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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

2004: The Year of the Ferret
Regulation for regulation's sake…
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 1/8/04

In the film Kindergarten Cop, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a pet ferret, an animal that may be legally owned in 48 states, but not Hawaii, New York City, or California. Now governor Schwarzenegger can extend the same privilege to Californians, and there are good reasons he should.

Californians could own ferrets before 1933, when the state passed major animal-control laws. Neutered male ferrets could be owned after 1933 with a permit from the state Department of Fish and Game. That changed in 1986 when California's Department of Health cited the ferret's tendency to bite.

The ban on the animals has continued despite a kind of ferret lobby and numerous attempts by legislators to legalize the animal's status, the most recent by Coronado Democrat Dede Alpert. Her bill, which would have granted amnesty to ferrets already in the state (100,000, by some estimates), passed the state Senate 31 to 5, but failed in an Assembly committee. Former governor Gray Davis was reportedly anti-ferret, and in the California Department of Health it appears to have escaped notice that other animals also bite, inflicting much greater damage than any ferret.

In April of 2002, for example, dogs mauled three California children within three days. The victims included an 11-year-old boy in Placerville, attacked by a neighbor's pit bull. The day before, in Monterey, a family's own Rottweiler attacked and killed a five-year old girl. In Salinas, a family's Doberman attacked a girl of the same age, fracturing her skull and tearing off part of her scalp.

Such attacks are common, but pit bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers are not banned in California, nor subject to special regulatory considerations. Recall also the case of Diane Whipple, 33, attacked and killed in the hallway of a San Francisco apartment by two huge presa canario dogs. Owners Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel were keeping the dogs for a prison inmate they had adopted.

State game officials claim that if ferrets are legalized they will work their way into the wild and threaten ground-nesting birds. This does not appear to be a problem in the 48 states that allow their residents to own ferrets as pets. Banning the animals is more likely a case of regulation for regulation's sake, and the protection of bureaucratic turf.

That should be a consideration for the governor, who will get to replace the Fish and Game Commission. But there is also a symbolic issue here.

The animal's terrier instincts have spawned a verb construction, "to ferret out," for example. California has a lot of waste and corruption that needs to be ferreted out, eliminated, and not permitted to reappear. Much of that can be found in the state's education monopoly, a vast system that is more proficient at patronage than academic excellence.

This and every other area of government should be subject to the Year of the Ferret.

copyright 2003 Pacific Research Institute




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