How did things go so awry in California for the domestic ferret? When the Department of Fish and Game (Now Fish and Wildlife) was created its mandate was to protect wildlife. In 1933 a statue entitled, “The Importation and Transportation of Live Wild Animals” was drafted. This statute banned a host of animals which were wild and not native to the state of California. The intent of the statute was clear: to avoid problems with non-native wildlife competing with native wildlife. Fortunately for existing ferret owners in California, neutered male ferrets were allowed to be possessed.
About a decade later when the Department of Fish and Wildlife reevaluated the statute, they changed the regulation and banned all species of ferrets. The Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to believe in this regulation and remain the cause of our problems today.
When the original statute was enacted in 1933, the domestic ferret was not a popular pet and its depiction as wildlife was an obvious oversight, as they have been domesticated for over 3,000 years. In the 1980’s, the Department of Fish and Wildlife had requests from ferret fanciers for a relaxation of the regulation which allowed for neutered males only. Some folks actually wanted to share their household with a spayed female. Typically, when a conflict regarding an un-neutered, non-permitted male ferret would wind up in front of a judge, the owner was ordered to neuter the ferret and the Department of Fish and Wildlife was ordered to issue a permit.
Rather than taking the time to examine the issue honestly, the Department of Fish and Wildlife began a campaign to eliminate the ferret entirely from the California. This was in clear violation of the State constitution which protects a citizen’s right to private property, specifically defined to include all domestic animals. So, the Department of Fish and Wildlife asked the California Department of Health Services, which shared the department’s bias towards the ferret to write a report supporting the department ban. The report’s authors later admitted to a New York vet that they believed they were specifically chosen to write a biased report because of their long established anti-ferret leanings.
Objectivity was never a consideration. To no one’s surprise, the report came out exactly as what was intended by Fish and Wildlife. It is prejudiced, it wildly misrepresents statistics on ferret bites and attempts to further a rabies scare which, given a grand total of 12-14 cases of rabid ferrets over a period of 300 years, can only be described as hysterical. Domestic dogs kill 17 people per year and account for hundreds of thousands of rabies cases. If the Department of Fish and Wildlife believe that owning a ferret poses a public risk that cannot be tolerated, all you dog owners in California had better be on guard for the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s intervention in your life.
This agency’s recalcitrance on the ferret issue has deeply hurt, offended and even criminalized honest citizens. It has also institutionalized the abuse of these companion animals in California. Because of this inappropriate law, criminal status was forced upon respectable California citizens who love and own ferrets. In the past, these beautiful animals were cruelly and needlessly killed each year by the orders of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Currently, most confiscated ferrets are deported out of state, and are no longer euthanized.