City keeps ferret ban, frustrating advocates

March 10, 2015 | SPH in the News

By Dan Goldberg

March 10, 2015

The New York City Board of Health on Tuesday voted down a measure that would have legalized pet ferrets in New York City, disappointing a vocal pro-ferret constituency that had cheered the possible change.

After 40 minutes of debate and discussion, the board voted 3-2 in favor of allowing ferrets as pets, but with five abstentions. The measure needed six votes for approval.

The city’s health department reported that 415 public commenters supported the removal of the ban and just three comments were opposed.

Despite the show of public support for removing the ban, board members expressed lingering concern that ferrets might pose a public health risk, particularly in public housing and to children.

“As somebody who has spent a large part of my career trying to address and reduce hazards in residential [housing] and other structures and trying to improve the safety and affordability and quality of housing … I find myself concerned still about whether allowing ferrets as pets would have a negative impact on our housing stock, especially the oldest and most poorly maintained housing,” said Dr. Susan Klitzman, a professor and director of the Urban Public Health Program at Hunter College.

Board member Dr. Lynne Richardson, a professor of emergency medicine, health evidence and policy, and vice chair of emergency medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, expressed concern over the “unique skeletal structure of ferrets that allows them to squeeze through very small crevices,” potentially enabling them to reach infants in other rooms or apartments.

Ferret advocates said they were disappointed in the decision and felt the board’s concerns were unfounded, and that the board members showed a lack of knowledge and understanding of ferrets.

Ariel Jasper, the young woman from Brooklyn whose petition to the health department was the impetus for the discussion, said the board overemphasized the dangers of ferrets while ignoring the reality that they have been safely kept as pets in large cities across the world.

“I always assumed in our city that when the public commented that the bodies passing legislation would actually read them,” Jasper said. “It’s just frustrating because if we were up there we would have had an answer to every one of their questions. My original petition answered all these questions. I’ve never been this let down by the government.”

The ferret proponents promised to regroup and continue the fight.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose health department submitted the proposal to the board but stopped short of a full-throated endorsement, said he respected the decision.

“I thought that was a decision for the Board of Health to make and if that’s their judgment, I’m comfortable with their judgment,” the mayor said.

The ferret ban was established under former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who famously accused ferret advocates in 1999 of having “a sickness,” and one in particular of being “deranged” and in “need of help.”

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