Ferret Owners Fight Stigma As They Push For Ban Reversal

January 2, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

For 15 years, ever since Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani shared his disgust for ferrets and implied their owners were mentally ill in a now-infamous radio exchange, ferret owners in New York City have been battling a stigma enforced by policy. Ferrets, lumped by Guiliani’s administration in the same category as lions or tigers, were said to pose a threat to children and were banned in 1999. They are not banned in most states, however, including New York. In May, under the gaze of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene called to lift the citywide ban, provided that owners met certain requirements. It’s a topic that the city has considered before, however.

While ferret owners hope the renewed discussions will lift existing stigmas, the New York Times’s account of a recent meeting between members of the Board of Health illustrates how conflicted members over the issue:

“The issue of ferrets has come before the board several times during my tenure,” said one board member, Dr. Lynne D. Richardson, with some weariness. “I’m trying to understand why this is something we would support. What’s the upside?”

Mario Merlino, an assistant health commissioner, responded that rabies vaccines for ferrets were now much more effective than they had been in the past, and also that, under the proposal, ferrets would be sterilized and thus unable to produce baby ferrets.

But the board peppered him with anxious questions: Aren’t they prone to biting children? Isn’t there a risk they could squeeze into tiny crevices in people’s houses and sneak outside, forming feral ferret colonies in the streets?

No, and no, Mr. Merlino responded. At least as far as he knew.

He seemed underwhelmed by the proposal himself, repeatedly mentioning the lack of data on various issues and at one point saying that the health department was “recommending that we open it up for public comment” rather than “arguing for it so much.”

The tiny carnivorous creatures are a distant cousin of the weasel, and proponents of the ban argue that they are dangerous for young children. But, according to New York Ferrets’s Ariel Jasper, “The notion that they bite — that’s a really outdated view.” Jasper explained to the Times, “You’re more likely to be bitten by a Yorkie than by a ferret.”

Ferret lovers are welcome to attend the public hearing on the proposal, set for January 21.

(Photo: Selbe B)