First responder

Lisa Watson

Lisa Watson (right) with daughter, Kyrra.

Lisa Watson (right) with daughter, Kyrra.

Early in the morning on Jan. 5, icy flood waters from a broken canal levee submerged hundreds of Fernley homes in up to eight feet of water. Small burrowing animals were quickly vilified and blamed for weakening the structural integrity of the levee and causing the flood. Lisa Watson of Fallon heard the news, and her first thought was the safety of small burrowing animals, ferrets in particular. She quickly put an ad on Craigslist offering to board any abandoned pets. Why does she care so much about these so-called “disposable” pets? Watson has her reasons.

Where were you when you heard about the levee break?

I was in bed. My husband got a phone call about 7 o’clock. He works for the irrigation district, and he got a flood call saying he had to go out and run some heavy equipment. They didn’t know they couldn’t get the equipment in, so they had to shut the water off electronically. When he got the phone call, he didn’t know where he was going. I turned on the news thinking there would be something on there about it, and he says, “No way, it’s not going to be on there.” But there it was.

How did you become interested in saving ferrets from floods?

That’s an interesting story. My daughter, when she was about 15-and-a-half, was diagnosed with severe depression. She had contemplated suicide, and had her on suicide watch. Once she started getting better, almost returning to normal life, the counselor she was seeing said that she needed something that was dependent on her. There has to be some reason for her to get up in the morning. Something she could keep in her room. We always had pets, so my first thought was to get her one to take care of. I figured I’ll get a ferret if they have any at the pet store. They did. The ferret was such a love and truly did her job and kept my daughter occupied and motivated and helped get her out of her severe depression. I promised once I started learning about them that I would take care of them. A ferret had saved my daughter’s life, I figured. It’s the least I could do.

Is that ferret still around?

He just turned 4.

How’s your daughter ?

She’s doing fine. She doesn’t have a whole lot to do with ferrets anymore. She’ll still play with him once in a while.

Ferrets are misunderstood creatures, no?

There’s a lot of confusion. People say they’re stinky. Anything’s stinky if you don’t clean it. The biggest myth is that people think they’re like dogs or cats, but their internal health is completely different. If they live long enough they will die from one of the major diseases. They get cancer, adrenal diseases … they’re more expensive at vets than dogs or cats. They usually need surgery at some point in their lives, which can run between $500 and $1,000. People give them the wrong food, and it affects their general health. So I started something of a hospice for ferrets.

How many patients do you have?

About 30 total. I have to clean 11 litter boxes per day. My friend up in Gardnerville runs a rescue—she’s got about 67 in the house. The Humane Society calls me and I come and get them. They’re not adoptable if they have a health issue. Nobody’s going to adopt a sick ferret.

So you became a first responder for ferrets?

Sadly, in emergencies like the flood in Fernley or Hurricane Katrina, people grab their dog because it’s right under their feet, but they leave the caged animals. People figure that they’ll be right back. They estimated that only a handful were rescued from the entire city of New Orleans.

What should exotic pet owners do to plan for such emergencies?

You should skip the pet carriers and grab a pillowcase and shove them in there. They can survive the stress of that better than a disaster. Make sure you have extra food and medication, anything that you need to care for your pet in an emergency situation ready to go.