Each year, we write a post to summarize the major developments of our business. Since we opened in 2016, each year has been a year of growth and development. Like many new small businesses, it was exciting to see how we out performed our previous year as our business grew. In the beginning of this year, there was no reason not to expect this year to be any different. We had more bookings in January and February than we had in the previous year for those same months. By early March, we had over $17,000 in summer bookings on our schedule. It was looking like another great year. Until everything changed.
At first, we were hopeful that the pandemic would only last through March or April. It would be easy to bounce back with our lucrative summer season. We received an EIDL grant and a grant from the State of Maryland which helped keep us afloat. As a small business that is heavily run by the owner of the business and supported by part time employees, we would not meet the requirements for the PPP loan as payroll is less than half of our monthly expenses. As it became obvious that the pandemic would be more enduring, we started offering virtual programs and created a gofundme which raised $1,800 to assist with our animal care expenses.
We had the worst performing summer in our history, including our first summer in business. Many of our expenses remained the same with rent, food for the animals, veterinary care, insurance, and other overhead. When we received our Economic Injury and Disaster Loan in July, the majority of the loan went to refunds for summer programs that had canceled. Fortunately, we were able to give refunds or provide credit to all of our clients.
By mid-summer, I (Alex, owner of Ferrets and Friends) had to make some difficult decisions. When the pandemic started, I had a part time job working in a hospital ER as a social worker and devoted most of my time to the business. I was receiving about 30% of my normal income to cover all of my expenses and I was not able to receive pandemic unemployment benefits due to earning more than the threshold of $178 per week. With my May wedding canceled and future plans put on hold, I was able to use my savings to keep my family and the business afloat for the first six months of the pandemic, but my savings would run dry by the end of September. I knew I would have to create a more sustainable situation. I needed to get a full time job and reduce expenses.
I made the tough decision to re-home one third of the animals and furlough four out of our six employees. Fortunately all of our staff have other full times jobs or sources of income. At the start of 2020, we had over 40 animals in our program. By the end of the year, that number had dropped to 24. Some of the homes we found were other animal ambassador programs. Other homes enabled our animal friends to retire from the working life and to enjoy being pampered family pets. Our re-homed animals included our youngest two ferrets, both of our rabbits, four of our snakes, three of our lizards, and one tarantula. None of our parrots were re-homed. With the re-homing complete, I was able to start a new full time job in my social work career. I now work as part of a mobile crisis team paired with a police officer responding to calls that involve suicide, psychosis, substance abuse, mental health crisis, or grief and sudden death. It's a big change from bringing the joy of animals to kids, but it is equally rewarding. Although I look forward to returning to our regular programs whenever that becomes possible.
But the pandemic wasn't the only thing that happened this year. We also started a new partnership with The Drawing Zoo and became certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise (meaning that we are owned by an LGBT individual). As a queer nonbinary person who also has multiple disabilities, being a small business owner enabled to me to have lifestyle that I didn't think was possible. I have Meniere's disease which is a disorder of the inner ear which can cause unexpected bouts of vertigo and long term hearing loss. I wear a hearing aide to help with my hearing loss, but there is little that helps manage the vertigo. Fortunately, my new job is accommodating and flexible. Anyone with a disability can tell you how rare it is to find a workplace like mine. If there was no pandemic, I probably wouldn't have taken the risk in trying to find such employment. But I am grateful for this new opportunity.
Our Partnership with The Drawing Zoo
For those of you who keep track of us, you may remember that our neighboring booth at the World of Pets Expo in 2019 was The Drawing Zoo. The Drawing Zoo has their own collection of animal friends who have a very special job helping teach art lessons. Each concept of art is paired with an animal to help young artists practice their new skills. This might include snakes to learn about patterns, chameleons to learn about color, or bunnies to learn about texture. Throughout 2019, we worked with The Drawing Zoo by trading animals to allow more diversity in each of our programs. Early this year, we started training our staff to be able to use our own animal ambassadors as part of lessons for The Drawing Zoo so that they would be able to hire us for some of their contracts.
This year was off to a great start! Domino assisted a lesson on color and the ferrets helped Alex during her first solo lesson. Unfortunately, with school closures, the art lessons have been put on hold. We look forward to resuming our partnership when schools reopen.
Our Partnership with Pets on Wheels
We returned to the World of Pets Expo this year as part of our volunteer pet therapy team with Pets on Wheels. Jubilee said hello to guests on Friday evening, while the ferret team demonstrated their therapy skills on Sunday. Our ferret brothers, Pabu and Abu, especially enjoyed meeting their colleagues: therapy dogs. This was also Rory's first event since passing her screening and temperament test. Of course, she did great work.
