San Diego's ferret underground

Cuddly pets or masked marauders? It all depends on whom you talk to.

One of the odder complications from the California ferret ban cropped up during the making of last year's Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script called for a bad guy to get nipped, so the producers hired a number of ferrets from a local trainer. Not wanting to run afoul of the Fish and Game people, Universal shipped the California-trained animals to Oregon and shot the segment there.

The ferrets are reported to be still at large and appearing in television commercials.
  • One of the odder complications from the California ferret ban cropped up during the making of last year's Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script called for a bad guy to get nipped, so the producers hired a number of ferrets from a local trainer. Not wanting to run afoul of the Fish and Game people, Universal shipped the California-trained animals to Oregon and shot the segment there.

    The ferrets are reported to be still at large and appearing in television commercials.

Eskimo-Kissing a Ferret

In the wilds of Mid-City, a mile or two east of the Boulevard sign, I met my first San Diego ferret. His name was Harry, and he was a red-eyed albino ball of fur who unwrapped himself and greeted me, hopping up and down on his owner's acrylic-pile carpet.

I'm from New York, where ferret owners routinely parade up and down the avenue with perky little critters perched on their shoulders or less frequently, dragging reluctantly behind on a leash. So I know how to frolic with the beasts. I played bullfighter, using a crinkly plastic bag for the cape, and then let Harry scamper up my shoulders and kiss me, tentatively, on the lips.

I picked him up in both hands and we rubbed noses. Flick, flick, flick, flick, flick.

Then — snap — his little cat-jaws clamped shut on my nostril. ""Let go!"" I screamed. I tossed my head, swinging the ferret from side to side like a purse.

In a moment it was over and blood was spurting from my nose. Harry's owner was dumb with embarrassment. Here we'd just been discussing how asinine the California state authorities were with their claims that ferrets are dangerous beasts that maim and kill with little or no provocation, and now...

Finally the owner ran to the bathroom to get me a tissue. As he returned, he said, ""He is high strung, but he hasn't done that in awhile."" He picked the dazed Harry off the floor and cuddled him in his arms.

Depending on your biases, there are two spins you can put on this encounter. Pet books, veterinarians, and ferret fanciers admit that the animals, especially young ones, often nip, much as puppies and kittens do. But because their jaws and teeth are so tiny, they can't maul you nearly as badly as a dog or cat.

The anti-ferret crowd tells a different story. The official word from the California Department of Health Services and the state Fish and Game people is that ferrets are wanton killers, unpredictable and bloodthirsty. They bite ferociously, chew off children’s ears, suck the blood of babes in their cradles; they breed prolifically in the wild and run in packs over the countryside, swooping down like locusts to eat the farmers’ pigs and rabbits and chickens.

All this has already happened, say California authorities, in the rest of the United States where, for the most part, ferrets are legal. Only the constant vigilance of our khaki-clad animal control officers and fish-and-game wardens has kept this nightmare from being repeated in the Golden State.

“You may think they look cuddly and adorable,” said the stern-faced woman at the local Fish and Game office, “but when you read this official literature, you’ll see what they’re really all about.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Have you yourself had any experience with domestic ferrets”

“There are no domestic ferrets,” she intoned gravely. “In the state of California, ferrets are officially wild and illegal. It’s a misdemeanor to own one.”

“Ferrets, then — have you run into any ferrets”

“We had one in here a few years ago. It was frightening, vicious, ran all around in its cage. No one can tell me that was a cuddly pet!”

"The Jet Set Pet That Eats Kids"

Strictly Speaking, ferrets are not illegal to own in California; it’s just that since the 1930’s, you’ve had to buy a permit to keep one. But the state stopped selling permits to private owners in the early 1980’s, so it amounts to the same thing.

In California the domestic ferret was classified as a wild animal in 1935, apparently as a result of bureaucratic confusion between the domestic pet and its near-extinct cousin, the North American black-footed ferret (which isn’t native to California anyway). Whatever the classification, there are a lot of pet ferrets in California these days — a half million or more. According to ferret associations in the state.

Ferret owners have been trying for years to decriminalize ownership of their pets. They find their biggest obstacle is that few people in the state government either know or care what a ferret is. Fish-and-game wardens and animal control officers routinely see small animals crossing the road — marmots, ground squirrels, long-tailed weasels — and report them, officially and anecdotally, as ferret sightings.

