Rescuing ferrets was what this York County woman was 'supposed to do'

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Claudia Johnson will tell you she currently has 27 furry, noodle-shaped babies — and she knows the names and stories of each and every one of them.

Andy, an older ferret, loves to snooze.

Jackson Winchester, on the other hand, is a curious, playful little one.

Zeke, meanwhile, the first ferret Johnson ever adopted, ended up changing her life forever.

"This was a sign: This ferret needed a home," Johnson said. "And I didn't care what it looked like. I didn't care if something was wrong with it. I just thought: this is what I'm supposed to do."

Jackson Winchester, a 3-year-old male black roan mitt ferret is held by his person, Claudia Johnson, at their home in Fawn Township, Monday, April 3, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Johnson runs the one-woman show at the Oxford Ferret Rescue, a nonprofit based in Fawn Grove dedicated to providing a better life for abandoned ferrets. She initially joined the organization as a volunteer in 1998 and soon took over leadership only a year later.

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The rescue facility, operated out of Johnson's basement, is a ferret's dream come true.

Ferrets at the home of Claudia Johnson at her home in Fawn Township, Monday, April 3, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Tons of plush beds, tiny playground equipment and colorful toys scatter Johnson's floor, as ferrets of all shapes and colors explore — and more often than not — snooze.

"I've done fostering; I do adoptions right now," Johnson said. "I'm really only now just trying to take in emergency strays, because believe it or not, there are stray ferrets."

Just last week, one ferret from Oxford Ferret Rescue was adopted by a family in Maryland. Only one pair is currently available for adoption, and Johnson's vetting process for selecting the right family can be intense.

Claudia Johnson climbs into one of the pens where she rotates ferrets in and out for play time at her home in Fawn Township, Monday, April 3, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Before placing a ferret, Johnson must complete a home inspection and secure a veterinarian that is experienced with ferret care.

Ferrets are a huge financial responsibility, often coming with large veterinarian bills attached. Proper nutrition, quality of life and exercise are equally important aspects that new ferret owners often don't realize, Johnson said.

Johnson always tries to place ferrets in close proximity to where she works: as a vet tech at Chadwell Animal Hospital in Abington, Maryland.

"If you don't have a good vet, you could end up with a dead ferret," Johnson said.

Tilly, left, and Panger Bun now live at the home of Claudia Johnson in Fawn Township, shown Monday, April 3, 2023. Johnson took the pair into her home when a friend could no longer care for them. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Ferrets are domestic animals akin to weasels, skunks and otters. They are carnivores and require higher protein and fat in their diets, in addition to ferret food bought at a pet store, Johnson said.

Most ferrets will require major surgery in their lifetime and can be prone to chronic illnesses including inflammatory bowel disease and insulinoma (tumors that cause low blood sugar).

Though Johnson currently has 27 ferrets living under her roof, most are too old and sick to be adopted. So rather, the Oxford Ferret Rescue acts as a safe haven for aging ferrets to pass peacefully.

Ferrets are given a mineral oil based supplement at the home of Claudia Johnson in Fawn Township, Monday, April 3, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Though originally from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Johnson ended up finding happiness in the country with all different animals by her side.

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In addition to her ferrets, Johnson's York County property also is home to a menagerie of dogs, cats, sheep, goats and horses — most of which are rescues.

She quickly found a community of like-minded people who share their passion and love for animals.

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As the sole operator of Oxford Ferret Rescue, medical bills and other expenses can stack up. Johnson accepts monetary donations via PayPal by visiting http://www.oxfordrescue.org/.

"I've got such good friends from ferrets because we all feel the same way," Johnson said. "We love our ferrets, we're nuts."