For California residents 21 and over, weed is finally legal. But try having a ferret as a pet, and you could be charged with a misdemeanor, up to six months in jail or $1,000 in fines.
In the United States, these furry domesticated critters remain illegal only in California, where officials have expressed concerns the animals could escape, breed and wreak havoc with the ecosystem; and in Hawaii, where it is feared they could spread diseases such as rabies.
Ferret legalization advocates have been battling with California officials for almost three decades. In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who co-starred with a ferret in the 1990 movie Kindergarten Cop, vetoed a bill that would have given amnesty to about half a million ferrets while environmental studies were conducted to help determine a final decision on their legal status. In 2017, the state Fish and Game Commission rejected a petition to permit vaccinated ferrets as pets.
Culver City resident and longtime ferret owner Megan Mitchell is one of the leaders in the pro-ferret fight. She considers her pet ferrets, Kudzu and Krampus, to be family. “When I'm not working or advocating for ferrets, I just like to spend time with them,” Mitchell said. “They are very social animals and love to play. Often my husband and I will spend an hour playing with them and chasing them around instead of watching TV. It's our family time.”
Krampus and Kudzu, both 2½ years old, have strong individual personalities, according to Mitchell. They are mellow and can be lazy, sleeping most of the day, but are also very friendly and outgoing, she said.
In 2015, Mitchell founded Angel City Ferret Club, a Southern California group that advocates for the legalization of domesticated ferrets. Mitchell said the club was formed after its roughly 35 members met at various events for petitions to legalize the animals, which are related to weasels.
Despite speaking publicly at more than one city council meeting, Mitchell told L.A. Weekly she is reluctant to talk to the press out of fear that Kudzu and Krampus could be confiscated. “Many people will think, 'They're just ferrets,' but they have the same bond to humans as dogs and cats,” Mitchell said. “So think how someone might feel if their dog was taken away just because California won't overturn an 80-year-old law that has no scientific data backing up its claims.”
Mitchell believes the best pathway for legalization is to get the support of local cities — the more municipalities that support this cause, the more momentum for the movement.
In February, Angel City Ferret Club approached the Santa Clarita City Council, but the city has not put the issue on the council agenda. Mitchell and her group took their ferret-legalization drive closer to home on March 26, when half a dozen members pleaded with Culver City council members to declare ferrets legal in the city.
Mitchell did a short presentation about domesticated ferrets that included lots of photos of the critters with their owners. “Ferrets are fantastic pets that can be trained, not just an alternative to cats and dogs,” she told the council. Her husband, Nick, also spoke briefly at the meeting. “I was dating a girl who liked ferrets. I had to pretend I liked them too, but now I actually do,” he said. “We're married now, and we have two ferrets. Anyone who owns pets know the absolute joy they can bring us, and joy is hard to come by these days. In 48 other states, that joy of owning a ferret is legal.”
Culver City Mayor Jeffrey Cooper said he supported the idea but was reluctant to go any farther. “I just think that this would be much stronger if you had a proposed bill or even a draft, so that we could say as a city we are supporting something real, not just a concept,” he said. Cooper and Councilman Jim Clarke offered their support for ferret legalization, but the other three council members, Meghan Sahli-Wells, Thomas Aujero Small and Goran Eriksson, said they felt the issue was not one on which the city should take an official stance.
“I love the animals, and I appreciate your passion about this issue,” Eriksson said. “But I don't think it's this council's job, this is a state issue, and that is where it really belongs.” He recommended they take the matter up with an Assembly member. And after a 3-2 vote, the council took no official action on ferret legalization.
Despite the setbacks, Mitchell said she and her group won’t stop trying. After all, Monday, April 2, is National Ferret Day — another opportunity to spread the word. “At the local level, isn't it our politicians' job to advocate for their constituents?” she said. “If they won't get involved, who do we turn to next? But I can't expect someone to change the law for me. I have to try to do something.”