All contents ©California Domestic Ferret Association. Reprinted with permission.

The information herein does not necessarily reflect the views of the Ferrets Anonymous or its representatives, and has not been checked for accuracy. This information is provided solely as one possible source of legalization information for Californians and others who are interested in "the cause."

California Executes Freedom-March Ferret

FROM: Independent Ferret News Service, Vol. II, No. 1
DATE: January 11, 1998

On January 8 at about 7 p.m. a 2-1/2 year old male neutered ferret named Rocky was euthanized by California authorities so his brain could be tested for rabies. Rocky had nipped a cameraman who was covering the San Diego Ferret Freedom Day March which Ferrets Anonymous had held on New Year's Day to promote legalization. The ferret's owner was Pat Wright, founder of Ferrets Anonymous.

According to Jeanne Carley of Californians for Ferret Legalization (CFL) and the Ferret Education Foundation, the cameraman's doctor termed the bite minor, requiring no medical treatment beyond the application of topical antibiotics and a band-aid. Moreover, Rocky was current on his rabies vaccination.

Animal control authorities took Rocky into quarantine on Saturday, January 3. Wright had surrendered the pet "with the understanding that the animal would not be euthanized and tested for rabies, but placed under quarantine" according to Ms. Carley.

However, when local animal control authorities contacted the Department of Health Services (DHS) state headquarters in Sacramento to inquire whether a 10 day quarantine might suffice instead of a 14 day quarantine, DHS ordered Rocky's destruction.

"[What] makes the killing of this animal so outrageous," said Ms. Carley, "is that in October 1997 the Rabies Compendium Committee of the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) announced that ferrets are now included with dogs and cats in all recommendations regarding vaccination, removal of strays, preexposure vaccination...and management of animals that bite humans."

The approved protocol for handling dogs and cats involved in bite incidents is a 10-day quarantine, whether or not the animal in question has a current vaccination for rabies.

The recent changes to the Compendium -- which most public health officials consider the definitive authority on handling of potential rabies exposures -- were unanimously approved by the committee following years of tests to determine the shedding period in ferrets for various rabies virus strains including those carried by foxes, raccoons, skunks, voles, and bats. Previously, the Compendium took the position that no definitive shedding period for ferrets had been established; thus, even a vaccinated ferret would have to be decapitated for testing if there was a remote possibility it had ever been out of its cage.

The studies, most of them conducted under the auspices of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), have shown that:

  • only a small percent of infected ferrets ever shed rabies virus in their saliva (if the virus is not present in saliva the disease cannot be transmitted);
  • if they do shed the virus, the disease is so far advanced that the ferrets begin showing obvious symptoms of rabies within 6 days; thus
  • in ALL cases, whether or not the ferret is vaccinated, a 10-day quarantine for observation affords the bite victim adequate warning time in which, if necessary, post-exposure rabies treatment can be initiated.

According to Dr. Suzanne Jenkins, chairperson of the Compendium Committee, "The longest an animal may have shed virus prior to death was 6 days. A confinement and observation period of 10 days after a ferret bites a person should be sufficient to protect public health."

Especially since the CDC does not have a single case in its files of a ferret transmitting rabies to a human. Most years, no more than 1 or 2 ferrets test positive for rabies, as most ferrets are kept indoors. Nevertheless, over the last 20 years, several thousand indoor ferrets have been murdered for unnecessary testing.

A number of state and local health departments are already in compliance with the new Compendium. Others -- apparently including California -- say they will wait until the latest studies on rabies shedding of bat strain virus are published in a professional organ such as the JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association). Publication may come soon, or it could take several more months.

The results of the bat studies were presented to the Compendium Committee by Dr. Charles Rupprecht, the CDC's chief rabies specialist and a consultant to the Compendium Committee.

Ms. Carley notes that "California Department of Health representatives who did not hesitate to point to the previous Rabies Compendium Committee recommendation that healthy ferrets that bite may have to be euthanized and tested for rabies because the shed time was unknown, now ignore the Compendium recommendations that ferrets be quarantined."

"The California Department of Health Services is sending a clear message to ferret owners: 'Science will be set aside for ferrets involved in bite instances in California. The California Department of Health Services will kill your healthy pet ferret if you surrender it to authorities.'"

"Public Health is not served by ignoring the latest scientific information in pursuit of a mean spirited and vindictive policy of hurting ferret owners by needlessly killing the pets they love," she concluded in a CFL press release. "It's time California adopts rational policies where domesticated ferrets are concerned."

[Editor's Note: The Independent Ferret News Service shares Ms. Carley's anger at this irrational and unnecessary killing, and our heartfelt condolences go out to Pat Wright over the tragic loss of Rocky.]

[The California Domestic Ferret Association also expresses its condolences to Pat on his loss. -- Ed.]


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