Riverside’s most eclectic commercial block –Harlem Avenue between Herrick and Burlington — may welcome another unique organization to the club next month if village officials agree to amend the zoning code and issue a special use permit for it.
On May 24 at 7 p.m., the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission will consider an application by the Greater Chicagoland Ferret Association to open a ferret rescue shelter at 3242 Harlem Ave. – right between Psychic and Tarot Card Readings by Sara White and The Comic Collector.
Other businesses on the block include a bartending school, a driving school, an escape room business, a Colombian “shapewear” retailer, an upholsterer, a hair salon and a combination Cash 4 Gold/custom T-Shirt/computer repair place.
Greater Chicagoland Ferret Association, which has called 7939 Ogden Ave. in Lyons home for the past seven years, needs an amendment to the zoning code, because the Harlem Avenue commercial district doesn’t allow animal shelters and a special use permit to allow a rescue shelter for ferrets.
The organization tentatively has signed a 10-year lease on the roughly 1,800 square foot storefront, but will need approval of the zoning amendment and special use permit by the village board in order to make the move a reality.
“We can always use more space,” said Martha Cannon, chairwoman of the association’s board of directors. “This place [in Riverside] has more space, cheaper rent and a 10-year lease with no increase.”
Harlem Avenue will also potentially give the organization a higher profile, though the Lyons location doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself.
The organization, said Cannon, is a nonprofit, no-kill shelter for ferrets only.
“We take them on for any reason, and we adopt them out whenever we can,” Cannon said.
There are 115 ferrets inside the organization’s Lyons storefront, housed most of the day in well-kept cages at the rear of the space. Each ferret gets about an hour a day to play in one of the larger pens or a pair of metal “playpens” set up in the front of the space near the entrance in a room that serves as a reception area and office space.
The ferrets are cared for by some 80 volunteers who drive in from as far away as Wisconsin and northwest Indiana – Cannon herself is from St. Charles – to spend a day or two a week at the shelter.
According to Cannon, the shelter holds adoptions days three times a week, and prospects come in by appointment only.
“We try to find a home for them before they’ve been here a year,” Cannon said.
The rescue’s longest resident presently is Lana Turner, a striking white ferret, a 4-year-old who has been there since June of last year. Ferrets come to the shelter from all sorts of places. Many come from animal control shelters, animal welfare organizations and from people who simply can’t or don’t want to take care of a ferret any longer.
“We’re getting more younger ferrets these days,” Cannon said.
Ferrets may look cute and are very sociable pets, but they’re certainly not for everyone. First, there’s the odor. The sharp musk scent is the first thing you notice when you walk into the shelter, and it’s not something you can simply bathe out of a ferret, said Cannon.
“People don’t do their homework before buying ferrets,” said Cannon, who admitted to having six of the animals at home. “They’re very labor intensive.”
They can also be destructive if they get out inside the house, digging up potted plants, chewing through wires and not always using their litter boxes. Some people are also allergic to them, another reason a ferret might show up at the shelter.
Ferrets also need to be cared for by veterinarians who deal with exotic species, said Cannon, which makes their care costlier. The shelter gets visits twice a month by a husband and wife team who specialize in exotic animal medicine – former 1969 Chicago Cubs pitcher Dr. Richard Nye and his wife, Dr. Susan Brown.
Although she’s head of an organization devoted to the care of ferrets, Cannon wasn’t always that way.
A retired information technology professional, Cannon finally bought one after some badgering by her then-teenage son – who’s now married and without ferrets – adopting a rescue from the very agency she now serves. She’s now one of the “crazy ferret people,” she says.
“Somebody has to do it, and these guys depend on us,” Cannon said, holding a pair of ferrets named Paquita and Francisca rescued via a Craigslist ad a couple of weeks ago. “It’s the same as anybody who volunteers to take care of other animals, like horses and rabbits.”