Despite bringing a charismatic ferret up to the podium to lobby on his behalf, La Mesa resident Pat Wright failed to win over most of the Encinitas City Council on Feb. 14 to his campaign to make ferrets legal household pets in California.
"Who can resist this?" Wright begged council members as he cuddled the furry ferret, which kept wiggling about and peering over his shoulder.
While audience members laughed and cooed over the ferret's antics, several council members hardened their hearts and asked him why Encinitas needed to get involved in a state legislative issue.
Councilman Joe Mosca said he didn't feel Wright had made enough of a case for Encinitas to pass a pro-ferret resolution. Mayor Catherine Blakespear noted that no one who lived in Encinitas was there to speak on the issue, though Wright did bring some sign-toting supporters to the meeting.
Councilman Mark Muir asked Wright why he picked Encinitas when there were lots of other places in San Diego County to consider.
"There's a lot of cities between here and El Cajon," he said.
Wright had one supporter on the council.
Councilman Tony Kranz said he wanted the council to pursue a pro-ferret resolution. Later that night at the meeting's end, he moved to put the issue on a future council agenda. After Kranz made his motion, Councilwoman Tasha Boerner-Horvath said she might support putting it on an agenda, but first wanted to contact her veterinarian to find out his views on ferrets and the ban.
Tiny mammals with cone-shaped noses and long tails, ferrets are related to weasels and wolverines. They typically weigh less than 5 pounds and are less than 18 inches long. On its web site, Live Science describes them as "popular, though controversial, pets." They're beloved by their owners for their active, playful behavior as well as their cute appearance.
Though many U.S. states allow ferrets as pets, both California and Hawaii ban them. California's law dates from the 1930s.
On its web site, the California Department of Fish and Game states that ferrets and a host of other non-native animals, including everything from gerbils and prairie dogs to hedgehogs and monkeys, are banned to "protect public health and safety, agriculture, wildlife and natural resources."
In the case of ferrets, it's been feared that pet ferrets could escape and establish wild populations, impacting native animals and habitat.
Domesticated ferrets are descended from a European species, but there is a native, non-domesticated ferret in the United States -- the black-footed ferret, which is considered one of North America's most endangered mammals. After dropping to a population of less than two dozen individuals in the 1980s, black-footed ferrets are starting to make a comeback thanks to captive breeding and re-introduction programs, the Arizona Fish & Game Department notes on its web site.
Wright has owned pet ferrets for decades and has tried various methods of ending California's ban over the years, ranging from direct appeals to state officials to a petition to former President Obama to legal action. His latest idea is to seek out individual cities, encourage them to support ferret-friendly resolutions and build momentum from there.
He has already won the support from the city of La Mesa. In November, its City Council approved a resolution agreeing to lobby for ferret legalization and declaring that the state law regarding ferrets is "illogical," given that ferrets are legal in most U.S. states. However, the council didn't go one step farther and declare La Mesa as a "sanctuary city" for ferrets, as Wright had originally sought.
Wright told Encinitas council members Wednesday night, Feb. 14, that he picked Encinitas early in the lineup of cities where he would seek passage of pro-ferret resolutions because he grew up in Encinitas and owns property in the city, though he lives in La Mesa.
Having Encinitas approve a resolution that supports ferrets as household pets has a psychological benefit that helps his efforts at the state level, he said.
"It opens doors,” he said. “People don't take us seriously (without city endorsement).”
-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.