Ferrets can be cuddly, playful, high-energy pets for people who are willing to give them a lot of care and attention. One such person is Carmen Hathcock of Durham. She happens to be a first-grade teacher, so she has plenty of experience keeping track of small high-energy individuals who need a lot of attention and are capable of getting into occasional mischief.
Hathcock recalls that her parents owned a ferret when she was little. The lingering memory is a good one, and in 2013 Hathcock and her husband, who is also a teacher, acquired a six-month-old female ferret and her albino cage mate, naming them Harley and Joker, respectively. Finding that you can really never have too many ferrets in your life, in 2015 they added a third member to the team that they named Bane, sticking with the theme of infamous Batman characters.
Of the trio, Harley was the nurturing one. “Harley was very maternal with Joker and Bane,” Hathcock says. “She would groom them while they slept or snuggled. She was also very smart. She learned her name. I could call her and she would come running to me.”
Ferrets like having room to roam around, and the Hathcocks obliged, letting them run free in the house. But Harley also understood when playtime was over. “I would call her name,” Hathcock says, “and she would come out of whatever sleepy spot she was in — usually a drawer of t-shirts or inside a pillowcase in a corner — and she would follow me downstairs.”
Life was good for the furry threesome until early this year. “In February, Harley seemed to be moving a little slower and a little sleepier than normal,” Hathcock says. They took her to a veterinary practice in Raleigh, where an examination revealed enlarged lymph nodes in Harley’s legs. A biopsy determined that the little ferret was suffering from lymphoma, a cancer that begins in infection-fighting cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. In these cases, the lymphocytes change and grow out of control. At that point, Harley was referred to the NC State Veterinary Hospital for further evaluation and treatment.
The Hathcocks faced a dilemma, wanting to give Harley the best medical treatment possible, but knowing that the potential expense of receiving cancer therapy at an advanced world-class teaching hospital could be daunting. “My husband and I are both teachers,” Carmen Hathcock says. “We would not have been able to afford all the treatments and weekly blood work that Harley needed.”
Fortunately, Harley and her pet parents qualified for assistance from the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund. Through a grant to the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, the fund helps pet owners facing financial challenges defray the cost of cancer treatment for their pets.
With the assistance of the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund, the Hathcocks took Harley to NC State in March, where she began to undergo chemotherapy for her lymphoma.
When asked to describe their experience at NC State, Hathcock replies “Wonderful. Everyone there — the receptionists, the technicians, the doctors, the residents — were all so kind and helpful and patient. Most of the time when I took Harley in, I dealt with a different person, but they each assured me every time that they were familiar with her case. I never worried about leaving Harley there for long appointments. I always knew she was being cared for as if she was their own.”
Harley responded well to treatment at first, and she became more like her old self. But her lymphoma proved to be insurmountable, and she eventually succumbed to the disease. Still, Hathcock has no regrets, and appreciates all that was done for her beloved companion. “I am just so grateful to the staff at NC State and for the Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo Cancer Treatment Fund,” she says. “It allowed us to have eight more months with our sweet Harley.”