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consult your own veterinarian for specific advice concerning the medical
condition or treatment of your own pet or animal.
Asked Questions About the Legal Status of Ferrets
common questions people have about ferrets (aside from “Aren't ferrets
smelly?”) concern the legal status of ferrets as pets. This is an
important issue for people who own ferrets and live where it is illegal
to do so, and also for ferret lovers who work to protect ferret rights
everywhere and for people who are considering adopting a ferret.
Although, in my opinion, there are no valid reasons why ferrets should
be banned, it is illegal to own them as pets in some places. Here are
answers to some frequently asked questions about ferret laws and how
they affect people and pets:
opinion, most laws that prohibit ferrets as pets are based on ignorance
or misinformation. Several reasons are commonly given to explain why
ferrets have been declared illegal. These include:
- "Ferrets are wild animals."
This is untrue; ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of
- "There's no rabies shot for
ferrets, so they'll spread this disease." In fact, IMRAB-3 has
been USDA-approved for ferrets since 1991, and no human has ever
contracted rabies from a ferret.
- "Ferrets are dangerous, vicious
biters." According to statistics from the Centers for Disease
Control, a ferret is thousands of times less likely to bite than a
- "A feral ferret population could
destroy the environment." There are no feral domestic ferret (Mustela
putorius furo) populations in North America; the wild cousin to the
domestic ferret, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), is one
of the most endangered species in the world.
In the United States, as of the year 2000,
ferrets are legal in 48 states. California and Hawaii have declared
ferrets illegal in the entire state.
In general, local authorities (such as a city or county government) can
choose to follow state guidelines, or can provide a stricter law, but
cannot relax a law to be softer than a state law. This means individual
cities within California and Hawaii cannot permit ferrets, but
individual cities in the other 48 ferret-legal states can place further
restrictions on ferrets.
Many counties and cities in states where ferrets are legal have their
own laws banning or restricting ferrets. These cities include New York
City and Dallas. In addition, ferrets are banned on most military bases.
It is important to have a complete, current copy of your local county or
city animal control ordinance to determine the status of ferrets in your
area. Even if they are legal, there may be ownership restrictions. Just
because a ferret is sold in your city does not mean ferrets are legal to
own as pets!
Your best bet is other ferret owners—contact
a local ferret club or ferret shelter for a referral. There are also
state, national, and international listings of ferret vets, clubs,
shelters, and contacts offered by STAR*Ferrets (P.O. Box 1832,
Springfield, VA 22151-0832). You can access the Star*Ferrets databases
through Ferret Central's Web site:
You can also try visiting veterinarians and asking if they will see
ferrets (with a phone call, a vet may not admit to treating illegal
If ferrets are legal in your state but not in your city, it may be
easiest to go to the next town.
Overall, veterinarians are more concerned with animal health care than
with the laws. Just make sure your records are kept private!
Authorities must have a properly executed
search warrant to enter your home to look for ferrets. The exception is
if an officer saw you committing the offense (you were playing with your
ferret in the yard, or the ferret was seen through the window). If you
live in a place where ferrets are illegal (known as a ferret-free zone,
or FFZ), be extremely careful and private with your ferrets.
Be prepared in case the authorities do show up. Have on hand the
emergency numbers of a safe house or your local ferret club, shelter, or
ferret-rescue organization so that you can contact them for a pickup.
Also keep proof of current vaccinations, particularly rabies and
distemper, on hand.
There are state, national, and international listings of ferret vets,
clubs, shelters, and contacts offered by STAR*Ferrets (P.O. Box 1832,
Springfield, VA 22151-0832). You can access the Star*Ferrets databases
through Ferret Central's Web site: www.ferretcentral.org.
Consequences vary depending on your
location, the laws, and the law-enforcement authorities. You may be
asked to get rid of your ferret; the authorities have the right to come
to your home to enforce compliance, and most likely they will do so. You
may also be fined. In a worst-case scenario, authorities can seize your
ferrets and either send them out of the illegal area or even euthanize
Some authorities turn seized ferrets over to an organization such as the
California Domestic Ferret Association (CDFA); others don't. (It's
better if your ferrets are turned over to a group like CDFA, because it
is easier for these groups than it is for the authorities to find a new
home for the ferrets.)
If your ferrets are seized, you most likely will not have the
opportunity to move them to a legal home later. In fact, the owner is
often barred from even knowing where the ferrets are and is prohibited
from contacting the new caretaker. This is to prevent retrieval back
into an illegal zone. In California, if the ferrets are turned over to
the CDFA or some other rescue organization, the owner has given up all
rights to the ferret (which is best for the safety of the ferrets and
for the legal protection of the owner).
If an animal-control or a humane-society
officer shows up on your doorstep and wants to enter your home to search
for an illegal ferret, politely but firmly inform the officer that you
need to see a properly executed search warrant to legally protect all
parties. The warrant must have “probable cause” listed on it as the
reason the search is being conducted. A valid search warrant can be
obtained only from a judge or magistrate and must list your accuser.
Don't panic, slam the door in the officer's face, or get angry—any of
these actions could become the probable cause. If the officer needs to
leave to get a warrant, take the time to move your ferrets to a
If all the warrant paperwork is in order and you have been found to be
defying local laws, ask for a brief time period to move your ferrets to
a ferret-legal zone to avoid confiscation. (You will need proof that the
relocation is permanent.) If you know of no one in a ferret-legal zone
who can take your pets, have the emergency numbers of your local ferret
club, shelter, or ferret-rescue organization on hand, and contact them
for a pickup. These organizations may also have rescue permits that
allow them to transport ferrets.
If your ferrets are seized, ask for a written guarantee that they will
not be euthanized, and request that a licensed vet experienced in the
care of ferrets give them the proper medical attention. (In California,
two ferrets who were seized died because they weren't given their daily
insulinoma medication; the vet thought the medicine was vitamin drops.)
Provide proof of current vaccinations, particularly rabies and
distemper, and refer the authorities to the current American Veterinary
Medical Association (AVMA) guidelines, which recommend a 10-day
quarantine for a bite/scratch incident; do this even if your ferrets are
not accused of a bite or scratch, in case something happens at the
facility where your ferrets will be held.
The key to changing the ferret laws is to
understand the existing laws, educate people, and work in a focused way
for change. Ferret rights organizations are working hard to legalize
ferrets in places where they are illegal, and to change ferret
euthanasia laws to quarantine requirements in places where ferrets are
legal. Volunteers with ferret shelters ands: on the Web, at pet stores,
in elementary schools, at city council meetings, at humane societies,
with scouting organizations, and at training courses for animal-control
If you want to help at the local level, become very familiar with the
animal-control code for your city and county, the city council members,
and the procedures for rewriting codes. Make sure you follow all the
rules and procedures, or your case will be dismissed or ignored. Above
all, don't become hostile or angry; this will not further the cause of
ferrets. Work with as many other organizations as you can; don't try to
change laws alone!
At the state level, California has several ferret-legalization
organizations you can join, including Californians for Ferret
Legalization and the California Domestic Ferret Association.