“Sure, they live in the wild,” a chunky animal control officer assures me when I chat him up on the ferret question at the Del Mar Fair. “Saw a whole bunch of “˜em crossing the road over in East County. They were red, with black feet.”

“Sure they were ferrets?”

“Sure they were ferrets,” he says, narrowing his eyes. “Red, with black feet.”

In fact, domestic ferrets are white, yellow, cinnamon, or brown-grey and generally perish when let loose in the wild; there is no scientifically confirmed case of a feral ferret anywhere in the United States. California officials will hotly contest this last point and go to great lengths to prove it wrong.

At a state hearing in 1988, a California fish-and-game warden crowed that a local animal shelter had located a feral ferret in Fish and Game Region 5 (the region that includes San Diego). He said he intended to stuff and mount the animal so that he could “educate people about ferrets.” The animal turned out to be a weasel.

Likewise, another warden stated in an interview that “we know of a colony of about 350 feral ferrets near Camp Pendleton.”Timothy Burr scoffs at this report, adding that his office, “had no knowledge of either feral domestic ferrets...nor any documentation of a past colony...In All cases where visual contact has been possible, the animal has been identified as a long-tailed weasel.”

“You can’t really blame fish-and-game wardens for not knowing one animal from another,” says Harriet, a San Diego woman who has owned two ferrets. “They’re not always zoologists or veterinarians. The state tells them that ferrets are to be rounded up, so they do it. And they read scare stories about ferrets in the supermarket tabloids and they believe them.

“The people I blame are in the department of health and the agriculture department. They can’t change the law -- only the state legislature can change the law — and they got tired of giving out ferret permits, so now they spread the most ludicrous stories.”

Harriet pulls out an old photocopy of a 1984 article from The Sun, a supermarket tabloid. “The Jet Set Pet That Eats Kids,” screams the headline. Under the blurred close-up of a ferret head, the article tells how children have been lacerated and killed by ferrets in the U.S. and England.

“Utter nonsense,” says Harriet, “but this article is actually being distributed and cited by the same state official who wrote that report the the Fish and Game people gave you.”

Harriet thumbs through a copy of the 1988 report from the California Department of Health Services (“Pet European Ferrets: A Hazard to Public Health, Small Livestock and Wildlife,” by Denny Constantine, Veterinary Public Health Unit, and Kenneth Kizer, California DHS Director). On almost every page, she finds what she says are errors.

“They say ferrets can spread rabies. There’s no documented case of a ferret with rabies. They say there’s no rabies vaccine for ferrets. There is a ferret rabies vaccine, and the USDA has approved it”¦.Okay, here they list reported injuries from ferrets. “'Child bitten’ — big deal: I was mauled by a cocker spaniel when I was three. “˜Child in Colorado, ear 40 percent chewed off.’ The California Domestic Ferret Association investigated that and it turned out the just had ferret bites on his ear. And so on and so forth.”

A Brief History and Taxonomy of the Domestic Ferret

The ferret is a carnivore of the family Mustelidae and thus a close relative of the otter, weasel, mink, and badger. To get an idea of where the ferret stands among other mammals here’s a list in descending closeness to the ferret,from carnivores through rodents and insectivores: weasels, raccoons, cats, dogs, primates, pigs, beavers, rats and shrews.

The domestic ferret, Mustela furo, has been a pet for thousands of years. Its ancestor and close relative, the Eurasian polecat (Mustela Putorius), still lives in the wild in parts of Europe. Therefore, the polecat stands in the same relationship to the domestic ferret as the wold does to the basset hound.

According to many sources, the ferret was first domesticated by the Egyptians five to six thousand years ago for pest control. Later on the Egyptians domesticated cats, which largely displaced ferrets as mousers. Cats retain sharper mousing instincts than ferrets; more importantly, they turn placid and aloof when grown. Conversely, ferrets still playful throughout their lives, readily interacting with cats, dogs, and humans.

Domesticated ferrets survived as house pets and hunting animals. By the Middle Ages, “ferreting” for rabbits was a popular sport in Western Europe. The animals were brought to North America by 1700. Some of the colonial navies kept the beasts to kill ship rats. Ferrets don’t avoid water as cats do, and they’re much better at squirming through rat holes. There’s still a kind of marching-and-chowder society in Massachusetts calling itself the Colonial Massachusetts Navy; they recently chose a ferret (dressed in tiny straw hat and striped jumper) as their official mascot.

Early in this century, ferrets were bred to help lay underground telephone lines. The phone men would put a rat into a pipe and then send in a ferret with a length of cable tied to his tail.

