After gaining ground as pets in much of the U.S., ferrets’ reputation as wild animals still makes it illegal at home in its biggest city.
New York City’s Board of Health decided Tuesday to maintain a long-standing ban on keeping the animals. Crestfallen ferret fans said the city was acting on overinflated, unfair fears of animals that owners praise as playful, inquisitive pets suitable for apartment life: small, quiet, litter-trainable and able to be caged when no one’s home.
“Why are we prohibiting an animal that has been domesticated?” asked Ariel Jasper, a New York ferret enthusiast. “New Yorkers are afraid of 2-pound ferrets.”
But some health board members noted that ferret bites elsewhere have caused serious injuries to small children. Opponents also suggested the agile creatures could slip through apartment building crevices and conduits and get loose.
“I have to say that, at this point, I’m not at all convinced that it wouldn’t be a substantial health risk to allow ferret ownership in New York City,” said board member Dr. Lynn Richardson.
Related to weasels, ferrets have gained popularity as pets in recent decades, with about 334,000 households nationwide owning them.
Ferrets are legal in the rest of New York state, but they’ve been a furry flashpoint in the city. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani once told an ardent ferret aficionado, “This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness.”
The city has long defined ferrets as wild animals and generally prohibited them. Yet city pet stores stock ferret food, and Health Department staffers said four ferret bites have been reported in New York City from 2008 to 2014.
Mayor Bill de Blasio later told reporters the decision was up to the board and he was comfortable with its judgment.