Thursday 29 December 2011

Leo the Pet

You haven't heard from Leo for a while now. Wondering what happened to him?
Last time I'd talked about him I had just finished to prepare the greenhouse for him. Well, he's still with me. Yes, I tried to release him. But it didn't work.

In July he had moved, or rather we'd moved him to the greenhouse. With all his stuff. With his cage, of course. But also with his (yes, his!) chest of drawers, his cushions, throws, even with his plushy door draft stopper.

After I'd opened the cage he started running around and inspecting the greenhouse immediately. He is curious and he likes new things. He didn't seem to be afraid at all. He also discovered the outside cage quite soon.

But then something happened completely different than I had expected. Instead of being thrilled with this little piece of nature in the outside cage he ran like mad along the lower rim of the cage, again and again. He did not inspect the nooks and crannies I had built for him, not the buried dens and not the branches I had added for him to hide and climb. He did not squeal with glee as he had done when he'd got snow. THAT was what I had expected. But Leo was only looking for - the exit. At least this was my impression.

I knew I had to give him some time to acclimatize but deep inside I also knew immediately that it wouldn't work, that Leo wasn't happy at all.

Throughout the day I spent hours with him in the greenhouse. I tried to play with him or better I tried to make him chase his toys as I did in the living room. He was not thrilled. The greenhouse is smaller than the living room, there are no sofas he could run across giving him a good grip.

Some day I realised he didn't get frighten by noises actually announcing danger. Not far from the greenhouse somebody started a motorbike. It was very, very loud. Leo didn't react. He also wasn't impressed by the neighbour's cat sitting in front of the outdoor cage interestingly watching Leo jumping around. I started to worry.

I asked Google. Again. Somebody must have had experience in releasing into the wild an animal similar to a least weasel. I found an American site about a recovery program for black-footed ferrets. These ferrets, bred in captivity, were released after preconditioning. (I highly recommend reading through this website and I especially recommend watching the videos!)

Preconditioning, that was what I had concentrated on when planning the greenhouse/ outdoor cage thingy. But I completely overlooked something very important, something that should have happened long before preconditioning even starts.

Although bred in captivity these black-footed ferrets grew up with siblings with as little contact to humans as possible. They had learned to socialize with their own kind. Not so Leo. He was used to music and TV, to a cat watching him through a glass door, to a human hand giving him food and playing with him and not doing him any harm.

Again I researched. This time with focus on releasing hand-reared single animals. The result was shattering. An animal like Leo, living with humans solely and for most of the time since he's been a baby cannot be released successfully. Even if he would have learned to prey and feed on mice or voles (which we still had to practice), he would not be able to socialize with his own kind. Never.

I was devastated. After all, the reason to release Leo was to enable him to live a normal least weasel life, to have him find a nice least weasel girl and to have some fun with her.

I felt (and still do) as if I had stolen his life. Yes I know, if I wouldn't have picked him up in the garden as a hungry, motherless baby, he would have died within a few hours. But is a life as a pet really an alternative?

I never wanted Leo to keep as a pet. The intention from the beginning on was to release him back into the wild. This would have been the best for him and for me. But with these new findings I had to reconsider the complete project.

Then I got a telephone call from a woman whose neighbour had set up vole traps in his garden. One day in one of the traps he found a dead animal he didn't know. He asked her. She knew what it was. A least weasel!! She told me immediately. I was shocked. It's outrageous! This goddamned bastard had killed the voles' most natural enemy. How brainless people can be!

The following night I watched Leo through the kitchen window as I had done almost every night since he'd moved. He again paced around in the outdoor cage as animals do in the zoo when kept in boring small cages. I cried. I felt guilty. Guilty because Leo wasn't happy. Guilty because I had mucked up this little least weasel's life. And I imagined him being abused, hurt or killed by a 'human' gardener, something I hadn't taken into account before.

I made a decision. With a heavy heart. For Leo as a pet and against a release with a potentially disastrous result.

I wanted to stop the experiment asap and so the next day I prepared the living room for Leo to come back. I put all his stuff back into place and my nephew helped me bringing back the heavy cage.

When Leo realised that after nearly two weeks he was back in his old home he first inspected every nook of the living room as to ensure that everything still was where it belongs to. Then he jumped across the sofas for nearly an hour and he did what I had missed so much - he squealed with glee! Leo has been back to what he obviously considers being his home. I want it to stay like that now.


HiLLjO said...

I am BAWWwwWLING. I know he is an animal, but raising him from a fledgling near the brink of death at least makes you a weasel-Parent. We all have dreams for our "children" (of all species) and when they do not fulfill our dreams of them, it becomes apparent that they have dreams of themselves on their own. Leo's dream is a reality in your living room. He really loves you!

Woolly Bits said...

it's sad that your plan for Leo (and yourself) didn't work out, but I think you'd be feeling worse if you did let him go and thought about how he's doing outside all the time! he doesn't know any different now, like many pets, so it's surely for the best to keep him where he is happy. as long as you don't start to treat him like a baby, like some pet owners do, he'll be fine!I hope you're both going to be happy with this arrangement!
have a happy new year, esp. with your very cute little Leo (he looks soooo curious in the photo:)) and take care
Bettina (from ireland, where we are having our usual wet season again this year:))

Annette Tait said...

Leo is adorable and you are his best friend. You are the only caregiver he knows in the world and rescued him from certain death so I think Molly you have done an amazing thing with him! He loves you absolutely! and loves your company and I think there is no better reward than that :)
well done!!

Molly said...

Thanks to you all for your encouraging words! I have to admit I really love this little guy and all I always wanted is to give him what he is comfortable with. If it's my sofa, so then be it ;-)

Bettina, don't worry. It's extremely difficult to treat someone like a baby whom you can't pet or catch hold properly. I guess, it's not in his genes. But biting is... :-)