"They are wonderful little clowns that not only steal your heart but they will steal anything they deem is theirs. This includes your shoes, socks, pens, pencils, hairbrushes, potatoes, car keys, wallets and clothing. I had two ferrets that tried to take my notebook computer to what is called their hidey-hole," said AmyJo Casner of Harrisville, Pa., who legally owns ferrets Manny, Marcuz, and Marylin.
Their antics are better than antidepressants, said Casner, whose pets inspired her to start a ferret clothing line that she sells online.
A count of ferret owners across the U.S. was unavailable, but the American Pet Products Association said that in 1992, 2 percent of people who owned a small animal like a mouse, rat, ferret, gerbil, rabbit, hamster or guinea pig said they had a ferret. In 2000, 10 percent of small-animal owners said they had a ferret, and 7 percent in 2010 had them. That's despite bans in the two states, plus a number of large cities including New York, and U.S. military bases.
In California, where having a ferret can net a $500 fine or six months in jail, Wright estimated between 50,000 and 500,000 pet ferrets live a clandestine existence. His guess is based on ferret-supply sales and a 5,000-member mailing list for his ferret legalization cause.
Shea, who said Fish and Game has never tried to verify those numbers, said California doesn't have enough game wardens to chase violators, so the ban is not strictly enforced. Billboards close to the borders of Arizona and Nevada point motorists in the direction of ferret sellers. And most pet stores in California carry ferret food and supplies.
But the issue is taken seriously in Hawaii, where every report of a ferret is checked. One captured last year in Hilo was turned over to the Hawaii Island Humane Society, flown to Honolulu and quarantined until it could be shipped out of state. The penalty for importing, selling or possessing a ferret in Hawaii is a fine up to $200,000 and as many as three years in jail.