Unfortunately, pet therapy services were suspended once the pandemic started. Some facilities were able to offer their pet therapy services via zoom. While the parrots were able to adapt to zoom calls, we unsurprisingly couldn't find a way to get our ferrets to sit still. Additionally, ferrets are susceptible to COVID-19 (as well as the human flu!) so it may be some time before they return to their role as therapy pets.
Our Friends' Health in 2020
This year has been a rough year for the animal's health. In the beginning of the year, Missy the Eclectus Parrot had a skin infection that was resistant to treatment. After a biopsy, the veterinarian was able to prescribe the best medication to do the job and Missy had a full recovery. However her training to accept an oral syringe was exhausted by the lengthy course of treatment and she had to be toweled to be given medication for the last couple weeks. Missy will likely have stress bars on her feathers for some time following this illness. Our other minor illness was Bruce, the Veiled Chameleon, who had a minor infection which was successfully treated with antibiotics. The majority of our illness management was due to end of life care for our Bearded Dragon (Lizard of Oz), our hedgehog (Xena), and our ferret (Jack). We also had expensive emergency veterinary bills due to a disaster beyond our control.
In July of this year, there was a electrical fire in a shared space at part of our residence and smoke drifted into our unit. As soon as fire fighters cleared us for re-entry, we immediately took our parrots to Pender Veterinary Centre for emergency services. Parrots, like other birds, have very sensitive respiratory systems. Smoke inhalation can cause serious harm or even be fatal. We were not allowed to enter the facility due to COVID-19 precautions which was likely an additional stress for our birds. Domino and Missy both received oxygen treatment overnight. Our two other parrots fortunately did not show any impact from the smoke inhalation. In the morning, Missy and Domino were cleared to travel to their regular veterinarian. Our regular veterinarian cleared Domino to return home, but Missy continued to be monitored and received oxygen therapy as she was most impacted by the smoke. After a stressful 24 hours, Missy was cleared to go home with medication. Since then, all of our parrots have made a full recovery and no other animals have shown signs of being affected by the smoke. Fortunately no lives were lost and there was no lasting damage to our property.
In October, Xena the hedgehog passed away. She joined us in 2017 and was an animal ambassador for three years. While she did not enjoy being held, she did enjoy exploring new places and eating her favorite meal worm treats. With Xena, we noticed gradual weight loss in the spring but no cause could be determined. In late August, her weight dropped substantially and she stopped eating independently. She was fed by oral syringe, given fluids, and treated for a urinary tract infection. After recovering, her health declined again. Further diagnostics revealed multiple tumors. Due to her condition, she was not a good surgical candidate so her quality of life was monitored until it reached a point that we decided to have her humanely euthanized to eliminate further suffering. Like many older hedgehogs, Xena became wobbly in her final months. Many new hedgehog owners have heard of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome and may automatically jump to this conclusion. In most cases, if the wobbliness occurs quickly or suddenly, there is likely another cause such as infection or dehydration. Always take your hedgehog to a knowledgeable veterinarian to determine the cause of their symptoms.
Finally, Jack the ferret was euthanized at the end of December after a long period of illness. Jack was diagnosed with adrenal disease in 2018 and received a hormone implant. Early in 2020, he was also diagnosed with insulinoma and given medication to manage his symptoms. While his insulinoma was still well managed at the time of his death, it was his adrenal disease that had stopped responding to treatment. When his quality of life declined, we decided to have him humanely euthanized. Jack was an animal ambassador for five years and he passed away a few months shy of sixth birthday. Jack is known by our fans for his bond with our cat, Peach. He will be missed.
New to the Zoo
This year, we made the decision to fill in the vacancy that was left by Kurt the Green Cheek Conure who passed away early in 2019. We settled on adding a Quaker Parrot (or Monk Parakeet). We wanted to have a smaller bird that would be a suitable size for Domino, Kurt's surviving mate. But we also wanted a species that could add some diversity to our usual talking points. Quaker Parrots are a common invasive species in different part of the world and are actually illegal to own in some parts of the United States due to their tendency to make large nests. Quakers are known for making little birdie apartment complexes with some nests being as large as a small car. These nests can have as many as 27 different units which will be occupied by the Quaker flock as well as other bird species. These nests create significant problems in urban environments which is part of the reason that they become illegal as pets in certain areas.
