The Secretive Campaign to Legalize Ferret Ownership in California

Pat Wright loves ferrets — a forbidden love in California, where owning the animals has been illegal since 1933. The state's complex ecosystem and ferrets' outlaw reputation as chicken killers make the weasel-like creature verboten here and in Hawaii.

Like many ferret owners whose malfeasance gets reported to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wright says he's paid a high price for his pets. He's served 17 days in a maximum security prison, performed 300 hours of community service, and shouldered civil lawsuits, all because he refuses to quit his decades-long crusade to grant ferrets the same legal standing as dogs and housecats.

California ferret lovers circulated a petition to qualify ferret legalization for the 2016 ballot, but with only 10,000 signatures gathered, they fell far short of the 365,880 required. Their next move, Wright says, is to form a Super PAC of ferret lobbyists, and recruit politicians sympathetic to their cause. (So far, nobody has endorsed them.)

Momentum is slow-going, because ferret owners prefer to remain anonymous. Few will out themselves for fear of agents raiding their homes, as happened to Wright in San Diego.

Still, the Bay Area chapter of the Golden State Ferret Society boasts about a dozen dedicated members — whose last names and addresses are secret to Donna Hazelwood, the society's vice president.

“We don't tell anybody we can't trust. We don't tell neighbors,” she says. “But my ferrets are the only things I'd go to jail for.”

View Comments