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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Animal Attack

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    Pet ferrets attack 10-day-old girl

Wednesday, June 28, 2000

By Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel staff

Last Updated: June 28, 2000 - A 10-day-old girl lying in her crib was attacked by two pet ferrets that may have been attracted by milk on the child's breath, Eau Claire police said Wednesday.

The ferrets inflicted more than 100 scratches, gashes and bite marks on the baby's face before the family dog jumped in to save the infant, who is expected to recover completely, police said.

The ferrets, named Stella and Savannah, were euthanized by Eau Claire animal control officers after the attack Monday morning. Their bodies were sent to a lab in Madison for necropsies.

Kathleen O'Connell let her ferrets out of their cage that morning and was watching television when she dozed off. She awoke a short time later and heard her daughter, Cassandra, fussing, so she checked on her.

"When I looked down, all I saw was blood," O'Connell said by telephone Wednesday.

"I was pretty frantic. I started to wash off part of her face, and when I saw the gash, I wrapped her up and took her to the hospital."

A doctor checked out the baby, who was kept overnight at a local hospital for observation. No stitches were required. She was released Tuesday.

"There were just a ton of different bite marks on the face around the eyes, cheeks (and) forehead," Eau Claire police Sgt. Steve Kassing said. "It's really too early to tell, but the child's eyes should be fine. The bite marks are expected to heal completely because of the age of the child.."

O'Connell has raised ferrets all of her life and had never heard of the small domesticated animals attacking a baby, she said. She'd had Stella and Savannah for two years, and the pets had never bitten anyone.

She credits her German shepherd-collie mix named Smokey with saving her daughter's life.

"The Police Department told me once ferrets start biting, they won't stop," O'Connell said. "If Smokey hadn't intervened, they would have continued biting the baby."

The long, slender animals range in length from 12 inches for females to 16 inches for males, not including their tails. Ferrets, members of the weasel family, have sharp teeth.

A ferret expert said that it's unusual for ferrets to attack a baby but that they may have been attracted by milk on the infant.

"Ferrets love milk products (like) milk (and) ice cream," said Judy Vowell, shelter director for Ferret Fanciers of Greater Milwaukee.

"It's not an attack animal. It reacts out of instinct but not a destructive instinct," Vowell said. "It was probably after the milk and unknown scents. This was probably a new scent for the ferret, as well - a new baby in the house."

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