The past 20 years have brought a revival in ferret breeding both for companion animals and for experimental specimens. Researchers like to work with ferrets not only because of their intelligence — greater than cats and dogs, some claim, — but also because the burgeoning animal-rights community isn’t as vocal about the welfare of ferrets. From a 1985 copy of the journal Labratory Animal Science: “public pressure to reduce the use of dogs and cats in research has stimulated more extensive evaluation of ferrets as a substitute for traditional carnivores in a variety of disciplines.”

“These Ferrets Are Our Babies. If They Want to Get My Babies, They’ll Have to Kill Me First!”

I travel out to East County to Meet Cecily and Gwendolyn (not their real names of course). Cecily works in the health-care field. Gwendolyn is a landscaper who drives a motorcycle. As a lesbian couple who keeps three ferrets, a cat, a guinea pig, and a parakeet in their little house somewhere east of Santee, they have more than the usual compliment of social anxiety.

“About the ferrets,” I say, “did you buy them out of state”

Cecily and Gwendolyn look at each other and then at the mustachioed male friend they have invited over — perhaps for protection, in the event that I turned out to be a lez-basher, or worse, an agent from Fish and Game. “No, we got them from a woman who lived in the area. She was moving away, Cecily says, watching as one of the neutered male ferrets drinks from Gwendolyn’s can of Pepsi. “Then a few weeks ago we got a call from another ferret owner in the city. He said that he’d found this little cinnamon ferret that had been abandoned and it was wandering around the neighborhood. Look at her — she’s no more than six years old.”

The cinnamon ferret, about a foot long exclusive tail, creeps out from the bedroom, stretching her paws and yawning. She gives us a look, and then goes to the litter box in the corner of the dining room. I watch.

“Oh, don’t watch her,” says Cecily, “You’ll make her nervous.”

“Is there a whole network of ferret owners who keep in touch with each other” I ask.

“Not really --” Cecilly begins, but Gwendolyn breaks in, “Yes, there is. When someone gets arrested, we hear about it. There haven’t been any arrests lately in this area, but it happens all the time up around L.A. and Riverside. There was a woman someplace up north who got put in jail and had all her ferrets confiscated a couple years ago.

“That doesn’t happen around here though,” Cecily says. “That woman up north in Yucaipa was flaunting it, running a whole rescue operation for ferrets. Down here it is all very hush-hush. You don’t make a big thing of it, and they won’t bother you. I mean it’s not like you’re walking around with a loaded shotgun.”

“They’ve been seizing ferrets up in North County,” I say. “I saw a clipping from an Encinitas newspaper where a game warden boasted of rounding up ferrets every week.

“Well, that’s North County,” says Cecily. “It’s quieter out here.”

“ A lot of cops in the area have them, even,“ Gwendolyn volunteers, “Cops like ferrets.”

“And people in Fish and Game and at the county (animal) shelter too,” Cecily adds, “Which is really risky, “˜cause they could lose their job if it got out.”

“You’re not scared of having them taken away from you then”

Cecily’s eyes flashed. “No one’s going to take these three from me. They’re like people, they’re our babies. If anyone tries to take my babies away from me, they’ll have to kill me first!”

“There, there, baby,” Gwendolyn says to a ferret clinging tightly to her “Out in the 90s” tank shirt. “No one’s going to take you away.”

“Thats one’s called Jeremy,” says Cecily, calming down. “The people I babysit for, the kids call him “˜Germy.’”

“How do the ferrets get along with the cat”

“Oh, they love the cat. They share the same litter box. We have a guinea pig too, and the ferrets get along marvelously.

I venture, “I once knew a woman in Hoboken, New Jersey, who had ferrets and guinea pigs, and when she got tired of the guinea pigs she let the ferrets kill them.”

Gwendolyn and Cecily bury their faces in their hands. “That’s horrible,” one of them says. “I can’t imagine such a thing.”

“I can,” I say, forbearing to note that I was that woman.

And Now a Word from an Ex-Assemblyman

At a party in San Diego, I met a former member of the California Assembly. I’ve spent much of the past week talking to ferret owners about trying to get their assemblymen to introduce pro-ferret legislation. After looking through their correspondence and talking to assemblymen’s offices, I’ve gathered that the pols regard ferret people as a bunch of cranks -- harmless cranks, you understand, like old anti-fluoridation gang, but cranks.

