Although the La Mesa City Council on September 26 rejected the appellation “Ferret-Friendly City” for their town, councilmembers agreed to write letters to support changing state law to allow ownership of domestic ferrets as pets. In addition, the council may later issue a proclamation in favor of ferrets.
The animals are classified as a nonnative species and illegal to possess as pets, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website. The ban dates back to 1933. Vice mayor Kristine Alessio and councilman Bill Baber scheduled discussion of the Ferret-Friendly City designation proposed by La Mesa resident Pat Wright, head of the Legalize Ferrets campaign. He and some 20 ferret enthusiasts attended the meeting wearing T-shirts with the picture of a yawning ferret in a hammock and the statement “Life is Good in Ferret-Friendly La Mesa” on the front. The shirt back showed LegalizeFerrets.org above the message, “Do it for the little guy!”
On August 8, Wright asked the council to declare La Mesa a sanctuary city for ferrets. He spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting, and the council couldn’t respond because the issue wasn’t on the agenda. Alessio and Baber met with Wright’s group and are pictured with ferrets on the legalization website.
While the Humane Society of the United States said domestic ferrets “can be kept legally in most states,” sources including news reports said ferrets are only prohibited statewide in California and Hawaii.
On September 26, Wright said council support “could bump us over the edge” and persuade a state lawmaker to introduce a bill legalizing ferrets. Assemblyman Randy Voepel’s (R-71st District) name was mentioned during discussion with the council. Alessio spoke of the large number of people supporting ferrets, and Baber suggested issuing a proclamation. Their colleagues agreed to write letters but rejected linking ferrets to the city.
While councilman Colin Parent said he opposed the sanctuary designation, councilman Guy McWhirter said he didn’t like the Ferret-Friendly City label. “I like [La Mesa’s motto] Jewel of the Hills.”
Mayor Mark Arapostathis said he wanted to “stay away” from both designations. He spoke of changing “antiquated laws. For a while, backyard chickens were not legal in La Mesa.” Keeping hens became legal in 2014.
Ferret discussion began at 9:05 p.m., three hours and five minutes after the meeting started. The matter was quickly dispensed with, and ferret enthusiasts were jubilant. Due to the late hour, I interviewed two ferret owners by phone on September 27.
Wright, who owns an internet marketing business, obtained his first ferret in 1987. He chose this animal after “I talked to people who had them. Chester was so smart.” For Wright, apartment life was compatible with cats, a dog wasn’t practical, and a ferret was an interactive pet. Wright moved to La Mesa in 2003, and his menagerie currently includes two ferrets: eight-year-old Bailey and five-year-old Jethro, three cats, and a corgi.
Wright’s efforts to seek legislative help to lift the ban on ferrets started in 1993 with the founding of Ferrets Anonymous. When he contacted senator Lucy Killea, she said, “Not enough people are interested in the issue.” Wright countered, “What if we prove otherwise?” A rally outside Killea’s office drew 50 people.
A timeline on the Legalize Ferrets website shows activities including the introduction of a bill in 1997 by assemblyman (and San Diego’s former city attorney) Jan Goldsmith. In 2004, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to legalize ferret ownership.
“He was in Kindergarten Cop with a ferret costar, so he knew ferrets don’t eat children,” says Wright. This year, Wright said he used the term “sanctuary city” to grab attention. He acknowledged negative reaction to the designation and praised the council for their support. He’s hopeful about legislative action in 2018.
“Governor Jerry Brown has done some good.” Wright spoke to assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-78th District), and senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is “supportive but won’t a introduce bill.”
La Mesan Kristin Hamilton has been involved in the legalization campaign for approximately six months. Her fondness for ferrets started because “a friend in high school had one — I fell in love.” Furthermore, she’s allergic to cats and wanted a social pet. She brought two ferrets home about a year ago.
“I contacted Pat because I want to try to move the process along. Ferrets have been fully domesticated since the 19th Century. There are ferrets in Victorian paintings. They’re sweet, lovable animals.”
At the council meeting, Wright spoke of being jailed, an experience described in Dave Good’s 2012 Reader cover story about ferret owners.