Rules eased on ferrets as pets

January 16, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Ferrets, those cute little polecats whose popularity as pets began in the late 1970s, may now be bought and sold without getting a permit in Baltimore County, leaving Baltimore City as the only metropolitan-area subdivision that still restricts ownership of the animals.

Despite the change, a ferret that bites or scratches someone must be euthanized -- even though vaccinated -- unless the owner proves there is a negligible chance that the ferret has been exposed to rabies or the victim undergoes anti-rabies treatment, authorities said.

Two weeks ago, Baltimore County authorities notified pet shop owners and ferret fanciers that they would no longer require the exotic-animal permits that had been required for owners of the animals, which resemble weasels.

In 1990, the U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed an anti-rabies vaccine for ferrets called IMRAB, produced by the Pittman-Moore Co., said Diane Rogers, president of the Baltimore Area Ferret Club.

Mrs. Rogers said her 70 members own about 350 ferrets and that "about two-thirds are in Baltimore County."

Ferret fanciers lobbied county authorities for years to allow open sale and ownership of the animals, hundreds of which have been housed in the county clandestinely.

Late last year, the county Department of Permits and Licenses asked the Health Department to clarify the situation, said David DeGrange, chief of animal control. Two weeks ago, health authorities issued a statement that authorities recommend ferret purchasers sign.

The statement says ferrets should be vaccinated when they are 3 months old and then annually. The inoculation does not preclude euthanasia because the period of infectiousness in ferrets is not known as precisely as it is in dogs, for example.

Mrs. Rogers and Joe Cray, president of the Maryland Association of Pet Industries, which include pet shops and associated businesses, said they will keep trying to persuade officials to lift the restrictions on ferrets in the city, which still considers them "exotic animals."

Mrs. Rogers said the largest of the 28 ferret shows held annually around the county will be Jan. 29 at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Alexandria, Va.

Her group expects to hold a show locally in May, she said.

Even though ferrets are kept as house pets and seldom go outdoors, Mrs. Rogers said her organization rescued 30 homeless ferrets last year.

The animals were lost or abandoned by owners who no longer wanted them. The ferret-rescue service can be reached at 448-1281.

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