I put the question to this former assemblyman from San Diego. “And where, sir, do you stand on the ferret question”

“Ferrets!” he roars, drunk on beer. “Mad, despicable beasts! Ought to ban them from the whole country! Cats and dogs too!”

We blow beer through our noses. When we quiet down, he says, “Actually, you should actually call Mike Gotch. I asked him what he’d been working on lately; and he said, “Well, I just stood up to the ferret lobby!”

I ring up the office of Mike Gotch (78th District). Through an aide, Gotch denies the story.

Pet Care Products for the Ferret

Go into a pet shop in most places in this land and you’ll find shelves brimming with personal care products for your little ferret companions. Ferret food, ferret treats, bells and leashes for your ferret, Ferretone vitamin oil to keep him sleek and shiny. Four Paws ferret shampoo to wash away that scent that some people find unpleasant and others describe as smelling “like a freshly opened pack of Camels.”

No such luck for the ferret fancier in California. Pet shops here don’t stock ferret products, and shop personnel get put off when you start asking them about ferret care.

“Ferrets are illegal!” a dimwitted boy with blond dreadlocks informs me in one of the larger pet emporia around town.

“Thanks,” I say, “But thousands of people in the city own them. So if one of them asked you what to feed them, what would you say”

“I don’t know. Maybe hamster food.”

“But aren’t ferrets carnivores” Why would you feed them food for a rodent”

“Oh, I thought they were rodents.”

“No, they’re more like cats.”

“Oh. Feed them cat food, I guess. All I know about ferrets is they’re dangerous and illegal. I see a guy come in every once in a while with a ferret on his shoulder, but I would never touch it.” Pet Shop Boy excuses himself because it is time for him to feed the six-foot python.

What California ferret owners can do is buy their products by mail order from one of the pet-supply houses. One of the biggest dealers in ferret gear is FerretWorld of Assonet, Massachusetts. FerretWorld is an L.L. Bean for ferrets. They publish a four-color catalogue that hawks, in addition to ferret food, toys, collars, and leashes:

  • -- ferret shampoo, creme rinse, and grooming brushes;
  • --”Ferret Fresh” deodorant;
  • --”Cologne of the Wild” toilet water for you and your ferret;
  • --a “Snoozer/Croozer” ferret sleeping bag cum tote;
  • --and all-cotton polo shirts and visor caps with ferret emblems.

FerretWorld owner and founder Bruce White tells me that there are lots of Californians in his mail-order files, “though it wouldn’t be good idea to say how many!”

I bring up an uncomfortable fact -- that Massachusetts is another of the handful of states where ferret ownership is less than legal. Is this ever a problem for FerretWorld?

“But we don’t sell ferrets,” Bruce says, “Just ferret products.”

Survivalism and Ferret Wisdom

“Ferrets? Illegal? Shit, everything’s illegal, and it’s going to be that way till enough of us get mad enough to fight for our rights.” Bill Pierce (again, a pseudonym) is a computer programmer with a beard, a Jeep Wagoneer, eight ferrets, and a house full of guns. He’s 42 and lives outside Escondido.

He goes on, “Fish-and-game wardens don’t scare me. Hell, I know half of them in the county. I’ve had them over here even, playing with the ferrets. You wanna see “'em”

He leads me down to his basement, where I am half-hoping to see a crowd of game wardens knocking back brews and dandling ferrets on their knees.But no wardens, just six or eight ferrets sleeping in a heap over in the corner.

When Bill puts the ceiling lights on, I see the cellar has been set up as a sort of ferret amusement park. Ramps, tubes, sliding boards, and plywood boxes nailed into a ramshackle five story playhouse.

“Up, Danny. Up Flora. Up, Suzy. The rest of you. Time to meet a new friend.” Bill kicks the ferret heap with the toe of a heavy-soled boot. Slowly the animals awaken and lumber over to the huge litter tray in the corner. After relieving themselves, they come over to Bill and me, sniffing around. A few of them sit up on their haunches with their noses in the air. Bill pats them on their heads and feeds them pieces of Cracklin’ Oat Bran, a breakfast cereal that looks like cat food.

“Look at “˜em standing at attention! You’ll never get a cat or dog to do that. Sometimes in the morning I bring my breakfast down here, and I let “˜em eat the cereal right out of the bowl with me. Only trouble with “˜em is they’re too damn smart. See how I’ve locked all the cabinets up down here? I do that “˜cause ferrets will always find a way to open a cabinet door or drawer that’s unlocked. I had to put all my survival food up in there “˜cause the ferrets were getting at it.”