Our staff named our new little friend Quito! He hatched on March 1, 2020 and was able to come home in May. He's already started talking and his favorite activities include screaming with Jubilee (our macaw), bathing in the sink, and trying to make friends with Domino. He has attended some of our events for socialization and is learning quickly from his peers. We hope that he will be fun regular addition to our programs in 2021. Until then, he has been enjoying his life as a spoiled pet.
At the time of writing, the future of Ferrets and Friends seems uncertain. It is possible that we might close as a business or that we might shift directions in the near future. We are incredibly grateful for all the opportunities we have had and for all of our friends who have invited us into their homes, schools, and communities. It has been a pleasure serving you and sharing our passion for animals with you. Change can be a scary thing, but it's important to take a moment to appreciate what life has given you and to recognize the new opportunities in every loss. Grief and love are two sides of the same coin. As painful as our losses are, it is that pain that reveals the depth of our love and what a miracle it has been to have a love like that in the first place.
We are ending this year in gratitude. For all those who kept our fridges full when we were hungry, who supported us when we were struggling, and who celebrated with us in our accomplishments. What a wonderful world we live in to be able to share it with people like you. Thank you!
It has been another eventful year here at Ferrets and Friends, LLC! This summer was our busiest summer yet with a total of 99 programs reaching over 2,000 participants in June through August. To accommodate our increasingly busy schedule, we have hired two additional animal educators, Sam and Donte.
Unfortunately, we were unable to move forward with our plan to add pony parties to our list of available packages as we had hoped. This was due to logistical issues with insurance coverage and scheduling. For now, we will be continuing to offer the same mix of packages that have made us a popular choice for live animal shows in Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
This year was our first year that we did not add any new animals to our program. We also debuted the remaining new animals that were added to our program in 2018. This includes Thor the albino boa constrictor and Loki the blue-tongue skink. Jubilee the Harlequin Macaw parrot also began flight training this year as she has regrown her flight feathers after being clipped. With her three foot wingspan, she is a sight to behold in the air!
World of Pets Expo 2019
We returned to the World of Pets Expo this year at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. This year, we were stationed next to The Drawing Zoo and we provided an educational show on Saturday and Sunday. Many of you came to visit and were excited to say hello to your favorite friends. Even Sokka, our more shy chinchilla, made a rare appearance.
Our Friends' Health in 2019
In 2019, most of our animals continued to be in good health. Our oldest ferret, Jack, has continued to have his adrenal disease symptoms under control with the use of his implant. Jessica, the bunny, had a brief period of not eating which was quickly resolved by a visit to the veterinarian. For rabbits, it is important that they eat consistently throughout the day otherwise they can have severe problems with their GI track. If they stop eating or defecating, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately to determine the cause and to get them back on track to prevent further harm.
Unfortunately, we had two unexpected deaths this year. The first was Kurt, our green cheek conure. Kurt was a personal pet of the owner before Ferrets and Friends was even an idea. He became a favorite among staff for his tendency to say "thank you!" and his goofy antics which included hanging upside down and investigating people's jewelry and accessories. Kurt's death was sudden and unexpected. During an out of cage training session, Kurt attempted flight but instead fluttered to the floor and appeared to be in pain. As the trainer scooped him up to assess his condition and apply first aid, Kurt passed away in less than a minute. The exact cause of death is undetermined, but thought to be an aneurysm or a traveling blood clot. Kurt's mate, Domino, was removed from the show schedule for six months to allow her time for grieving and to establish a new routine. During this time, Domino bonded more closely with staff members. To everyone's surprise, Domino returned to doing shows with more enthusiasm than expected. She even started saying "thank you", a phrase that she no doubt learned from Kurt. Kurt will always be remembered for his lively attitude and his spunk.
Our second unexpected death was our Panther Chameleon, Genie. He began to spend more time towards the bottom of his cage and was taken to our veterinarian for assessment. His blood work all returned normal with no obvious cause for illness. Our veterinarian was able to rule out infection and other problems. Months later, he started losing weight and had a gradual decline. After being hydrated by hand and tong-fed, Genie stopped eating and drinking all together. He was giving subcutaneous fluids with the hopes that it might perk him up to return to eating. With no improvement in his condition and no obvious paths of treatment, Genie was humanely euthanized to prevent further suffering.
