For months, Pat Wright, founder of Ferrets Anonymous (FA) and head of its San Diego chapter, had been planning a health clinic for the exotic pets for Saturday, Aug. 6. The group had arranged for services like this in the past, but this time Wright made a mistake that would kill FA's intention to bring its beloved pets into the daylight. He put it on the group's website.
Two weeks before the clinic was scheduled to take place, FA received a phone call alerting the group that the state Department of Fish and Game was on to the plan and wanted to have a chat with the veterinarian who was to participate in the clinic, Wright said.
Advocates cancelled the clinic and decided instead to hold a rally in protest of the continued ban on ferret ownership in California, the only state in the continental United States to ban the animals as pets. About a dozen ferret lovers held signs at the busy intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and Towne Centre Drive.
Despite the animals' illegal status, Wright said it's not difficult to find veterinarians to treat them, with approximately a dozen in San Diego County alone. Todd Cecil, a veterinarian at Mission Valley's Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital, said his decision to see ferrets is more about treating sick animals than fighting for the cause, but he doesn't think ferrets are as wild as regulators say they are.
"They're no more vicious than a cat or a pit bull, and probably a whole lot less," he said, noting the ferret's shortened snout as a possible sign of domestication.
Steve Martarano, a spokesperson for the Department of Fish and Game, said that although the department tries to enforce the law, finding illegal ferrets is not a major priority. Concerns center around fears that, if allowed to run wild, ferrets would harm the state's native bird population, he said.
But Cecil and others who oppose the ban aren't buying the argument. Instead, Cecil said, ferrets would more likely get hit by a car or starve to death in the wild.
"In California, if you wanted to save the wild birds, it would be illegal to let your cat outside," he said. "They decimate much more [of the] wild bird population than a ferret ever would."
The issue reached the governor's desk last year when a bill aimed at legalizing the controversial critters passed through both the state Senate and the Assembly. Though Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill in September, he offered supporters some hope for change in the future.
"I love ferrets. I costarred with a ferret in Kindergarten Cop," he wrote in a statement, calling for a study to assess the impact feral ferrets would have on the environment.
But it's not like California has never seen a ferret unleashed. Websites, including www.ferretsanony mous.com, have entire pages dedicated to lost and found ferrets. Many owners who post their runaway pets on the site sound unsure that the animals will survive outside of the home.
On May 6, an owner listed "Kane," a reddish-albino male ferret, as missing on the site. Four days later, a woman contacted the owner and let her know the animal was OK, according to the post.
"She found him in the middle of the street right by our house running from a cat," the update to the listing read. "She pulled over and saved him."According to FA, the San Diego chapter has 209 members and a mailing list of approximately 1,200 people. The group plans to hold another health clinic in October, Wright said. It will not be posted on the website.