Fortunately for the cat, the legislative intent behind the creation of the Department of Fish and Game did not foresee agency regulation, let alone prohibition, of domesticated pets. Otherwise, these adept hunters would find themselves on the other side of the law in California. In fact, the dog, horse, goat, pig, sheep, rabbit and burro might well join the cat as furry fugitives. Why? Because all of these domesticated pets are able to survive and multiply in the wild according to the 1993 United States Congressional report, Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States.
Like the animals listed above, the ferret is also a domesticated pet. It is classified as domesticated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Smithsonian Institute, Museum of Natural History, the Humane Society of the United States and 150 zoos, zoological societies and other authorities. Unlike the domesticated pets listed above, the ferret does not survive and multiply in the wild. This fact was substantiated by the California Department of Fish and Game�s own 1996-97 Nationwide Ferret Survey of State Wildlife Agencies. The intent of this survey was to aid in �assessing environmental concerns relating to proposed legalization of ferrets as pets.� The good news: no breeding ferrets were documented at any time, now or in the past, by any state wildlife agency in the entire country. This gives the ferret a stellar record with regard to the environment, one that other domesticated pets don�t share.
These reasons alone should be enough to justify removing a domesticated pet from the grasp of a wildlife agency, but there are other compelling reasons as well. There are 500,000 illegal ferrets already here in California according to a 1989 estimate by the Department of Fish and Game. While the Department may now argue about their earlier estimate, the 12 foot long ferret product aisles in pet stores throughout California are inarguable evidence of a large number of people needing ferret supplies. Twenty percent of all ferret food is sold in California and the largest consumer ferret magazine sells more copies in California than in any other state. In spite of the large numbers of ferrets in California, the Department of Fish and Game acknowledged in its own survey that no breeding populations of ferrets have ever been documented in the wild at any time in this state.
SB 89 is a compromise bill. It is not a straight legalization bill in response to the Department of Fish and Game�s own arguments: that a study is necessary, and that the Fish and Game Commission, not the legislature, should make the final determination of the ferret�s status. While we disagree with the need for additional ferret studies, and also with the notion that California�s legislature is not as capable as the legislatures in six other states that legalized ferrets, we do agree with the Department on one recent position. As a wildlife agency the Department now argues that it is not in the business of regulating pets.
When a law is unreasonable, it is widely disobeyed, and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. Sporadic enforcement keeps ferret owners frightened and angry, but it accomplishes little else except to drive these owners and their animals underground. A full-blown ferret enforcement effort would not only be financially prohibitive to the Department, it would also be political suicide and the Department knows it. The Department may also know that the best way to get rid of a bad law is to aggressively enforce it.
Jeanne Carley, Co-Founder
Californians for Ferret Legalization
410 Mountain Home Road Woodside, CA 94062