Sometimes after you complete researching a legal issue you find an answer you may not like, or which is not helpful to your position, but at least you also come away with an understanding of why a law exists.
The other day I was asked the question: “Why are ferrets illegal in California?”
Like any other Ferret Lover living in California would say, I said, “Well because according to California Regulations title 14, Section 671(K) ferrets are classified as non-domesticated animals in the state of California.”
I later walked away and thought to myself, “But why does the state of California classify Ferrets as non-domesticated?”
The simple answer to that question is California Fish & Game Code § 2118(b), which classifies mustelidaes as menaces to wildlife, agriculture and public health or safety. Mustelidaes if you aren’t familiar, are the animals that fall within the weasel family, which includes ferrets. More information regarding ferrets from the Department of Fish and Game can be read here.
I was still unsatisfied with these simple statute answers and began looking for any scientific or legal reasons as to why ferrets are not so welcome in California.
I discovered that in 1988, the California Department of Health did a study on ferrets and they concluded “[ferrets] are frequent biters, sometimes inflicting bites with machine gun rapidity and tenaciously refusing to let go of their victims.” (Cal. Dept. of Health Services, Pet European Ferrets: A Hazard to Public Health, Small Livestock and Wildlife (1988), p. 1.). So even though ferrets may not be known to attack, bite or otherwise harm their owners, there is a report available that says they are capable of such things.
Sadly, in January of 2011 a ferret did attack and harm a baby. However, this story has generated a decent amount of press due to the parent’s behavior. However, it is still a sad reminder that ferrets can in some strange circumstances cause harm to their owners.
It turns out that as recently as 2003 this law was challenged in the California Courts system and the law was upheld.
In an unpublished case, Wright v. Fish and Game Commission, the California Appellate Court explained the reasoning behind the laws that continue to ban our furry friends out of California.
In this case, Wright argued that the laws prohibiting ferrets unconstitutionally discriminated against those people who desired to own ferrets. The Court went on to explain that because “Ferret Owners” are not a group of people who have been historically discriminated against in the past, the reasoning behind upholding this law needs only to be rational.
Without getting too much into a Constitutional Law Class review: there are three levels of scrutiny the Court can use when examining a state law. When the law effects a group of people who are not normally discriminated against, then the Court uses the lowest level of scrutiny. So long as there is a legitimate reason for the law, the law stays.
Therefore, because the state of California was able to show some evidence that ferrets might be dangerous, particularly to babies, this is a rational enough reason for the Courts not to overturn a state law.
So it is sad to say, but so long as the State of California acknowledges the potential dangers of ferrets to health, and wildlife, there will always be enough of a reason for the Courts to choose not to overturn this law.
None of this might not be the news you were hoping for, but at least now you have a better understanding of why these silly pets remain illegal in the State of California and maybe you can do something to change it.