Rescue Of The California 16 Ferrets

What happened to the 16 ferrets that got confiscated in California last month? A ferret rescue organization saved them.

What happened to the 16 ferrets that got confiscated in California last month? A ferret rescue organization saved them.

ferrets in cages on cart
Courtesy of Christine Smith 
The 16 ferrets were loaded into two travel cages for the trip to Sacramento.

In late June this year, 16 ferrets were taken from a residence in Santa Ana, California, when Santa Ana Police Animal Control Officers received information that suspect Sebastian Alexander Swisher was buying ferrets out of state and transporting them to California. Ferrets have been illegal to own in California since 1933. Swisher was cited for importation, transportation of live restricted animals.

What’s happened to the ferrets since then? Initially, they were taken to OC Animal Care in the city of Orange. Word of the ferrets’ plight quickly reached members of West Coast Ferrets, the ferret rescue in Sacramento. The organization has a permit to transport rescued, abandoned and confiscated ferrets safely out of state, as noted on its website.

Hitting The Road For Ferrets
On Saturday, June 27, only three days after the ferrets were confiscated, Christine Smith started what would be a 945-mile round-trip drive from Sacramento to Orange and back. Smith is a volunteer with West Coast Ferrets and its president at the time of the rescue.

“I left the Sacramento area about 2 a.m.,” Smith said. 

She wanted to arrive in Orange before noon so the ferrets would be in the air-conditioned car before the heat of the day hit. She arrived at OC Animal Care at 11:30 a.m. and after a short wait, the staff was assisting her.

“They were very helpful and after validating the WCF permit proceeded to print out all of their cage cards for our records,” Smith said. “They took my transport cages to an area off access to myself and returned with the cages on a cart filled with the 16 and helped me load them into the car. At which point it began to sprinkle, it was nice and overcast, leading to a much less stressful transition for the ferrets, as they were not also subjected to the California hot sun. I offered everyone water and food while they calmed down, all were fast asleep together before I even got on back on the road.”

Smith said the trip back went amazingly well.

“They did GREAT!” Smith said of the ferrets. “Even though they were in slightly cramped quarters, they were happy to be together and seemed to feed off an aura of calm from each other. They all wanted to be together, half the time they were all in the hammock, the other half they were all together on the bottom. I made one stop along the way where I set up some playpens and let them have a chance to burn some energy and play in some water, after that they all fell fast asleep again and were little angels for the remainder of the ride.”

The ride ended back in the Sacramento area at 1:30 a.m. on June 28. The next morning, Smith said the ferrets received a veterinary exam from her husband, Richard Smith, DVM. The ferrets’ ages varied from 1 to 4 years old. 

“Two of the older girls were showing signs of being pre-adrenal and will be receiving Deslorelin implants,” Smith said. She pointed out that they are working to get the ferrets as healthy as possible, because it’s illegal to transport sick animals across state lines.

“Four of them had a slight upper respiratory infection, only two needed antibiotics for secondary infections, but all are better now,” Smith said. “Several of them appeared a touch underweight, but with no concrete history, that could just be attributed to their prior week of stress and diet changes. All are getting back to a standard healthy weight now.” 

ferrets in cages
Courtesy of Christine Smith 
During a rest stop along the way, the ferrets got a chance to burn some energy, eat and drink.

The Ferrets Enter Temporary Homes
After examination, the ferrets were split up to be sent to three foster homes until the citation against Swisher is resolved.

Debby, the rescue coordinator at West Coast Ferrets, says the fosterers are getting to know the ferrets. 

“Having them in smaller groups in temporary foster homes, it’s much easier to get to know them,” Debby said. “One little girl can’t wait to steal the flip-flops right off my feet. One male is so cuddly he’ll lay in my arms when I watch TV. Two very young girls have unlimited energy… like the Energizer bunny! It’s hard not to give them names.”

Debby said they already know which out-of-state shelter will take in the ferrets once the citation is settled, but this information isn’t disclosed until the ferrets are already safely at the new shelter. 

“There are the occasional awkward situations where the owner has attempted to circumvent the rescue in an attempt to retrieve their ferrets,” Debby said. She added that this isn’t a concern with the CA16, as she calls these ferrets. “The owner is cooperative and has even donated to their care. He understands they cannot return.”

The Costs Of Ferret Rescue 
And that raises the issue of costs. Driving almost a thousand miles, medical care and food are just part of the expenses incurred by West Coast Ferrets for this rescue. 

“With the CA16, we expected a hardship financially,” Debby said. “Word got out through social media that we would be helping to rescue the ferrets from the animal shelter in Santa Ana, and ferret owners both in and out of California wanted to know how they could help. Our WCF President, Christine, was instrumental in organizing donations. She also helped coordinate the SatinAngels Fundraising Auctions run by Dawn to benefit the ferrets.” 

Once the ferrets transfer to the out-of-state shelter, that organization will likely need some help to take on so many ferrets at once. Debby said that the shelter can charge an adoption fee, but fees probably won’t come close to offsetting expenses.

West Coast Ferrets obtained its transport permit in 2007 and has assisted many ferrets through the years. Debby said the number of rescues varies each year. 

“One year we only did 12, another year we did 60 — including surrendered ferrets,” she said.  

For people who wish to help ferrets, Debby suggests they donate to help a ferret rescue or their local ferret shelter. 

“Anything, any small amount, is appreciated,” Debby said. “It’s all about the ferrets — no matter where. We have transportation costs, supplies, medications and vet bills. To donate to WCF go to our website  and follow the link Donate. Do your part to legalize ferrets in California.”

ferrets sleeping in cage
Courtesy of Christine Smith 
The ferrets snoozed during much of the trip, unaware they were speeding along the road to Sacramento (inset). 

The Reality Of Ferrets Being Illegal In California 
Although the ferrets are now safe and on a path to “freedom” in another state, Debby said she wished this never had to happen.

“It’s a bad law that should be changed,” she said. 

Unless or until it is, West Coast Ferrets is a solution for lucky ferrets who find their way to them. 

“We do this strictly for the ferrets,” Debby said. “We don’t enjoy taking someone’s ferrets out of state, but the alternative of having them euthanized is worse. I suggest California ferret owners have an exit strategy. If confiscated, you can ask that your ferret be transported out of state to a friend or relative at your expense. And, even before that, know that unless the authorities — police, animal control or DFW — have a search warrant in hand, you don’t have to let them into your home. And PLEASE never post your ferret for sale or re-homing on Craigslist. DFW does scan this media for illegal species.”

Debby also believes ferret owners everywhere should join and become involved with a local ferret club. 

“Networking, having someone available to babysit when you go on vacation, or to turn to in bad times,” she said. “Make friends that understand your crazy, over-the-top obsession with these endearing pets. It helps to not feel so isolated.”

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