New to the zoo in 2019
In 2019, we did not add any new animals to our program. We did, however, add two new staff members. We are excited to have Sam and Donte as the newest members of our team. Sam has experience working with exotic pets at the veterinary practice where she works. Donte has been part of the pet care team at a local pet store and plans to go to school for herpetology (the study of reptiles). We look forward to seeing them grow and develop their own personal styles in our programs.
This year we had an opportunity to pause, catch up, and reassess our own goals and growth. We have continued our partnership with Pets on Wheels in their mission to help lick loneliness through pet therapy. Part of that partnership includes Hospice of the Chesapeake who has linked us with patients who would benefit from a visit from our qualified animal friends. In 2020, we are hoping to expand our partnership in a way that might bring us in a more artistic direction. Stay tuned to find out more!
Until then, we hope you have all had a happy holiday and we wish you a happy new year!
It has been another big year for Ferrets and Friends, LLC. This year, we debuted a new package system to create more flexibility for our customers. Our macaw parrot has been a popular new addition to our already diverse and colorful crew. We updated our reptile enclosures to a great new setup from Animal Plastics. We also moved to a larger and more spacious location to provide more space for all of our animals friends.
We added three new species to our shows this year including our African Pygmy Hedgehog, Harlequinn Macaw, and Mexican Red Knee Tarantula. For 2019, we are not planning on adding any new species to our collection. Instead, we will be partnering with Astoria Dressage to add pony party packages next summer.
Unfortunately this year, we said goodbye to quite a few of our cherished animals stars and an excellent animal educator. Miss Lina is no longer with Ferrets and Friends and has relocated with her animals. Over the past couple years, she shared her passion for animals at a total of 122 events and worked hard on our social media accounts and marketing. We thank her for her hard work and wish her the best in her future endeavors!
While we said goodbye to some of our animal friends due to this change, we also experiences some significant deaths. Two of our ferrets, Samson and Ramona, passed away this spring. Samson retired earlier this year due to the progression of his insulinoma. We lost Samson shortly after his sixth birthday. Ramona had an unexpected and unknown illness for which she was humanely euthanized during an emergency veterinary visit. She was five years old when she passed. We regret to say that ferret lifespans are far too short and healthy ferrets can suddenly become extremely ill in a short amount of time. It is important to find out in advance about what emergency veterinary services near you are equipped to care for ferrets.
Our Friends' Health in 2018
In 2018, our animals have had fewer illnesses than they did in the previous year. This is mostly due to the average age of our ferrets. In 2017, we had four ferrets over the age of three years old which is a common age for ferrets to become ill. After our two oldest ferrets passed in the spring, our oldest ferret is now Jack who is three years old. Unfortunately, Jack was diagnosed with adrenal disease this summer. The good news is that his hormone implant has been working great so he has been his happy, active, and fluffy self!
This year, two of our new bunnies had their spay surgeries and both went well! Jessica even had a bit of a surprise for our vet as she actually had internal male parts instead of female. Our vet was very confused when he couldn't find what he was looking for originally. She's a very special bunny! After the spay, some of Wednesday's territorial behavior significantly decreased. Getting bunnies spayed is important for their health as it eliminates their risk for uterine or ovarian cancer.
Jasmine (Chinese Water Dragon) and Domino (Green Cheek Conure) have continued laying eggs this year. Our leopard gecko, Cici, has stopper laying eggs. In her older age, she seems to be slowing down and has been struggling with a cyst on her eye which we have been monitoring with our veterinarian. She is currently being retired from animal shows as our younger leopard gecko, Fiona, takes her place.
Our Partnership with Pets on Wheels Maryland
This fall, the owner of Ferrets and Friends met with the Executive Director of Pets on Wheels. Pets on Wheels is a nonprofit organization that provides pet therapy visits to a variety of settings. After a an wellness check from our veterinarian and a thorough examination from Gina (Executive Director at Pets on Wheels), we are excited to announce that two of our ferrets, two of our parrots, and our panther chameleon have all passed the temperament screening to be therapy animals. We couldn't be more proud of our animal friends! So far, Jubilee has been popular with Hospice of the Chesapeake making her visits to patients in a variety of settings.
New to the Zoo in 2018
This year, we added eight animals to our care. Four of our new additions have been doing a great job as animal ambassadors and we are waiting for the remaining four to finish their quarantine period. We added two ferrets (Aurora & Logan), a Harlequinn Macaw (Jubilee), a Veiled Chameleon (Bruce), a Chinese Water Dragon (Hiccup), a Blue Tongue Skink (Loki), a Colombian Red-tail Boa (Thor), and a baby king snake (name pending). Of these animals, only one had a previous home. Thor is a two year old albino boa constrictor and already measures an impressive five feet in length. We are excited for him to make his official debut next year!
