I wrote today’s story for the first years at my College (Special Needs Dept.) Lack of respect is a common problem. The story is also suitable for 10-11 year olds.

Ferret Boy

Thomas was sixteen. Everyone thought his name was Tom, and that is what he preferred to be called. ‘Thomas’ seemed a bit serious, ‘Thomas’ meant there was trouble ahead. Tom’s gran looked after him. His mum had left when he was very young and his gran had taken on the role of being ‘mum’. Grandad was there too. Tom thought he was great.  He showed Tom how to use a saw, how to hammer nails and to make things out of wood.

Tom kept ferrets. He had no brothers or sisters but he had a whole family of ferrets instead. He had started off with a female, Jess, he called her. She was not much bigger than a rat when she arrived. Grandad brought her home. A friend at work had given him the young ferret for Tom. They put her in a cat’s carrying box and went out to the shed to see what they could use to make a cage for her.  Tom had helped his grandad to make things out of wood, but he had never actually made anything by himself.

“You can make the cage Tom,” said his Grandad.

“How will I do that? I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ll help you; look I found this ferret cage design in the library.”

That was the great thing about grandad – he always planned ahead. He always took the trouble to work things out beforehand.

Tom sort of knew that somewhere in the shed would be all the bits and pieces they needed. Grandad would have seen to that already. He must have known about the ferret having babies for several weeks. He liked to give other people nice surprises, but not problems. The nice surprise was for Tom. The careful planning was for him.

“Let’s have a look then, Grandad, you tell me what we need and I’ll see if I can find it.”

“Right lad, here we go. Two metres of four by two…” and so the list started.

Tom picked up all the bits as his grandad listed them. He could see he would have to do some sawing and measuring, but he knew he could do it with his grandad’s help.

That had been three years ago, now Tom had a row of cages in the garage. He had made them all. Each cage was home to one or two ferrets and each cage was better than the last. Grandad had brought him a ‘jack’ ferret on his fourteenth birthday and over time Jess and Joss, as the male was called, had produced several young.

Ferret boy

Tom loved his ferrets more than anything. He would take them to country fairs in the summer. Grandad would drive and Grandma always sent them off with a good picnic. That was Tom’s favourite time of year – summer holidays – ferret racing.

Tom started college just after he was 16. He had never been very interested in reading or writing. He was a bit worried about how he would get on. He had decided to study farming as that seemed to be the best subject for him.

The students were a mixed bunch. Some of them were very keen on their subject, but a lot of them didn’t seem to care what they did. They were often noisy and rude to each other. They jostled and pushed and generally tried to see if they could make someone else feel small so that they could feel big. Tom thought it was a very strange way to behave. It was not how he had been brought up. He had been brought up to listen to what other people had to say, to pay attention, not to interrupt and to show respect for other people.

During a farming lesson, the second one of the term, Tom and his group were in the calf sheds. They were stroking the calves and getting to know them. One of the calves was standing in a corner by himself. The others were skipping around and jostling each other rather like the students at break time. Tom walked quietly over to the lonely calf. Its ears were hanging down and its eyes were half closed. It had a dirty wet backside. Tom stroked its head gently.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked it quietly.

The calf lifted its head and looked at Tom as if to say, ‘I’m not feeling very well.’

Tom went back to the group and the teacher. He said he thought there was a poorly calf in the pen and that it should be separated from the others.

“Yeah, what do you know about it, you a farmer or summat?” said a large loutish boy.

“Let’s all go over and have a look at the calf,” said the teacher.

poorly calf drawing

The calf cowered in a corner. The teacher asked the large boy what he could see.

“Looks like a sheep to me, ha ha ha!” he shouted.

Some of the others laughed. The teacher turned to another boy.

“OK David, what do you think?”

“Looks alright to me – maybe it’s a bit shy, like Tom.”

More laughter.

“Mike, your dad’s a farmer, what do you think?” asked the teacher.

“I think Tom’s right. Its eyes are dull, it’s hanging its head, it’s scouring, that means it’s got upset insides – like us havin’ diarrhoea. Yeah, it’s poorly. We should take it away from the others.”

“Yeah, yeah, clever clogs!” said the large lad.

“ Alright, Damian,” said the teacher. It’s OK to get things wrong. That’s why you’re here – to learn. It’s also OK to get things right! Well done Tom and Mike. Very good.”

Mike walked beside Tom as they made their way back to College.

“You keep animals then?” Mike asked.

“Only little ones; ferrets. But they’re all the same, aren’t they?”

“That’s right,” said Mike, “You gotta look after them careful like, or they start dyin’ on you.”

Damian over heard the conversation.

“We lost a puppy last week. One day it was runnin’ around, two days later, dead! My mum was some upset,” he said.

“Didn’t it look sick or anything?” asked Tom.

“Well Mum said we should take it to the vet the day before. She said it looked poorly, but my dad said ‘don’t be so daft.’ So did I. Vets’ll con you out of thirty quid soon as look at you.”

“But now you’ve got no dog,” said Tom.

Damian looked sad. “No. I had it for my birthday. £350 it cost. It was a great little dog.” He shuffled away.

Mike and Tom looked at each other. Neither of them was surprised that Damian’s family had lost a puppy. People who don’t respect people are unlikely to respect animals. Mike shrugged his shoulders and the two boys walked back quietly, lost in their own thoughts.


In the first part of the story who do you think Tom had great respect for? Why?

  1. How did Tom’s grandad show that he respected people?
  2. Did Tom respect his own animals? How do you know?
  3. What do you think about making others feel bad so that you feel good? What is another word for that kind of behaviour?
  4. Do you think the teacher showed respect for all of his students?
  5. Does Damian’s behaviour make you want to respect him?
  6. Do you think he is looking for respect in any way?
  7. Did he and his dad respect the life of their puppy or did they just think about saving £30, although they had already spent £350.

8. Does the story remind you of anything in your life?