A ferret with a damaged spine may never walk again. But the little animal seems to get around just fine thanks to his customized ferret-mobile - a modified roller skate.
Koto, a 2-year-old male ferret, came into the Especially Ferrets shelter in suburban Denver in June paralyzed in his hindquarters. The family that brought him in declined to say what happened to him, but shelter co-director Gloria Horton suspects the animal was either sat on or stepped on.
A veterinarian determined that Koto was unlikely ever to regain function of his rear legs. Often, such a prognosis would lead to euthanasia, but at Especially Ferrets, ferrets aren't put down unless their quality of life is severely compromised. Horton and her husband and fellow shelter director, Randy Horton, felt that with proper care, Koto could still enjoy his life.
One day about a week after Koto settled in to life in the infirmary at Especially Ferrets, Randy Horton got a brainstorm. Koto had exceptionally strong front legs and Horton felt the ferret could probably pull his rear legs along behind him if they could somehow be propped up on wheels. Koto would need something to help support his back, as well. A roller skate - the old-fashioned kind that strap onto your shoes - came to mind. So Gloria Horton set out to a toy store to find a child's pair of skates - and came back with Koto's new method of transportation.
How They Made the Ferret Mobile
They cut out the heel of the skate to better accommodate Koto's body, then they attached a clip to which a small ferret harness could be attached. They put the harness around Koto's shoulders, and rested his useless lower back and legs along the length of the skate. The Velcro strap already on the skate secured Koto's lower body in place. It took the ferret just to few minutes to figure things out. "Pretty soon, he was pulling himself all around the hospital room," says Gloria Horton. "He had a little trouble learning to back up, but he quickly got to where he could move all around the place and maneuver very easily."
While his excursions are limited to 20 to 30 minutes a day wheeling around the infirmary, he occasionally gets to go outside in the grass - and once he got to go to a local Denver television studio. He was shown on TV scooting all over the studio. Koto and his roller skate will also appear on an upcoming Animal Planet episode.
Koto still faces medical difficulties. Since the lower half of his body doesn't function, his caretakers must express his bladder manually two to three times a day for him. This can lead to urinary tract infections, which could become life threatening.
Given the extraordinary amount of care he requires, it is unlikely Koto will ever be adopted. He'll live out his life at the Especially Ferrets shelter. But Gloria Horton refuses to give up hope that some day, he'll run and play as other ferrets do.
"Some days, he really tries to move his legs," he says. "Some days, he can make his tail twitch. You never know."