It bothers many of us to see our beloved ferrets in pet stores, looking adorable, often in less than ideal situations simply waiting for impulse buyers to swoop in and take them. We tend to feel helpless in these situations, and resigned to the fact that the animals are being kept in sawdust or not given food or appropriate care. There are, however, things that you can do to improve the ferret's condition and plight.
1) If possible, check the animal over to ensure it is healthy and insist on proper vet care if it is not. Most pet stores do not have staff knowledgeable enough to be able to tell whether the ferret is well. If you suspect that the animal is sickly, politely explain to the attendant, manager or kennel tech (depending on the store), that the animal may be sick and why you suspect this. Giving them valid information will make your claim more credible. Ask which vet the store uses and, if it is not a ferret-appropriate vet, offer the name of a near-by vet that treats ferrets.
2) Say no to saw dust. Because ferrets are small animals, most people that clean the cage assume that ferrets should be kept in sawdust. Explain that ferrets should be given warm, fuzzy blankets and beds, similar to what one would give to a puppy or kitten and most importantly, explain to the attendant that sawdust has been linked to respiratory infections and lung cancers in ferrets.
3) Offer up some toy suggestions - most attendants have no idea what toys are suitable for ferrets, so name a few - give them some examples.
4) If you notice an attendant doing something inappropriate such as feeding ferrets sweets or other foods which can cause health problems, politely inform that they are risking the animal's health. If they respond with "but they like it" or a similar response, follow up with a simple statement of fact such as "I am sure that dogs love chocolate as well, but that does not make it safe for the animal to eat it" - this may help the attendant realize that the animal enjoying the food does not mean that the food is safe for the animal.
5) If you are part of a ferret organization or club, or simply a ferret enthusiast, offer your contact information and make yourself available to answer any ferret-related questions that the employees may have. Offering to do a free information session for the staff may be a good idea and help with creating a ferret- educated pet store staff.
6) Rather than simply claiming to be a ferret expert, providing literature, business cards linking you with a ferret organization or bringing pamphlets containing ferret specific information will help give the employees context. Doing so can help transform you from "local crazy" to someone who may actually know something in the eyes of the employees.
7) ALWAYS be polite and respectful, no matter how frustrating the situation. The old saying "you can catch more flies with honey" lends itself well to this situation. Remember: most of these people are low level employees and are not deliberately harming the animals - they simply don't know any better. You will also gain more ground with the higher ups if you are polite and respectful; make it clear that your focus is simply to improve the situation of ferrets in their store and that your emphasis is on the health of the animal - after all, well adjusted, happy, healthy animals cost the store less and sell better than sick, unhappy and aggressive animals.