“What kind of survival food?”

“Oh, retorts, boil-in-bag meals, some Minute Man Survival Tabs in case I got to get out in a hurry. I suppose I’ve got enough food here to last me three years. If I eat sparingly, anyway. I got a big appetite.” Bill pats his generous tummy.

“ If you had to get out in a hurry, what would happen to your ferrets”

“I’d bring “'em with me, what d’you think? I’ve spent nights camping in the Cuyamacas with the little guys sleeping in the Wagoneer, and they just loved it.”

An old woman suddenly screams from upstairs. “Billy! Get yourself up here and get rid of this damn animal.”

We dash up the stairs. Danny the ferret has gone up the basement stairs and is now bearding Bill’s wheelchair-bound mother in the TV room.

“Sorry, Edna,” says Bill to his mother. “I must’ve left the door open.”

“I don’t mind animals,” Edna says, addressing me and straightening out her bathrobe. “I mean I grew up on a farm you know. You learn a lot on a farm. But those damn weasels steal everything that isn’t tied down. I’m not in any position to chase “˜em out. And they stink to high heaven.”

“They do not stink, Edna,” says Bill.

“Well, unplug your nose!” Then Edna crackles and says, “Not very nice talk around company is it!”

Back down in the basement, grumpy Bill explains his mother’s behavior as he trims ferrets’ toenails over old Byte and Soldier of Fortune magazines. “When she got out of the hospital last year, she had a lot of tubes in her. Sometimes the ferrets would sneak into her room and try to pull all the tubes away. They made quite a mess. Now I’m supposed to keep the basement door locked.”

He smiles shyly. “They’re brilliant creatures, aren’t they? I took a lot of biology in college, and I’m pretty sure that monkeys and the apes and man are all descended from the ferret somewhere back down the line.”

Feral Ferrets from Outer Space

William Phillips, an attorney in Healdsburg, California, heads the California Domestic Ferret Association. For the last decade, he has repeatedly petitioned the state to review its ferret policies and allow ferret permits to be sold in California. The agriculture department and the department of health services have responded by claiming that feral ferrets readily breed in the wild and threaten humans, livestock, and native animal populations.

“But their stories are complete fabrications,” Phillips says to me over the telephone. “They said there was a feral population in Ohio, I wrote Ohio — no feral ferrets. They claimed that there were feral populations in New Mexico. I wrote the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the agriculture college at the state university, and the city of Roswell, where a colony of ferrets were supposed to have established themselves. No feral ferret that they knew of anywhere in New Mexico.”

“Here’s an even worse falsification. I was as a meeting a couple of years ago in Sacramento with the Health Department, Agriculture, and Fish and Game. I’m saying there is no case on record of feral ferrets — that the New Mexico and Ohio stories they came up with were complete baloney — and suddenly this guy in agriculture, Lou Davis, says, “Well, what about the ground-dwelling tern population in Massachusetts”

“What ground-dwelling tern population in Massachusetts.” I said. This Davis, he tells me the tern population on some Massachusetts coastal islands was completely devastated by an infestation of feral ferrets. I knew this was a complete hoax. But I investigated. I wrote Massachusetts. Agains, there were no feral ferrets, nor had there been any harm to any tern colony.”

From the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife letter to William Phillips:

Although predation and colony disruption by striped skunk, raccoon, and red fox is frequently encountered, there has never been a recorded case of tern population by a ferret in Massachusetts. In fact, I have never heard of such a case anywhere in North America.

“They just flat make this stuff up,” Phillips concludes.

From my talks with California Fish and Game people, animal control officers, and assorted others around the county, I have compiled a remarkable list of local “ferret” sightings. Besides the aforementioned incidents in East County and Camp Pendleton, I heard of:

  • — a “ferret mother and her five babies” in a field by a shopping center in Poway.
  • — a “three-foot-long coal-black ferret” dragging roadkill across I-5 near Oceanside.
  • — and a ferret living in an old mailing tube by the side of Route 101 in Encinitas.

Ferret Atrocity Tales

Some of the ferret attacks in the United States and England alleged by the California Department of Health Services in its 1988 report:

  • — In London, a baby was bitten to death by a ferret that jumped into its crib.
  • — A 29-day old infant in the U.S. “lost her entire nose, and most of her eyelids, lips, and other facial tissues.”
  • — "One infant was bitten at the end of his penis.”
  • — A baby “was bitten in the face by a rabid ferret from a pet shop.”

