Ferrets Make NYC No-Pets List

Few would disagree that elephants, whales, and hippos make lousy house pets in New York CityÂ's notoriously tiny apartments; nevertheless, the city's Department of Health officially banned those animals as pets on Tuesday.

The animals had already been generally prohibited, but the city's health code had never specified them by name. For good measure, such exotica as Tasmanian devils, Gila monsters, tigers, anacondas, crocodiles, and polar bears also made the list.

But ferrets? Size isnÂ't an issue with this unusual but not uncommon pet, and its inclusion on the list sparks controversy.

Owners of ferrets object to the inclusion of their pets on the list of animals deemed Â"wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm.Â"

Â"This department is trying to malign ferrets unfairly,Â" says Gary Kaskel, whose wife tried to bring the family's pet ferret into the health department's board meeting but was turned away at the door. Â"They are domestic, friendly, gentle, and litter box-trainable. There has been no scientific evidence presented to this board that ferrets are any more dangerous than any other common house pet.Â"

Health officials are concerned about instances in which ferrets have attacked and seriously injured infants. The furry, weasel-like creatures are also able to squeeze through quarter-sized holes in cages and escape into neighboring apartments or into the outdoors where they are a potential threat to native wildlife.

The city has long defined ferrets as wild animals and won a 1995 federal court ruling upholding its policy. Outside the city, no other county in the state prohibits pet ferrets. Nationally, only California and Hawaii ban the critters.

During a 1997 debate that concluded with the state upholding its prohibition on the animal, California Assemblyman Dick Floyd called the ferret Â"a rotten, dirty little rat,Â" urging colleagues Â"to kill this bill and every ferret we can get our hands on.Â"

Indeed, it seems the playful animal has divided the world into opposing groups in a way that animals such as mongoose, jaguarundi and black widows have not: You either love 'em or you hate 'em.

Among the lovers: Domestic queen Martha Stewart; the ASPCA; tens of thousands of ferret owners; and New York City Council member Kathryn Freed, who plans to introduce a bill to roll back the ban.

For now, the ferret ban stands. And that goes for kinkajou, zebras and venomous centipedes as well.