Currently, Ferrets and Friends has 45 animals in our care. Of those animals, about 40 animals are being used in shows at the time of writing. Next year, we hope to start offering packages with some Equine friends. Rebecca, our animal educator, has been hard at work rehabilitating two ponies and training them to interact with people. They have made great improvements this past summer in riding lesson and camps. We hope to feature them in some new packages for 2019.
World of Pet Expo January 25-27
Have you been waiting for an opportunity to see our animal friends in person? Check us out at the World of Pet Expo on January 25th-27th. It is located at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, MD. There will be lots of vendors and performances. For more information, visit www.worldofpets.org. Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to seeing you in 2019!
It has been a busy year for Ferrets and Friends, LLC! We have had significant growth, performing twice as many shows in 2017 as 2016. We have also seen some growth in the diversity and number of animal friends! This year, we debuted two new species (the chinchilla and the Sonoran Desert Millipede) and we added three new species that we are hoping to debut next year (the African pygmy hedgehog, the Mexican red knee tarantula, and the African bullfrog). It has been an exciting time for our animal educators to learn and work with these new animal friends.
Unfortunately, this year we also had some significant losses. In 2017, we said goodbye to Gambit (ferret), Sophie (ferret), Honey (Palomino Blonde Tarantula), Capheus (Jackson Chameleon), and Paisley (South American Horned Frog). Our ferrets, Gambit and Sophie, have been with Ferrets and Friends since the beginning. We lost Sophie in early 2017 due to Ferret-FIP and we lost Gambit in the fall of 2017 after medications for his insulinoma were no longer effective. Both were about six years old at their time of death. Ages are unknown for Honey (tarantula), Capheus (chameleon), and Paisley (frog), but it is believed that Honey and Capheus passed away from old age. Paisley (frog) passed away due to unknown causes and was less than one year old at her time of death.
Our Friends' Health in 2017
At Ferrets and Friends, we value taking care of our animals in both illness and health. We are grateful for their hard work and cooperation. This year, we had some significant surgeries. Samson (ferret, five years old) had a surgery to amputate one of his toes and Ramona (ferret, four years old) had a surgery to remove bladder stones. Due to the increasing health problems that ferrets experience as they age, we have decided to start a retirement process for our ferrets beginning at age five. Currently, Samson will be semi-retired, but he is still showing interest in going to events. After all, snuggling is Samson's favorite activity!
Other health updates include egg laying by our Leopard Gecko (Cici), Chinese Water Dragon (Jasmine), and Green Cheek Conure (Domino). It is important to make sure that any egg-laying animals have lots of exercise for strong muscles and calcium to replace what is lost when they are laying eggs. None of our animal friends showed any signs of egg binding and they continue to be active and healthy.
So how much does it cost to keep our animals healthy and happy? In 2017, our animals cost over $9,000 in veterinary bills alone! Other animal care costs (including food, substrate, toys, heat and lighting equipment, and enclosures) totaled over $10,000. This does not include the human labor that goes into maintaining enclosures, socializing, and training our animal friends.
New to the Zoo in 2017
This year, we added a whopping 23 new animal friends to our care with Miss Lina joining our team with her own animal crew. Of those twenty-three animals, nine of them were rehomed animals or rescues. Sixteen animals were acquired as potential animal ambassadors. Some of these animals have already started doing shows in 2017: Tarzan & Jane (Leopard Tortoises), Riley, Pabu, & Abu (ferrets), Bumi (chinchilla), Tucker (Kenyan Sand Boa), and the Sonoran Desert Millipedes.
Currently, Ferrets and Friends has 58 animals in our care. Not all of these animals are used for shows (currently about 35 are show ready at the time of writing). It's not uncommon for people to inquire whether we are accepting exotic pets that are being re-homed. In fact, over a quarter of our animals have previously had other homes before they arrived in our care. This is why we encourage people to thoroughly research any exotic pet that they may want. These animals are dependent on us to provide for their care and many can have demanding care requirements.
Most of our animals that are used in shows, we have raised from a young age. Shows can be stressful environments for these animals so we want to be sure that they are well socialized and they have temperaments that are appropriate for working around children. Rehomed and rescued animals can make great animal ambassadors, too! Each animal friends is unique.
Here's to an even better 2018! Happy New Year from your favorite animal friends!
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!