In 1933, California developed a law which declared it was illegal to import or possess ferrets, along with other animals, within the state boundaries. That law remains on the books today.
To many ferret lovers and owners, the law is antiquated and needs to be, if not abolished, at least revised. California and Hawaii are the only two states in the US with a continued outlawing of the weasel-related domesticated species.
Pat Wright of La Mesa is the organizer of LegalizeFerrets.org. The Southern California man has dedicated his life to the little, furry creatures and the campaign of getting them legalized in the state. He has kept pet ferrets since the 1980’s, when they began to rise in popularity as pets, and wants others to legally be allowed to do the same.
“I wanted a more interactive pet than my cats, and I could not have a dog,” Wright said. “If my first little guy (ferret) hadn’t been so wonderful, I never would have devoted my life to them (ferrets).”
A source from Visalia, who did not want her identity revealed and will be known as CS, concurs. CS had not been around ferrets until she saw one at her future sister-in-law’s home, out of state.
“I loved it, thinking it was so cute,” she said.
Since then, CS and her husband have added six pet ferrets to their household. They also have their own human toddler.
“It’s like having a bunch of two-year-olds,” she said. “They don’t bark or bite, they are gentle, sweet and loving.”
They are also good with her daughter, and pose no threat, she said.
CS’ ferrets have their own room. This is for their own safety, she said. Ferrets are naturally curious and play with most anything. All of CS’ ferrets are spayed or neutered and they are never allowed outside, she said, nor does anyone see them other than close friends or family.
It is legal to purchase ferrets in Nevada, and CS, along with other local ferret owners, have purchased their pets in Las Vegas and brought them home.
CS says she has signed petitions for ferrets to become legal, but other than that has remained quiet, in order to protect her pets.
In 1988, Wright was part of Ferrets Unanimous, a grassroots group in San Diego County. He has avidly been reaching out to politicians and authorities since, trying to get the 80-plus-year-old law abolished.
“It’s so difficult to get a legislative sponsor,” he said.
Legislators just don’t take it as a serious issue, he added.
And so, the California Legalization Initiative For Ferrets (CLIFF) is in the works. About 90,000 signatures are required, Wright said, to get an initiative on the ballot for legalization. The plan and hope is to build momentum and get this done by early 2016.
The original law forbidding the transport and keeping of ferrets within the state was made to protect the state’s natural resources and public health.
“California animal importation restrictions to protect not only these wildlife resources, but also the State’s agricultural interests, the public’s health and safety, the wild populations of imported species, and the welfare of imported animals, themselves,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
Lydia House, operations manager of the Valley Oak SPCA, said she has not seen a ferret brought into the shelter for as long as she has worked there. If one were to be picked up or released to shelter staff, she would have to contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife, she said.
“Personally, I am behind their being legalized,” she said. “From what I have read, they are domesticated and wouldn’t be able to survive on their own, without someone helping them.”
Redwood Veterinary Hospital veterinarian Penny Fleischer agrees–especially since their owners have paid a lot of money for them, she said.
Since she began as a vet in the 1980’s, Fleischer has seen ferrets come in to the practice. It is not illegal for veterinarians to care for the animals or even hospitalize them as a temporary measure.
“I do have ferrets come in,” she said, “and when I first started practice I wasn’t even suppose to treat them.”
Ferrets, however, should be seen on a regular basis, she said. They should be vaccinated for and are very susceptible to canine distemper. They should also receive regular rabies vaccinations, with a ferret-approved, rabies vaccine. Fleischer also recommends that they be spayed or neutered for their own health.
Ferrets are susceptible to fleas. There is at least one type of flea treatment designated for use on ferrets on the label. Many pet stores carry ferret products including specialized food.
Ferrets are carnivorous, Fleischer said.
“They were used to hunt rodents and rabbits,” she said. “I can’t imagine anyone (locally) would have a problem with them hunting rodents.”
And, “they wouldn’t make it in the wild,” she said, “there are too many predators including dogs, cats, coyotes and hawks.”
Wright and LegalizeFerrets.org are planning on campaigning all around the state to get the word out and get signatures for CLIFF throughout this year.
Thursday, April 2 is National Ferret Day. For more information visit, www.legalizeferrets.org, or the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/LegalizeFerrets.org. For more information provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, visit www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/nuis_exo/ferret/