Posted: May 30, 2014, 6:20 p.m. EDT
My jaw dropped when I heard that New York City might reconsider the ban on ferret ownership in the next few months. How did this amazing feat happen? I went to the source to find out. Ariel Jasper is a thoughtful, well-spoken, young woman who has had the issue of legalizing ferret ownership in New York City on her mind for some time. She never understood why they were outlawed, and believed it was mainly due to misconceptions about ferrets. Many people erroneously believe they are rodents. They are actually members of the weasel family.
"I thought about a petition a couple of years ago, but I knew there wouldn’t be a chance of it passing with the previous administration, so I waited,” she said. In January and February this year, she took action.
Her first step was to send a letter to the mayor’s office explaining the situation and enumerating why it might be good to reconsider the ban. The mayor’s office didn’t take a stance, and referred her to the New York City Department of Health And Mental Hygiene, as a health code enforces the ban.
Jasper then reached out to ferret clubs in the area for input on doing a Change.org petition. Some believed the issue wouldn’t have a chance, but Jasper decided to forge ahead. She modeled her petition after the ownership requirements for dogs in New York City, adjusting it for ferrets. Its main points cover licensing, rabies vaccination, microchipping, ferret adoption, spay/neuter and leash requirements. The main health concerns regarding ferrets were rabies, and there is a vaccine, so ferrets are no more of a rabies risk than dogs or cats. What might now be the biggest health concern is possible danger to infants. To this, Jasper said that any animal left unattended with a child could cause harm.
She estimates that writing the petition for Change.org took an hour. The Department of Health gave her a form to fill out for her request. That took her about three hours. "It was in my mind for awhile and flowed onto paper really quick,” she said. The request to the Department of Health was longer, as it required more thorough explanations and an essay. Jasper said she strove to base everything on logic and science.
Jasper posted the Change.org petition in January and by the 24th it reached 100 signatures. When people started signing, she said the ferret owners she had talked to got energized. The petition has a goal of 100,000 signatures. She chose that number to reflect the importance of the topic to her. "We don’t expect 100,000 people to sign,” she said, "but I wish they would.”
After submitting the formal request/petition to the Department of Health, it then became a waiting game. The deadline for the department to respond was May 11. Jasper said the department requested a brief extension, which she happily granted. She wants to work with them.
On May 22, Jasper received a formal response that the ban would be reconsidered. The next day a Facebook page was started by the New York City Ferret Club, which is a club Jasper said formed specifically for this effort. (It is not affiliated with New York Ferret’s Rights Advocacy/The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ferrets.) A Twitter account had already started in January 2014.
A May 27 article by The New York Times seems to have started what could be called a media storm about the topic. CNN even did a video interview. Jasper is pleased about how much has been accomplished with her grassroots efforts so far. It is the first one she has ever done, and she thinks it’s wonderful that people can do so much with such limited resources. Their club does not have a website, having strictly used social media and Change.org before any media coverage.
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
If the ferret ownership ban is lifted, people in New York City can own ferrets without fear of having them confiscated.
Now it’s time to wait for the public hearing, which could be in September. Jasper said that between now and then she hopes people will continue to sign the Change.org petition and spread the word about the effort to reverse the ban so it is not forgotten. She can send updates to those who sign the petition, and updates will also be sent via Facebook and Twitter.
Jasper hopes that the ban will be lifted, and she hopes that if it is the Board of Health will require some of the restrictions she suggested. She said that requiring ferrets to be microchipped will make it possible to trace owners who might abandon their ferrets. But her biggest hope is that ferrets are not permitted to be sold in New York City. She does not want legalized ownership to cause people to buy ferrets on a whim and then surrender to a shelter. Her petition requests: "For ferrets to be illegal to sell in pet stores. However they can be available for adoption from rescues, and be transferred between private individuals. The importation of ferrets from outside of the city is allowed only as pet status.”
Jasper said that even if people have to drive out of the city to buy a ferret, that extra step could stop impulse purchases. "If people get ferrets through a rescue, they get educated and have some accountability.” She stressed that lifting the ban is about people who really care about ferrets being able to get them.
For people interested in helping this effort, Jasper has two requests. "Just spread the word. Keep it on people’s minds. Educate the public,” she said. "People have a certain view that they’re rats or dangerous, educate them so they have a different opinion. If the ban is lifted, they will know what ferret ownership entails.”
In addition to spreading the word, Jasper wants people in New York City to respect the law. The good news that the ban is being reconsidered does not mean the law has changed yet. "Play by the rules. Don’t abuse current law. Don’t disrespect the Board for giving us this chance,” she said.
What will she do if the ban is lifted? "Breathe a sigh,” she said. She would love to see people who own ferrets to be able to take them outside on leashed walks or to veterinary appointments without fear. And she would also be proud of the accomplishment. "I’d be really happy and be able to say the system actually worked for once for the people” she said. "It wasn’t the corporations; it was people who did this.”
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