All contents ©California Domestic Ferret Association. Reprinted with permission.

The information herein does not necessarily reflect the views of the Ferrets Anonymous or its representatives, and has not been checked for accuracy. This information is provided solely as one possible source of legalization information for Californians and others who are interested in "the cause."

The History of Misrepresentation

AUTHOR: Jeanne Carley
FROM: Ferret Focus, Issue #5, December 1994
DATE: circa December 1994

How did things go so awry in California for the domestic ferret? How did it come to be that a household pet could be banned by a state agency here, even though it is legal in 46 [Ed.-- now 49!] other states? Why have newcomers had to give up their cherished companions before moving, or worse, been surprised by the statute banning their pets and forced to leave their ferrets to die at the state's agriculture intercept stations? On October 1st of this year, the California Domestic Ferret Association (CDFA) was given permission, after almost six months of negotiations with the Department of Food and Agriculture, to rescue these animals. We may not be able to save all of these animals but now we can at least try. How is it that the 100,000+ California residents owning these pets have little or no access to veterinary care, information on health, training, or socialization issues?

Most egregious, good citizens in this state are turned into criminals by their own Department of Fish and Game (DFG) simply because they chose one domestic pet over another. What is California's problem?

The sad story of the domestic ferret began a long time ago. When DFG was created, its mandate was wildlife. In the words of a historian investigating the issue, the mandate "did not contemplate state control over domestic animals." In 1933, a statute 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: conscientious officials of DFG wanted to avoid problems with nonnative wildlife competing with native wildlife.

Fortunately, for some ferret-loving Californians, much of the wildlife listed in the regulation, and the one domestic species, the ferret, were allowed to be possessed in male neutered form only. Unfortunately, DFG ultimately banned all species of ferrets, instead of excluding the domestic ferret from the wildlife ban. DFG's action exceeded their mandate and remains 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. Our research bears this out. Interestingly, at a recent meeting between CDFA and DFG, a legislative aide, middle management, and biologists from the department were asked the question, "What domestic animals do you regulate?" Their response was silence, blank stares, and, finally a weak "none." The recent decision of the state of New Hampshire to lift its ferret ban also bolsters our conviction that the inclusion of this animal in any Fish and Game regulation clearly oversteps agency authority. The decision was based in part on a memo supporting legalization, written by a New Hampshire Department of Fish & Game aide, which refers to the fact that no judge would view this animal as anything other than domestic.

Why is this logic lost on California's DFG? Why can't a similar administrative remedy take place in California? A look at the history of DFG is revealing.

In the mid-1980s, 1985-86 specifically, DFG heard requests from ferret fanciers for a relaxation of the regulation which allowed for neutered males only. Some 'brazen' folks actually wanted to share their household with a spayed female, and others questioned the permit system altogether. Typically, when a conflict regarding an unneutered, non-permitted male ferret would wind up in front of a judge, the owner was ordered to neuter the ferret and DFG was ordered to issue a permit.

Rather than taking the time to examine the issue honestly, DFG began a campaign to eliminate the ferret entirely from California. Never mind that in doing so the agency would ride roughshod over the rights of its citizens to own the domestic pet of their choice. Never mind that they would roll right over our State Constitution which protects citizens' rights to private property, specifically defined to include all domestic animals. Bureaucrats will be bureaucrats; this was DFG turf and they would fight to keep it.

So, DFG asked the California Department of Health Services (DHS), which shared DFG's historic bias toward the animal, to write a report supporting DFG's ban. The report's authors later admitted to a New York veterinarian 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 is exactly what was intended. It is prejudiced, 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. And since domestic dogs kill 17 people per year, and account for hundreds of thousands of rabies cases, DHS' premise that owning a ferret poses a public risk that cannot be tolerated means that all dog owners in California had better be on guard for DHS intervention.

Naively, CDFA believed at first that DFG was interested in the truth about the domestic ferret. In response to their purported concerns about feral populations, we did a survey of all 50 state Departments of Fish and Game and asked each for evidence of any feral populations of domestic ferrets. In every case (including California), the answer was "no evidence." By comparison, the same question concerning cats or dogs would yield much different results.

Next, since DFG claimed that domestic ferrets were a threat to agriculture, we conducted a survey of all 50 Departments of Agriculture. We received a uniform response to our question of whether domestic ferrets threatened agriculture: "no."

DFG then claimed that poultry interests were endangered, so we did a poultry study. Still no evidence of problems. [Ed.--We have a liaison to the poultry industry, Val Petrusich, to specifically refute DFG's claims on this subject.]

DFG's current sanctuary is rabies. DFG claims that an effective rabies vaccine does not exist even though a ferret vaccine exceeding the efficacy of dog and cat vaccines has been developed by Rhone-Merieux and is universally approved for use. Rhone-Merieux has even warned DFG to cease and desist slandering its product.

Evidence from an article in The Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, based on statistics from the Center For Disease Control, show that domestic dogs are 200 times more likely to bite and seriously injure a child than are domestic ferrets. This information has been supplied to both DFG and DHS but, like the all of the above information, it has fallen on deaf ears.

We've even looked into the impact of the domestic ferret on humane resources. We found that the impact of the domestic ferret on humane agencies nationwide is insignificant. In fact, our research shows that, of the almost 50 humane agencies surveyed, the average number of ferrets seen per year at these shelters is less than seven! So, from almost every point of view, with every concern of DFG and DHS in mind, the truth is that, as compared to dogs and cats, DFG should consider the domestic ferret the ideal pet. That is the ultimate irony of our problem here in California.

This agency's recalcitrance on the ferret issue has deeply hurt, offended and criminalized honest citizens. It has also institutionalized the abuse of this companion animal in California. While CDFA has a clearing house permit to save these pets, we often hear that we weren't notified about a confiscated animal and the innocent creature was put to death. Even in those more fortunate cases, tragedy persists.

Imagine the distress of an owner of a 5-year old ferret seized by DFG (the domestic ferret's life span is 6-9 years). CDFA steps in to save that animal's life by shipping it out of state, but no one will love that pet as much as the owner who raised it.

Ferret lovers, like all animal lovers, see the last few years they have with their pets as precious. To separate that animal from the one person, or family, who knows its habits and preferences, the people with whom that animal has a loving history, and is clearly best to entrust the painful decisions of old age that all animal lovers face, is a hardship for the ferret as well as its owners.

To those of you who would say, "This is not my issue," think again. To allow unelected bureaucrats, hungry for power and not answerable to the public, to set policy in an arena not their own, is very dangerous because that appetite is insatiable. If it is not your issue today, it will be tomorrow.

This issue will not disappear or go away. It is representative of a greater and more pervasive concern: excessive, even vengeful, government intrusion into our lives.

   
 
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