Past Legalization Efforts
Council Member Kathyrn Freed's Bill to Legalize Ferrets
Kathryn Freed's Pro-Ferret testimony at the DOH hearings in June 1999





June 29, 1999


Thank you for the opportunity of speaking before you today. I am here to testify against the proposal put forth by the Department of Health to have the Board of Health approve a change to the Health Code that would list the animals prohibited in the City of New York. This proposal, in addition, would give the Commissioner of Health the right to add to such a list at his/her discretion without a public hearing. It calls for granting any Health Department official the authority to seize such animals. And, finally, while the owner of a seized animal would be granted the right to request a hearing with respect to whether the animal is a prohibited animal and its appropriate disposition within three business days, there is no guarantee that such a request would be granted.

On Friday, June 25, 1999, I submitted legislation to the New York City Council that would regulate the possession, use, and sale of ferrets in New York City and thereby extend the protection to ferrets currently enjoyed by other domesticated animals such as dogs and cats. I believe that a law providing for the regulation of pet ferrets is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of ferrets and City residents.

While pet ferrets –unlike rats or boa constrictors– are universally classified as domesticated animals, the Department of Health does not distinguish them from the wild, or black ferret, which is relatively rare. New York City currently prohibits keeping animals of a "wild" species, which is defined as "ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm" except under certain conditions in captivity. Pet ferrets do not fall into any of these categories. Ferret bites are rare and the rate of bites, in fact, is much lower than that of both dogs and cats. The danger of ferret bites, even among small children, is grossly overstated. Since there are no reliable data to indicate how many ferrets are owned, calculation of rates of injury inflicted by ferrets and comparison of such rates of injury inflicted by other domesticated animals is impossible to quantify. As with other domesticated animals, pet ferrets should be vaccinated and spayed or neutered both for their protection and for that of their human "companions."

Pet ferrets are no more of a danger to children than pet dogs or cats if the animal is properly socialized. In fact, just this morning, Martha Stewart had a long segment on her show about appropriate pets for children. The top three choices were dogs, cats, and ferrets for their responsiveness and ability to be trained. Of course, extremely young children should not be left unattended near any family pet.

Conferring to the Commissioner of Health the exclusive and unencumbered power to add to the list of prohibited animals in New York City without consulting the Board of Health or complying with the rulemaking of the City Administrative Procedures Act obviates the City Charter. So does the power conferred on Departmental officials to seize animals without mandating a hearing. Neither function is laid down in the City Charter or by legislative act. In addition, it is unconstitutional to take away the right to due process for the owner/companion of pet ferrets.

Finally, ferrets are legal in every other county of New York State. It seems arbitrary that they should now be targeted for persecution in New York City. In fact, judging from the abundance of ferret food and other supplies at pet stores it seems plausible that there are thousands of ferrets living among us. Enforcing the new prohibition would be a massive and wasteful effort for the authorities and the legal system.

At your public hearing of June 3, 1999, you heard from the ASPCA, the Humane Society of New York, and the Animal Medical Center, who urged you to vote down this ill-conceived proposal. I urge you to do the same. Thank you for your time and attention.



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