Do you live in a "ferret-free zone"?
Much to the chagrin of thousands of animal lovers, keeping a ferret as a pet is illegal in many locales in the United States. While fewer and fewer "ferret-free zones" exist now that the animal is becoming more well known and better understood, it's possible that where you live it may be against the law to be a ferret Pet Parent.
Currently, no one living in California, Hawaii, or the District of Columbia may legally have a ferret. In addition, several other states require a permit or license to keep a ferret, and many municipalities across the nation either prohibit or regulate the possession of ferrets.
Misconceptions and mistaken identity
According to ferret advocates, the reasons used to justify making ferrets illegal in certain areas are based on misinformation. One common misconception, for example, is that ferrets are considered wild animals--in the same category as raccoons and skunks. The truth is, ferrets are a domestic species, having been domesticated for at least 2,500 years.
This confusion may stem from the fact that the various members of the weasel family--whether wild members, such as minks and polecats, or mild members, such as the ferret--bear a strong physical resemblance. Domestic ferrets also have been confused with the North American Black-Footed Ferret, a wild, endangered, but only distantly related relative.
Another popular misconception is that ferrets pose a serious threat of rabies. Studies, however, indicate that it's very difficult for a ferret to catch rabies; even when this happens, the animal usually dies quickly, thus preventing any spread of the disease. And in the rare event that a rabid ferret should bite a human, a ferret rabies vaccine exists that has been shown to be effective.
A third common reason for banning ferrets is the belief that escaped pets will form feral packs and threaten livestock or native wildlife. Although the domestic ferret's wild cousin, the polecat, may pose such a threat, there are no confirmed cases of feral ferrets in this country.
Unlike cats or dogs, ferrets are ill equipped to survive for long on their own. They are generally believed to be descended from the European polecat, originally used as a hunting animal to catch rabbits and rodents. But these ancestors of today's pet ferret weren't trained to kill the prey; rather, they flushed the prey out of hiding for the farmers or hunters to kill. Even the ferret's forerunner lacked the predatory skills to survive in the wild.
Are ferrets legal where you live?
If you're unsure about the legal status of being a ferret Pet Parent where you live, you can find out by calling the local wildlife or fish and game department, a humane society, or a veterinarian.
Be aware that some pet stores in ferret-free zones sell these animals. Jjust because a ferret is for sale, however, doesn't make it legal to get one. Note also that if you move to a ferret-free zone, you're not legally entitled to bring a ferret with you, no matter how long the animal may have been in your Pet Family.
Ferret expert Katie Fritz has compiled the following list of ferret-free zones, current as of April 1999. Be sure to confirm the legal status in your area--this listing is not complete, and the laws also may have changed.
Ferrets are illegal in the following places (listed by state or province):
- Minnesota: Bloomington and Burnsville
- Ohio: Columbus
- Oklahoma: Tulsa
- Ontario, Canada: London, York, and East York
- Puerto Rico
- Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth, and Beaumont
- Washington, D.C.
Restrictions may apply in the following places (listed by state):
- Illinois: a free permit is required
- Minnesota: St. Paul requires a one-time fee of $25
- New Jersey: a permit of $10 per year is required
- Rhode Island: a permit of $10 per year is required
- South Carolina: it's legal to own a ferret, but illegal to sell one
Currently, a group called Californians for Ferret Legalization is working hard to overturn the anti-ferret regulations in that state. If ferrets are banned from your area, consider how you can help those who make the laws to understand why a ferret makes a safe and beloved pet ... and why no Pet Family should be deprived the company of this wonderful animal!
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