home.

Rabbits - no longer out in the cold
More rabbits are kept indoors these days

Among the first-time ferret owners in the study, 90% said that they thought they would always keep ferrets.

Dr McNicholas urged anyone thinking of buying a ferret to do their homework and contact the Ferret Welfare Society for further information.

Main picture of Dr McNicholas and her pet ferret Burnet reproduced with kind permission.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | England
Ferret therapy for ill children
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