All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Are Ferrets Illegal?

Dear  Marie:
I have always been interested in ferrets and have been considering adopting one; however, I have been told that they are illegal to own in California.  Is this true?  If so, why?
Paula, Huntington Beach


Dear Paula,
As a Native Californian, I feel almost embarrassed that my state is so misinformed and misguided when it comes to ferrets...yes, it is true; ferrets are illegal in California.  There are a number of reasons for this...all of them unfounded.   But fear, lack of knowledge, and old wives’ tales keep our elected officials from legalizing an animal that has been domesticated longer than the house cat.  (Please note:  Hawaii is the only other state that prohibits ferrets.)

Way back in California’s history, there were a number of poultry farms.  It was commonly believed that if domesticated ferrets escaped, they would form wild colonies and devastate the poultry industry.  The prevailing wisdom regarding the animal was that it had an insatiable appetite for eggs and chicks and that it would have no problem searching for and discovering poultry ranches.

When the chicken farms were replaced by housing tracts and shopping malls, the laws regarding pet ferrets were not changed.  What did change was the  new “potential victim” of the vilified ferret: endangered and threatened indigenous birds.   Again, it was believed that wild ferret populations would seek out nests and devour eggs on a quest to satisfy their rumored insatiable appetite. 

In depth research has demonstrated that pet ferrets, being domesticated animals, cannot survive more than a short time in the wild.  Several recent U.S. surveys have shown conclusively that there are no feral colonies in any state.  This information has been supplied to lawmakers time and time again in the hopes of legalizing ferrets.  Unfortunately, another unfounded charge enters the picture...aggression. 

According to public myth, ferrets will attack babies and small children.  The fact of the matter is that ferrets make safer pets than dogs.  Statistically, dogs are over 200 times more likely to bite than ferrets.   But the bottom line when it comes to children and pets...any pet...is that parental supervision is an absolute requirement. 

You might think that the argument against maintaining ferrets would end there.  It doesn’t.  Another unsupported claim is that ferrets will spread rabies.  To date, there have been no human rabies cases resulting from contact with an infected ferret.  Additionally, an approved rabies vaccine for pet ferrets has been available since 1990.  The vaccine meets all the licensing requirements of the U.S.D.A.

So, why are ferrets illegal?  Well, despite all the evidence presented to lawmakers, old fears are hard to lose.   As a result, many otherwise law-abiding, ferret-loving Californians are “law breakers.”   If you are interested in helping to change current California Law regarding ferrets, may I suggest contacting the Ferrets Anonymous at http://www.ferretsanonymous.com/archives/legal/misrepresentation.html.  They can advise you about how to begin a letter writing campaign and how to contact you state representatives.

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