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AMERICAN FERRET ASSOCIATION STATEMENT ON H.R. 669
(NONNATIVE WILDLIFE INVASION PREVENTION ACT)

The American Ferret Association (AFA) - a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, all-volunteer membership organization representing both individual ferret enthusiasts and veterinary practices specializing in ferret and small animal care - is the nation's primary advocate for the domestic ferret. The AFA exists to promote the ferret as a companion animal; to protect ferrets from anti-ferret legislation, mistreatment, unsound breeding practices, overpopulation, and needless scientific research; and to provide up-to-date information about veterinarians, legislative activities, medical developments, research data, rescue shelters and other topics of interest to the nationwide community of ferret owners.

The AFA recognizes the desirability of restricting the importation, breeding, and distribution of genuinely dangerous wildlife, as well as the good intentions of organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), in supporting H.R. 669. In addition, we applaud section 3(f) of the bill, which will permit animals legally owned prior to the time the risk assessment process as provided for by the bill is begun to continue to be possessed, even if such animals are later prohibited as a result of the risk assessment.

However, in attempting to achieve its goals, the bill is worded in a way that discriminates against, among other domestic companion animals, Mustela putorius furo, the domestic ferret. Section 14(5)(D) specifically exempts cats, dogs, rabbits, and goldfish from the bill's definition of "nonnative wildlife species," but does not mention ferrets. The subsection concludes as follows: "...or any other species or variety of species that is determined by the Secretary [of the Interior] to be common and clearly domesticated." The AFA strongly opposes having to rely on such an unnecessary and vague determination - the mechanism for which is not even specified - when such a determination has already been made many times, over a period of many years, throughout the United States and around the world.

The AFA therefore opposes passage of H.R. 669 while the domestic ferret, Mustela putorius furo, is not specifically excluded by name from the bill's definition of "nonnative wildlife species" along with cats, dogs, rabbits, and goldfish.

The reasons for the domestic ferret to be excluded from the provisions of H.R. 669 are clear:

  • Ferrets are not wildlife.
    Ferrets are thoroughly domesticated, are bred to be docile companions, no longer exist in the wild, and, indeed, cannot even survive in the wild. This is acknowledged by:
    • American Veterinary Medical Association
    • Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
    • American Museum of Natural History
    • ASPCA
    • Various state departments of wildlife, conservation, natural resources, or fish and game
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (through the inclusion of ferrets along with dogs and cats within their rabies prevention and control protocols)
    • International Species Information System (ISIS), which refers to mustela putorius furo as a domestic animal
    • Humane Society of the United States - which supports H.R. 669 - yet acknowledges in an official statement and in care guides located throughout its website that ferrets are appropriate household pets, and has agreed to ask that Mustela putorius furo be excluded from the provisions of H.R. 669 by adding it to section 14(5)(D).
  • Ferrets are well-established, commonly accepted, domesticated companion animals.
  • Ferrets have been companion animals in the United States for many decades. However, they were not permitted in many parts of the country due to misunderstandings and misinformation about their behavior, origins, and domesticity. Since the 1980's, however, they have become legal to possess as household pets in one state, county, and city after another that had previously banned them, with no danger to wildlife, livestock, or human health occurring as a result.
  • Ferrets are now legal to own as a household pet in 48 of the 49 continental states. In 40 of those states, ferrets were never illegal to begin with. Not one state that has legalized ferret ownership has rescinded its legalization.
  • An increasing number of large municipalities such as Minneapolis, Minnesota (in 2004); Dallas, Texas (in 2005), and Columbia, Missouri (in 2005) has rescinded ferret bans and enacted ordinances legalizing ferrets, as city and county councils across the country learn the facts about ferrets and in response to overwhelming evidence of their suitability as domestic house pets.
  • State, county, and municipal codes and ordinances throughout the United States either list ferrets along with dogs and cats as permitted domestic animals or specifically exclude them from lists of prohibited wildlife that include family mustelidae. For example, Monroe County, Florida - home to Everglades National Park and Key West as well as three national wildlife refuges and a national deer refuge, and arguably one of the most ecologically sensitive localities in the United States - specifically lists ferrets within its definition of "domesticated companion animals." The County requires proof of rabies vaccination on an equal basis for dogs, cats, and ferrets.
  • Even in the District of Columbia, where ferrets for many years have not been included on the list of permitted animals, the Department of Health has in recent years offered, through its Bureau of Community Hygiene/Division of Animal Disease Prevention, exemption permits to individual ferret owners upon request, acknowledging that ferrets are not a risk to public health.
  • A visit to any large chain pet store in the United States will reveal an increasing amount of space devoted to ferret food, ferret toys, ferret cages, and all manner of ferret-related accessories similar to what any cat, dog, or rabbit owner will find. The amount of space pet stores devote to ferret supplies increases year by year as more and more people bring ferrets into their homes throughout the United States and accept them as part of mainstream American culture, in all types of climates and environments - again, with no danger to wildlife, livestock, or human health occurring as a result.
  • Given the above facts, either (1) conducting a risk assessment to ascertain whether or not the domestic ferret "will cause or [is] likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to other animal species' health or human health," or (2) having the Secretary of the Interior make a determination that the domestic ferret is "common and clearly domesticated," with no mechanism for making such a determination provided by the bill, is utterly unnecessary.

The AFA therefore reiterates its opposition to H.R. 669 until such time as Mustela putorius furo, as recommended by the Humane Society of the United States, is added to the specifically exempted list of animals within section 14(5)(D) of the bill.