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New York ferret fans find foothold as city reconsiders ban

By Marina Carver, CNN
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A ferret fan petitioned New York's Heath Department to reconsider ban on animal
  • The weasel cousin is unfairly maligned in the health code, Ariel Jasper says
  • Ferrets as pets were banned under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1999
  • The prohibition sparked infamous radio exchange between mayor, caller

(CNN) -- Ferrets could be making a comeback in the Big Apple.

The furry, four-legged animal -- long absent from the city -- could weasel its way back into the hearts of New Yorkers based on a petition submitted to the Department of Health asking it to repeal the city's 15-year ban on ferrets as pets.

The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Wednesday that it is considering an amendment to the Health Code.

Ariel Jasper, a Brooklyn College master's student, said she drafted the petition in January because she has always loved ferrets and wants to correct the current Health Code, which she claims contains many inaccuracies about ferrets.

"I looked into the Health Code and I saw that they were labeled as wild, dangerous animals, and that confused me because ferrets have been domesticated for over 2,000 years," Jasper told CNN. "They were actually domesticated before the cat," Jasper said.

Owning a ferret is legal in 48 states, including in the remainder of New York state, she added.

Jasper said that as part of her petition, she recommended mandatory rabies vaccinations for the animals, spaying and neutering, leash laws, as well as micro-chipping requirements so that they can be tracked if anyone gets rid of them.

The city's ban on ferrets dates back to June 1999 under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The Health Department said in its announcement that it would be irresponsible from a public safety perspective to allow a ferret to be kept as a pet in New York City, citing their unpredictable behavior and reports that they are prone to attacking humans.

That same year, Giuliani had a famous dust-up with a ferret lover during his "Live From City Hall" radio show.

"There's something deranged about you," Giuliani said to caller and ferret advocate David Guthartz. "The excessive concern that you have for ferrets is something you should examine with a therapist."

The Humane Society calls ferrets "cute and inquisitive" and lists them as belonging to a family of animals that includes weasels and minks -- not rodents. And the ASPCA has them on a list of species suitable as companion animals along with dogs, cats and birds.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg upheld his predecessor's ferret ban, but current Mayor Bill de Blasio has not spoken about the issue. But he has already been labeled an animal lover by some after his efforts to remove Central Park carriage horses from their "congested, urban setting."

CNN's attempts to reach de Blasio Wednesday went unanswered.

"I think there are more important things for the mayor to focus on," resident Shard Pierre told CNN. "There's income distribution problems, rent problems, crime, bigger issues on the agenda than to worry about whether or not people are allowed to own ferrets."

"I'm an animal lover so if the owner of these ferrets will give them a great life and great experience in this city then I'm all for it," resident Francisco Aliwalas said. "But there greater things in the city that need to be addressed than little furry elongated creatures scurrying along hardwood floors of apartments."

The Health Department, led by de Blasio appointee Dr. Mary T. Bassett, said that a public hearing and comment period will be held in the fall, followed by a Board of Health vote.

CNN's Haimy Assefa, Chris Welch, Adam Reiss and Jason Carroll contributed to this report.

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