Annual Ferret Round Up brings unites La Mesa pet owners

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WEBKristine Alessio with Pat Wright and Elroy.jpg

Should it be legal to own pets?

That was the question posed at the 25th annual Ferret Round Up on Saturday, Mar. 31, as leaders of ferret legalization efforts gathered with a few of their furry friends to show off how cute, cuddly and curious these little creatures are.

Should it be legal to own pets?

That was the question posed at the 25th annual Ferret Round Up on Saturday, Mar. 31, as leaders of ferret legalization efforts gathered with a few of their furry friends to show off how cute, cuddly and curious these little creatures are.

The sign outside the event explained the meeting’s purpose, “Not fish, not game, house pet!” However, the state of California disagrees, classifying ferrets as wildlife, illegal to keep as pets, although these small animals are domesticated forms of the European polecat, and merely relatives of weasels.

The Round Up took place in the Nan Couts Cottage in La Mesa, which last August became a formally recognized ferret-friendly city by proclamation, declared by unanimous vote of the La Mesa City Council. The proclamation recognizes the illogicality of the 1932 State ban on owning ferrets as household pets and urges California Legislators to adopt responsible ferret legalization legislation. 

Round Up attendance grew to around 40 as the midday meeting continued into afternoon hours, with attendees from throughout California who came from as far north as Sacramento as well as eastern parts of the state. 

April 2 is National Ferret Day.

Pat Wright lives in La Mesa with his ferrets, Elroy and Astro, and he has been serving as a key organizer of ferret ownership legalization efforts since 1993 with Ferrets Anonymous. He dubs himself the organization’s benevolent dictator. 

Wright said he has owned dozens of ferrets since 1988. 

“I believe there are 100,000 to 500,000 pet ferrets in California,” Wright said, “but that’s just a guesstimate.”

The event commenced with a humorous video of police officers, guns drawn, swarming into a home in search of a ferret kept as a pet. Organizers noted that this has not happened yet – but could – if any government official began enforcing the ban on ferret ownership. The California Fish and Game Commission could issue permits for ferret ownership now if members choose to own them.

A proposed statewide ballot initiative legalizing ferret ownership fizzled before the 2016 ballot. The pro-ferret political activism has now turned to lobbying local elected officials, in the form of the ferret-friendly city campaign. 

Kristine C. Alessio, Vice Mayor of La Mesa, said she has gotten some pushback from supporters of other causes for her stance on ferret-friendly legislation but received no real negative political fallout. 

“I explained that every constituent of mine needs help, including Pat,” she said. “I am your advocate. This is a battle. Kudos to you for fighting it. Educate, not regulate.” 

Alessio has background in ownership of exotic animals, such as Savannah cats, and encouraged those at the meeting to stand their ground.

“Bring it down to rights,” she said. “Ask people if you would like to have your dog or cat taken from you. This is a righteous cause. Pets should be legal. Be an activist. Get out there. Stay strong.”

Other portions of the Round Up offered information on care, feeding and protection of pet ferrets, as well as free ferret manicures and pedicures and time to play with the ferrets there.

Jaya, an attendee who asked to not be mentioned by last name for anonymity, said she has more than a decade of experience working with these animals. Jaya started with ferret rescues and has had as many as 11 ferrets in her care at one time.

“They are very much like kittens that never grow up,” she said. “They are very social, very happy, always wanting to play. And they are very intelligent.” 

No matter how abused a rescued ferret has been, Jaya said, these small creatures respond immediately to fun interaction.

Next cities on the list for urging self-designation as ferret-friendly include El Cajon and Encinitas. Other efforts will involve candidate outreach during the upcoming election cycle and further public education about the issue of ferret legalization.

Impediments to overcome in the campaign include the misconceptions that ferrets are dangerous to children and seniors, and that lost ferrets establish colonies of predators that harm other wildlife. Pet ferrets are typically spayed and neutered, and they are vaccinated to prevent contraction of rabies.

Ferrets are Mustelids, with the scientific classification of Mustela putorious furo. 

More information about Ferrets Anonymous and the Ferret-Friendly City Campaign can be found at legalizeferrets.org. 

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