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Proposed Chicago Ordinance Threatens to Ban Ferret Ownership; Take Action Now!

Monkeypox Scare Has Repurcussions to Ferret Ownership

Update - July 12, 2004: The City of Chicago is still safe for ferrets - they were removed
from the ban's listing! A victory for ferrets!

August 26, 2003 The AFA was recently contacted about a proposed ordinance that would make owning a ferret in Chicago illegal. The ordinance began when fears of monkeypox hit the area (Chicago Tribune, July 20, 2003), but the initiative also lists the danger to humans if a pet ferret escapes. Aldermans Edward Burke (14th ward) and Shirley Coleman (16th ward) are listed at the end of the proposal. The proposal is similar to the New York City ordinance.

The citizens of Chicago are urged to contact their alderman to clarify two outstanding misconceptions of ferrets, and to ask him or her to vote against this ordinance. First, the Center for Disease Control website on monkeypox specifically states that the carriers of the virus are rodents and prairie dogs. The CDC lists the following species under the embargo and prohibited animals:

1. prairie dogs
2. tree squirrels (Heliosciurus sp.)
3. rope squirrels (Funisciurus sp.)
4. dormice (Graphiurus sp.)
5. Gambian giant pouched rats (Cricetomys sp.)
6. brush-tailed porcupines (Atherurus sp.)
7. striped mice (Hybomys sp.)

Pet owners and pet shop owners are cautioned to quarantine non-rodent pets that have come in contact with these species. These are the only animals on the list that pose any threat. Note -- ferrets are not on this list. As many of you know, ferrets are not rodents, but belong to the mustelid family. If the exotic-animal law is to include ferrets because of the monkeypox virus, then the logic behind banning ferrets is false. If Aldermans Burke and Coleman believe ferrets to be potentially dangerous to humans, as is the reason behind the New York City ordinance, then we must correct this misperception. According to the NYCferrets website, when the New York City ordinance was proposed, the Humane Society, ASPCA, many local veterinarians and even a council member argued that ferrets are domesticated and pose no more danger than cats or dogs. Unfortunately, the false information provided by one anonymous written source (it was later determined that the testimony came from a vet in New Hampshire) was enough for the ordinance to pass (see "How the ban got started" on the NYCFerrets website for more information).

The Chicago ordinance is five pages long and includes, "All fur-bearing mammals of the family Mustelidae, including but not limited to weasel, marten, mink, badger, ermine, skunk, otter, pole cat, wolverine, stoat, and ferret." The ferret has been domesticated for centuries. The only ferrets found in the wild are Black-Footed Ferrets (mustela nigripes), which are an endangered species and a distant cousin to our domestic ferrets (mustela furo). Despite the common use of “ferret” in both species’ names, the Black-Footed Ferret is NOT the domesticated ferret. The two have similar features, but that is the extent of the likeness. Black-Footed Ferrets in North America survived by living near prairie dog colonies until humans began poisoning the colonies, putting the Black-Footed Ferret toward extinction (Ferrets for Dummies, by Kim Schilling, Wiley Publishing, Inc. p 315-320). The domestic ferret is believed to be descended from the European Polecat prior to 4 B.C. Ferrets have been bred to be domesticated, as were dogs and cats (NYCferrets.com). Ferrets, like dogs and cats, are vaccinated, and pose no more health risks than dogs or cats. We, the ferret community, must fight for our beloved pets so we do not have to surrender them "under the policies approved by the commission."

Now here's what you can do to help. Contact your alderman. To find the alderman's name and contact information for your ward, visit http://www.cityofchicago.org/CityCouncil/index.htm and search by location. The proposed ordinance will be reviewed by the License and Consumer Protection Committee on a yet to be designated date in the near future (please see http://www.chicityclerk.com/citycouncil/calendar.html for more information). That hearing will allow the public to respond to this particular issue. If you would like to know more about the coordinated efforts and what you can do to assist us in this cause, please contact Viki Rollins at v.rollins@comcast.net for further details. With your help, we can present a well-researched case demonstrating the loving nature of our domesticated ferrets.