THE CDHS gives few citations or other details of these maulings. In fact,the only atrocity story that the CDHS goes into in depth is a lengthy screed about a pet ferret drinking human blood in England in 1834. The tale begins:

Some few years ago, a poor woman holding a mangled infant in her arms, rushed, screaming with agony and fright, into my friend’s house, who is a surgeon imploring him to save the child’s life, who, she said, had been almost killed by a ferret: the face, neck, and arms were dreadfully lacerated, the jugular vein had been opened, as also the temporal artery; the eyes were greatly injured, and indeed the child, who is still living, has lost the entire sight of one of them and has very imperfect vision in the other....

Meanwhile Back at Fish and Game...

Some Southern California Fish and Game tales from the last couple of years, gathered from printed sources and interviews:

Fish and Game wardens in Riverside County seized a 14-year-old boy’s pet ferret and bashed the animal’s skull in with a shovel while the boy stood by crying.

A woman whose Marine husband was transferred to Camp Pendleton brought her ferret Charlie with her from Louisiana. Fish and Game told her how to apply for a permit. Shortly after she sent in her permit application, she was visited by two fish and game wardens who seized the ferret without a search warrant. Fish and Game gave her a choice of having the animal put to death or shipped out of state at her own expense. She bought Charlie a ticket to Arizona.

Pat Richards, the President of the Southern California Ferret Association, ran a ferret rescue operation in Yucaipa, in Orange County. She was preparing to ship 22 unwanted pets to Arizona when the local F&G warden, Al Steagall, charged in, seized the ferrets and arrested her. Steagall put Richards in handcuffs and locked in her in the San Bernardino County jail for a night. Fish and Game searched her home, car, and business and seized her correspondence and all of her computer disks.

Bill Powell, the Fish and Game squad captain in the San Diego area, says his people don’t get called in much for ferret reports these days. “It’s a very low-key thing here around San Diego. It’s up in L.A. and Riverside Counties that you get most of the ferret problems you hear about.”

Powell should know. When he was working the L.A. area a couple of years ago, an attorney filed a motion to find Powell in contempt of court in a case involving a Torrance woman, Cindy Mueller. Mueller’s ferrets had been seized and placed in an underground brick bunker in Nevada, where they became diseased and malnourished. Mueller’s attorney successfully persuaded the judge that the 1935 California law was vague and failed to distinguish between wild ferrets and the domestic variety. The judge ordered the Fish and Game to return the animals. Powell refused to do so, arguing that the state was going to appeal the case and that the ferrets should remain in state custody.

“I Treat Ferrets Every Day”

In Mission Valley, there’s a veterinarian, Dr. J., who specializes in ferrets and “exotic” birds and animals. Dr. J. has his own opinion of why Captain Powell might consider pet ferrets in San Diego to be a “low-key thing.”

“Truth of the matter is they’re understaffed at Fish and Game. They’ve had funding cutbacks and probably can’t go after ferrets the way they’d like to. It was for the same reason that they stopped giving out permits years ago. Ferrets aren’t really illegal, you know; you’re suppose to be able to buy a permit for them easily, and when I first started to work in Southern California, they gave them out all the time. Around “˜83 there was a change of administration and the permits abruptly stopped.

Dr. J. advertises himself in the Yellow Pages as a doctor who treats ferrets. I ask him if this had created any problems.

“Well, it’s not against the law to treat ferrets. But the Fish and Game people call me up sometimes on the sly, I think. Every now and then we get calls from people with names that sound made up. They ask for information on how and where to get ferrets. It’s obviously Fish and Game or someone nosing around.”

“They’re sneaky people, these Fish and Game. For the last few years, they’ve been encouraging veterinarians to turn over the names of ferret owners. They even take out ads in veterinarian newsletters, urging vets to cooperate with the authorities and help round up all the ferrets.

Here Come the Killer Hamsters

On my last visit to the San Diego fish and game office, I was delighted to see a new enhancement to its institutional, metal-furniture ambience. Someone had installed a maze of hamster cages and Habitrail tubes on a desk by a wall.

“That’s nice,” I said to the stern-faced office manager who had given me the official state report on the ferret threat.

“They’re evidence.”‘ she said. “We seized them from a pet shop.”


“Dwarf hamsters! They are illegal. The only hamster legal in the state is the golden hamster. We’re holding them for trial, after which they’ll be” — and her eyes grew wide — “euthanized!”

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