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La Mesa Could Become A Sanctuary City — For Ferrets

Pat Wright is shown with his pet ferret, Jethro, on July 7, 2017.

Photo by Matthew Bowler / KPBS

Above: Pat Wright is shown with his pet ferret, Jethro, on July 7, 2017.

When La Mesa City Council Member Kristine Alessio received a packet of documents from the legalize ferret community, she never imagined the follow-up.

"Tons of email," she said. "More emails about the idea of making La Mesa a sanctuary city for ferrets, or legalizing ferrets, than we did when we just raised our trash rates."

Ferrets are small and furry and they make good pets, so say ferret owners. But they are defined as wild animals by California law, and it is technically illegal to keep them as pets.

Pat Wright, a ferret owner who lives in La Mesa, speaks as his ferret Jethro scurries around the feet of a reporter and photographer. Wright admits that making La Mesa a ferret sanctuary city would be symbolic.

“It would be a huge symbolic effort that somebody actually sat down with us, and listened to us and came up with the same conclusion that any sane person would," he said as he held one of his ferrets, "that this is a domestic animal, and the state has no reason to ban them.”

Alessio basically agrees.

“These are little furry animals that people have, that use a litter box and play with toys," she said.

By Matthew Bowler

Kristine Alessio, a member of the La Mesa City Council is interviewed by KPBS reporter Tom Fudge on July 7, 2017.

Ultimately, ferret owners like Wright, whose ferrets are named Tiger, Bailey and Jethro, will need a legislative ally to change state law. Wright is not just a ferret owner. He is the founder of the group Ferrets Anonymous, and he has spent years lobbying to change state law. He and his cohorts came close in 2004 when a bill reached the desk of Governor Schwarzenegger. The governor vetoed it, even though he once costarred with a ferret in "Kindergarten Cop."

The existing ban of ferrets dates back to the 1930s. Some state officials have defended the law, saying ferrets could become feral and breed in the wild, upsetting California’s ecology. Wright rejects that.

“Not one case of that. Not one feral ferret documented in the United States,” he said.

Ferrets are legal in every state but Hawaii and California. But a sanctuary in La Mesa? Alessio said she wants to try to do something.

“I mean we have a whole ferret-loving community that I was unaware of," she says with a laugh. "And that’s what you do when you’re elected. You represent the interests of your constituents.”

Ferret owners in La Mesa want the city council to make a strong statement in favor of legalizing ferrets as pets.

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