Ferret, Outlaw

A ban against the popular pet was upheld in New York City, inciting unusual outrage.

Say what you will about Rudy Giuliani's ever-growing chapbook of incendiary sayings, but America's Mayor might have had his finest (or least compassionate) hour when he squared off against a ferret enthusiast on his weekly radio show during his time in office.

When a caller revealed that he was an advocate taking aim at Giuliani's ferret ban, which went into place in 1999, the mayor excoriated him for "being deranged" and suggested he seek help. Giuliani didn't stop there: "This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness." (Years later, the legendary exchange inspired this animated rendering from Slate.)

The New York City Board of Health upheld the ferret ban on Tuesday, which keeps the city at odds with New York State along with much of the country, where ferrets remain beloved, albeit high-maintenance, pets. (Hawaii and California still maintain statewide bans along with a handful of smaller communities.)

“We heard about the unique skeletal structure of ferrets that allows them to squeeze through very small crevices,” Board of Health member Lynne Richardson explained to the New York Post. The fear of escape, coupled with the improbable rise of feral colonies, was enough to keep the board from overturning the ban.

In New York, advocates who had once been heartened by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's feint toward ending ferret prohibition now registered their disapproval. “I don’t think I’ve ever been let down by my government this much," one activist told The New York Times. "We are responsible pet owners, and we are begging to be able to take our pets to the vet without fear," pleaded a ferret owner, "or even just go outside and let them feel the sun or the grass between their paws."

The political reverberations of the ban are surprisingly intense. Ferret owners in Washington, D.C., where a ban remains intact, but loosely enforced, hoped the New York ruling might pave the way for the mammals to finally burrow out of the shadows. “If they legalize ferrets in New York, D.C. can’t be far behind,” one ferret fancier told The Washington Post.

There is an adage that goes "A dog or a cat may steal your heart, but a ferret will steal your socks." And though many continue to warn of the polecats' proclivity for purloining, it takes a very cold heart to not be warmed by this:

The final word, of course, goes to David Guthartz, the man with the pet passion, who so nobly called in to Rudy Giuliani's radio show in 1999. In a Facebook post, Guthartz seemed to call for the members of New York City Health Board to be arrested:

Well no surprise with the NYC Department of Health upholding their illegal ban on ferrets today. How can we expect government to get things right for animals at all when they can't get it right for humans? Well now it's time to get tough on them. Since they are violating State law, it's time to treat them like the criminals they are. It time for charges to be brought against them. Let them be arrested and face a judge.