Goodbye, Spirit: Remembering U-32’s Resident Weasel

After eight years serving our learning community, Spirit, U-32’s school ferret, died sometime last week.  He was discovered late Friday night by custodians polishing the kiosk in the school’s entry.

“We noticed the smell, to be honest,” they said.  “And when we opened the kiosk to clean his cage, he was just curled up, dead.”

The loss will be felt at U-32, and especially online, where Spirit had more than 10,000 followers worldwide for his livestream video feed.  The stream mostly showed him in his cage– sleeping, running in tight circles, or standing with his front paws up against one of the outer walls.

Few at U-32 seem to have known him well.   Zach Gonzalez, who teaches psychology, once brought him in as  a guest to his class, studying psychoanalysis. Gonzalez described the experience as “a failure, as far as lessons go.”

“I just remember looking into his eyes.” Gonzalez said. “They were so small, black and shiny.  We just couldn’t get anything out of him.”

Rebecca Northbrook is a professor of bio-sociology at UVM, focusing on the weasel genus, of the family mustelidae.  Her new book about the emotional life of captive ferrets, “Footprints in the Sawdust,” is available at the UVM gift shop and on some versions of the Kindle Fire.  

“You’re talking about years of solitary confinement, basically,” Northbrook said, in a rare interview.  “These are not the conditions to promote pro-social adjustment.”

Indeed, Spirit’s behavior file on Infinite Campus does include several unfortunate incident reports, most notably his infamous run-in with Cooper the therapy dog at Spring Day 2013, but also smaller acts of “insubordination,” including his escape attempt during the D.C. trip three years ago and his refusal to enter a cat carrier for transport to the pep rally this February.  

Some at U-32 are hoping Spirit’s passing can become an opportunity to build his legacy.   A kickstarter campaign is in the works to explore options for taxidermy, and as the controversy over U-32’s “Raider” name intensifies, some in the community have advocated for making Spirit the official school mascot.  Concerns about budget implications have proven unfounded– full-sized plush ferret suits with lifelike heads can be purchased for under $200 on Amazon.com.

But there will never be another Spirit.  His position was grant-funded, and dies with him.

On a recent night a crew was at work on the back wall of school’s kiosk, where a blank wood panel now covers the area where a small viewing window once allowed us to peek in on his cage.

“Honestly, in all my time here I think I have maybe seen ten people look in on him, total,” one of the workers said with a sigh. “He was so cute when he was asleep.”

E-cards can be left for Spirit online, and fans can rest assured: his webchannel will be airing rerun highlights from his livestream over the next few months.