When thinking about ferrets and the law, few have to think about what trouble their ferret got into. Though there has been a lawsuit or two involving bites and yard or toy damage. But when considering the choice to invite one of these fascinating creatures into your home, there are still a few things worth knowing.
Ferrets as pets are perfectly legal in the U.S. and many other countries. But today they’re forbidden in Hawaii and California. Both those states have special circumstances that motivate them to treat the situation a little differently. As a series of islands, Hawaii has to think more carefully about the spread or balance of species on a confined area. California is… well, California is just different.
Australia made owning ferrets illegal some time ago. After their experiences with imported rabbits and other species, they’ve become much more careful about any kind of non-native animal. New Zealand has similar concerns.
But even in the 48 U.S. states where ferret ownership is legal, many counties require permits. New York City and Dallas are two major cities that have their own regulations regarding ferret ownership, for example.
In those areas where ferrets are not specifically mentioned, they are legal by default. Where permits are required, they are typically relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain. Proof of a rabies vaccination is a common requirement.
In some cases, a tag is mandatory when the ferret is outside on a leash. In some areas, a one-license per household rule applies. Only one license is required, no matter how many ferrets you have. Others restrict the number of ferrets allowed in a single home. In some locales, spaying or neutering is mandated.
Among some people, ferrets are still mistakenly seen as wild animals and special regulations exist to curb ownership. They view them more like skunks or raccoons than cats. Many believe that rabies is a common disease among ferrets, even though it’s extremely rare. When it does occur, most will die before they are able to infect a human.
In some instances, lawmakers believe escaped ferrets will form groups that can threaten other domestic animals, such as cats or livestock. This has never happened, and ferrets aren’t the type of animal to do this. Ferrets die in the wild. They don’t tolerate temperature extremes well and they have a poor ability to forage for food. They will almost certainly suffer from dehydration and die quickly.
Still, myths persist despite the active education efforts of many organizations.
The only wise response to that is to research the laws in your area. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) classified ferrets as domestic animals as far back as January 1996 in a revision of the Title 9 Code. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) also recognizes ferrets as domestic.
Changing the laws, while an appropriate effort, takes a long time. Protect yourself by being sure what the law requires or allows in your town. You don’t want to lose your friend because of ignorance on the part of bureaucrats.