Back in 1983 Donald Katz wrote about the legendary ferret-legger Reg Mellor for Outside. It was hilarious and bizarre and hilarious because it was a story about a man who stuck ferrets down his pants for sustained periods of time—and that’s it. That’s the game of ferret legging: you stick a voracious land-creature down your pants, seal the bottoms, and see how long you can last while the ferret—described by Katz as "a shark of the land," "a piranha with feet," "fur-coated evil," and "the only four-legged creature in existence that kills just for kicks"—tries to claw/eat/burrow its way out.
At the time of Katz’s writing, Mellor held the world record of 5 hours and 26 minutes, which presumably could’ve been way longer had Mellor not gotten bored of having what is basically a furry snake/pitbull down his pants for more than five hours. The record was broken by retired English schoolteacher Frank Bartlett in 2010. Bartlett, however, took a number of precautions, which abated much of the ferociousness of the ferret, making it easier to, um, have a ferret in his pants. “They like nothing better than a dark warm tunnel,” said Barlett, of the ferret he used. “They usually curl up and fall asleep once they find themselves safe.” This doesn’t match up with the “any ferret'll eat yer eyes out” creatures described by Mellor, but it’s also way more humane. Then again, with anything remotely “humane,” the Reg Mellor story doesn’t exist.
(Still, even when you stick tranquil ferrets down your pants, weird things happen. According to the story: “Trousers had to be belted at the waist and tied at the ankles and male entrants ‘whose families are not yet complete,’ had to have written permission from their partner.”)
There’s now a charity in England, the sole purpose of which is to look out for, promote, and maintain the safety of the ferret. The group, FERT (Ferret Education & Research Trust), is obviously anti-ferret-legging. And, it’s hard to blame them because sticking an animal down a human being’s pants for what can be hours on end is basically the 180-degree opposite of “humane.” In a statement, they said:
"It is with regret that we still hear that people consider ferret-legging to still be considered a 'sport' as the dark history of animal abuse and suffering which has been inflicted make the actions of the person performing the act to be both unsavoury, unnecessary and also cruel. In past-times it would be common that the ferret would be mutilated to the point of having teeth removed, lips sewn shut, claws pulled out and even the ferret clubbed to the point of unconsciousness to ensure the human is put at the least risk whilst the animal (clearly scared and panicked) attempts to escape the confines where it is held."
"As mentioned we have worked with the legal authorities in the U.K. over past years where instances have arisen that reported educated people (in one instance an ex-headteacher) felt it necessary to try and resurrect this heinous activity; in some cases they have even cited raising awareness to 'animal welfare' as a reason for undertaking the ferret-legging event whilst completely oblivious that their actions only raise unwanted attention to this and in some cases establish kudos for the person undertaking the action."
Ferret legging began somewhere in Great Britain, where only the rich were allowed to openly own ferrets and the poor had to hide the illegal animals in their pants, but it gained some cult popularity in the 1970s with miners like Reg Mellor. Ferret legging never really caught on—outside of Katz’s story and a section in Rick Reilly’s book Sports From Hell: My Search for the World’s Dumbest Competition—and it seems to be all but gone, as far as organized competitions go. Starting in 2003, the annual Richmond (Virginia) Celtic Festival hosted a ferret-legging competition through 2009. Also known as the “Meadow Highland Games,” ferret legging isn’t listed as a competition for the event’s 2010 and 2011 editions. The event-holder of the Meadow Highland Games has since filed for bankruptcy.
However, there will be a new event this year, the Central Virginia Celtic Festival, and event organizer Stokes McCune said that they’re hoping to include ferret legging as an attraction. “If we can get someone willing to do it,” McCune said, “we’d be more than happy to.”
Reg Mellor would be 101 years old today, but according to the man in this video, history’s preeminent ferret-legger has passed on. Rest in peace, you crazy, beautiful man.
National Ferret Day is May 5.
READ: “The King of the Ferret Leggers,” Donald Katz