ENCINITAS — Of all the requests that the Encinitas City Council has fielded at recent meetings, the plea from ferret lovers on Nov. 28 to help make ferrets legal in California stood out for its peculiarity and earnestness.
Supporters of the furry mammals arrived at City Hall dressed in T-shirts featuring a surfing ferret and an entreaty to “make Encinitas ferret friendly.” Their purpose was twofold: to ask City Council for a resolution of support and to forge alliances with Tasha Boerner Horvath, the outgoing councilwoman recently sworn-in as a California State Assembly member.
California and Hawaii are the only two states in the nation where residents cannot keep ferrets as household pets. According to its website, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife bans ferrets and other non-native animals like gerbils and prairie dogs in order to “protect public health and safety, agriculture, wildlife and natural resources.”
The fear is that if pet ferrets escaped or were released, they could establish wild populations that would negatively impact native animals and plants.
But longtime Encinitas resident and business owner Marshall Crawford told the City Council, “Ferrets are very misunderstood by the state of California because they are not wild, feral animals. Domesticated ferrets literally would die if let out into the wild. They have no way of foraging for their own food.”
Pat Wright, who organized the pro-ferret contingent at Encinitas City Hall, thinks the ban is unfair. He has tried to gain support for legalization by asking individual cities to officially proclaim that the state law should be overturned. Wright successfully advocated for such a resolution from the La Mesa City Council.
He might have found a friend in Encinitas, too, because on Nov. 28 Councilman Tony Kranz made a motion, seconded by Boerner Horvath, to place a resolution in support of ferret legalization on a future City Council agenda. The exact date when it will be presented has not yet been determined.
Development Services Director Brenda Wisneski will draft the resolution — looking at other resolutions from cities like La Mesa as examples — according to Lois Yum, city management analyst and public information officer. The resolution will then require a council vote.
In February, Wright’s pleas to the Encinitas City Council were met with a chillier reception. He told the council on Nov. 28 that Boerner Horvath had invited him back, for what he recalled as his fourth appearance. Wright and others expressed hope that Boerner Horvath would use her new position at the Assembly to introduce a pro-ferret bill. For while city resolutions send a message, only state-level legislators have the actual power to change the law. Boerner Horvath could not be reached for comment.
Despite the ban, which dates to the 1930s, many Californians keep the pets illegally. In fact, pet-industry data indicate that about one-fourth of total spending on ferret food and supplies occurs in California, according to various news sources.
Cardiff resident Susan Pelletier shared at the Encinitas meeting, “I have always had animals all my life — dogs, cats, guinea pigs, you name it. By far, my little ferret was my heart.” Pelletier described her ferret, who passed away a few years ago, as “a little prima donna” and elaborated, “If you didn’t fix her breakfast just the right way, she wouldn’t eat.”
Pelletier said her ferret would have been unable to survive in the wild, leading her to believe that domesticated ferrets would not cause harm to an ecosystem that they were incapable of adapting to.
Several attempts have been made to legalize pet ferrets in California. In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill intended to decriminalize ferret ownership. Schwarzenegger told the California State Senate in his veto message that he loved ferrets and had co-starred with one in “Kindergarten Cop,” but he did not feel comfortable authorizing such a law without an environmental impact report.