NYC ferret ban upheld by Board of Health in rare challenge

The ban on ferrets was upheld Tuesday in a vote by the city’s Board of Health, nixing a rare challenge to the restriction on owning the animal.

Board members voted 3-2, with five abstentions, to overturn the ban, but six votes were required to rescind it, DOH spokeswoman Veronica Lewin said. Ferrets have been banned as pets under the health code that prohibits the ownership of wild animals since 1959. The Board voted in 1999 to establish a list of banned animals in the city, upholding the ferret restrictions.

“We appreciate the Board’s concern for the health and safety of New Yorkers in their decision to keep in place the prohibition on ferret ownership in New York City,” the Health Department said in a statement.

A member of the public asked the Board to review the ban at a meeting in December, Lewin said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was “a decision for the Board of Health to make, and if that’s their judgment, I’m comfortable with their judgment.”

David Gaines, the legal affairs committee director for the American Ferret Association, said the ban is frustrating because in other cities it’s a “non issue.” He said several cities, like Dallas and Minneapolis, have overturned their own ferret bans in recent years.

“We believe all the facts are on our side,” Gaines said. “We respect the Board of Health, we understand their mission. Today they got it wrong. It’s just as simple as that.

“They’re domesticated,” Gaines added. “They’re completely safe, appropriate companion animals.”

When the Board of Health formalized the ferret ban in 1999, it cited concern for public safety.

“Ferrets are known for their unpredictable behavior, and they are prone to vicious, unprovoked attacks on humans,” a Health Department statement from 1999 said. “In New York City’s multiple dwelling residences, which are not natural habitats of ferrets, a ferret could crawl through holes in walls or travel along risers or ducts to other apartments, with potentially tragic consequences for the neighbor of a ferret owner.”

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supported the inclusion of ferrets on the list of banned animals, famously hung up on a man who called in to his radio show on behalf of a pro-ferret organization in 1999. Giuliani then said the man had an “excessive concern with little weasels.”

Other animals included on the list of banned pets include pigs, hedgehogs, dolphins, venomous spiders, and grizzly bears.

(With Matthew Chayes)