Police in Darby Borough, Pa., reported on Friday that almost one quarter of a one-month-old infant’s face had been chewed off by her family’s three pet ferrets. The small mammals gained access to the baby after escaping from their cloth cage.
According to Police Chief Robert Smythe, the girl was secured in her car seat at the family home when the attack occurred, which is believed to have been at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. The car seat had been left on the floor by the infant’s mother, Jessica Benales, who then went upstairs to use the bathroom. The baby’s father, Burnie Fraime, was upstairs sleeping at the time.
Benales and Fraime say that upon hearing the screams of the baby, they both rushed downstairs. Neither could say definitively how much time had passed between leaving the baby alone downstairs and hearing the screams. The ferrets scampered away from the infant when Benales approached.
In an interview with WPVI-TV, Fraime said that when he went downstairs to pick up his baby, he saw that “half the face was messed up from the ferret.” He phoned 911 immediately.
Smythe said the ferrets had chewed off the child’s upper lip and nose and part of her cheek. The chief , who has been a police officer for 45 years, said the infant’s injuries were “the most horrific thing I’ve seen happen to a child.”
The animals were euthanized and then tested to determine if any of the three had rabies. The baby had surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and it is believed that she will need to undergo still more operations. She is currently listed in stable condition and requires assistance to breathe.
Although the family has very little money and lives far below the poverty line, they were described as “very nice and loving” by a neighbor. Smythe said that three agencies, including the Delaware County Child & Youth Services, have been keeping tabs on the family. In addition to the baby, four other children under the age of five, all of whom have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities, live in what the chief described as filthy conditions. The children will remain with their grandparents while Child & Youth Services investigates the conditions of the home.
In addition to the ferrets, the family had two dogs, six cats and two turtles, all of which lived inside of the home. Smythe added that the house is teeming with mites or fleas, and although the only food in the house was juice, peanut butter and canned cranberries, there was ample food for the pets. Smythe believes that neither Benales nor Fraime are “bad parents,” saying that “it’s just that the children are not being taken care of.”
The American Ferret Association’s website says that ferrets who are well-trained and healthy generally will not bite, but they do require training to teach them what they should and should not do. According to the association, although children and ferrets do well together, smaller children should not be left unattended with them or with any other animal. Ferrets are curious animals, says the association, and will want to check out a new baby. If the infant cries or otherwise startles the ferret, it could bite.
Police have asked the district attorney of Delaware County to file charges against the parents of the infant. The DA is considering the recommendation.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo by Poppy – License