Ferrets Inch Closer To Legalization In New York City

Continuing the process that began in early 2014, a hearing was held last week that advances the possibility of ferrets being legal to own in New York City.

two ferrets in hammock
© Courtesy Erin King
Ferrets, which are not rodents, have been domesticated for more than 2,000 years and are legal to own in every U.S. state except Hawaii and California. Some cities, such as New York City, ban them as pets.

January 21 was a big day for New York City ferrets. Ferret ownership has been banned in the five boroughs of NYC since 1999, but last week the question of whether or not ferret ownership should be legalized was considered at a hearing by the NYC Department of Health And Mental Hygiene. Three panel members heard the comments. 

This opportunity came about because of a young woman named Ariel Jasper who contacted the department in early 2014 to request that the ban on ferret ownership be reconsidered.

The end result of the hearing is that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will put together a presentation for the NYC Board of Health. The meeting for this is currently set for March, although no date and time has been finalized.

“I am not clear if the board will make a decision on the spot or if there will be a waiting period,” Jasper said. So, for now, all that can be done is to wait.

But what happened at the hearing last week?

“The hearing went well,” Jasper said. “We had about eight speakers.” 

One of those was David Gaines, director of the Legal and Legislative Affairs Committee at the American Ferret Association. Additionally, Jasper said she and two other members of the Ferret Club of NYC testified, and a resident of Queens also testified in favor of lifting the ban.

“We all asked for the ban to be lifted and for ferrets to be prohibited from sale in pet stores,” Jasper said. “We also had an opportunity to speak with the head of animal and pest control about ferrets and their needs, as well as what owners face in terms of veterinary costs and malpractice. It was a good hearing with some passionate speakers.”

Gaines noted that three other organizations were represented by: Jennifer Riley of the New York City Bar Association Animal Law Committee, Steve Gruber of the Mayor’s Alliance For NYC’s Animals and Joel Bhuiyan of NYCLASS.

But comments from the public weren’t limited to the speakers present. Jasper said more than 90 positive comments were made on the NYC Rules website during the public comment period. 

Additionally, Jasper said there were “uncounted emails, letters and faxes sent to the board. We also submitted the signatures from our online petition along with their comments.”

four attendees of the hearing
© Courtesy Ferret Club of NYC 
Ariel Jasper (far right) attended the hearing on January 21 in New York City, along with (left to right) Isis Vera, David Gaines and Veronica Nizama.

Gaines said he attended the hearing to speak in favor of ferrets being legalized. He said he was there to present facts, not be emotional. He noted that the AFA is a subject-matter expert regarding ferrets. He said that, combined, the AFA membership has centuries of experience with ferrets, so its statements about ferrets bear great weight. 

He submitted an 11-page document (including exhibits showing the ASPCA and HSUS recognize ferrets as companion pets) to the committee, but edited down his spoken comments to meet the required five-minute speaking time.

Although the representatives from the three other organizations at the hearing were not there specifically for the ferret issue, as the proposed rule also deals with other animal-related issues, all were fine with ferrets being legalized with the provision that they not be sold in pet stores. Additionally, Jennifer Riley of the NYC Bar Association also stipulated that ferrets should not be de-scented. The AFA also opposes de-scenting ferrets.

Only one person who spoke at the hearing was opposed to ferrets being legalized. Gaines said that this individual stated that he represented no organization and no organization represents him.

Jasper said that, “He spoke of ferrets in an inaccurate way and admitted he had no contact with ferrets.” 

For Gaines, it was all about who showed up. He was surprised that there was no media coverage of the hearing. 

Now that the hearing is over, the public comment section has ended. In March, the information will be presented to the NYC Board of Health at a public hearing. People can attend to watch, but there is no opportunity to speak. The date and time for this hearing is not yet set. 

For those who are interested, the videotape of the hearing should be uploaded to the NYC Rules website at some point in the future. Watch the NYC Rules Public Meetings Archive web page for the posting.

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
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