On Tuesday, the New York City Board of Health failed to overturn the 16 year ban on owning ferrets. The board vote was 3-2 in favor of repealing the ban, with five abstentions, but six votes were needed to overturn the law. The vote had been brought to the board, who was considering lifting the ban so long as the ferrets in question were sterilized and had rabies vaccinations. Two of the abstentions were from board members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is known to be sympathetic to animal welfare issues. However, for now, ferrets cannot legally be pets in New York City.
The city health department released a statement on the ruling, expressing their thanks to the board’s concern for the health and safety of New York residents. New Yorkers themselves were divided as to whether or not ferrets should be pets, with 39 percent for and 42 percent against, according to a recent poll. The only other areas in the United States that ban ferrets are California, Washington D.C., and Hawaii.
Animal rights advocates pushed to legalize ferret ownership in the advent of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term. The now-mayor in his campaign looked to ban carriage horses in Central Park, citing abuses and low quality living standards for the animals. However, he expressed support for today’s board’s ruling. The official ban of ferrets came courtesy of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R-New York) in 1999, who called ferret defenders “deranged”, further stating that “excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness.” He added the ferret to the list of prohibited pets in New York City, alongside zorilles and wolverines. Under Giuliani’s term, the Department of Health claimed ferrets were too unpredictable and vicious to be household pets. To date, many NYC pet stores still carry ferret food.
The American Veterinary Medicine Association estimates that there are only a little over 300,000 ferrets in the U.S., which is a fraction of the amount of dogs and cats. Ferret owners describe the little animals as playful, inquisitive, and well-suited to small NYC apartments. They are quiet, litter trainable, and able to be caged when alone. Ferrets have been domesticated for about 2,000 years and have become more popular in the past few decades. Only four ferret bites have been reported in New York City in the past six years.
Ferret enthusiast Veronica Nizama expressed her concern for the health of ferrets illicitly owned in the city, who may not be brought to a vet for medical treatment by their owners for fear of confiscation. She continued to state that most ferret owners were responsible with their furry friends, and wish they did not have to fear letting their pets outside briefly to bask in the sun and feel the grass between their paws. Ariel Jasper, ferret owner of Brooklyn, NY, expressed his severe disappointment with the New York State government. He attended the board hearing and claimed the board members ignored scientific data about the cleanliness of ferrets, as well as greatly exaggerated their potential to cause harm.
New York City Board of Health member Joel A. Forman, who voted in favor of repealing the ferret ban, admitted that ferrets seemed to be “singled out” in bans over other animals that could potentially do significant harm to young children. Mr. Giuliani commented on the decision, saying that board upheld the ban in a very different administration than his own. For now, it looks as though ferrets cannot be legally owned pets in New York City.
By Danielle Kral