When the Health section published a wire service report two weeks ago on the documented cases of three infants attacked by domesticated ferrets, the outpouring of protest from ferret owners was remarkable. An error in the article -- it said ferrets are rodents, when in fact they eat rodents -- may have inspired some of the response. But there is certainly more to it than that.
A sampling of letters:
True, in their natural state, ferrets have an odor. However, many that are sold in pet stores already are neutered and descented, eliminating the problem.
Ferrets are neat, clean animals and will use a litter box with just a little orientation. If allowed to roam over a large area, they may opt for a convenient corner. Our three ferrets are confined to a family room, where two small litter trays suffice.
Anyone who claims that ferrets are mean and vicious has never been kissed by one, or watched how affectionate they can be with each other. Some people mistake their rough play for meanness. These thick-skinned creatures enjoy slamming each other, dragging each other around and mockful hissing and arching of the back. It's not serious, doesn't hurt them and is simply how ferrets play.
Our ferrets have never bitten maliciously. When young, they nipped playfully just like pets of many other species. They need to be taught that it hurts and isn't allowed. If not corrected, this can develop into a bad habit.
Ferrets are not cats or dogs and can have widely varying personalities. (One of ours is a lap ferret, while another is more aloof like a cat.)
I believe that problems with most pets are not the pet's fault, but the pet owner's lack of love, initiative, knowledge or ability to discipline their animals.
The domestic European Fitch Ferret found in pet stores is not a wild animal and would not survive in the wild. It is not a "rodent" or a member of the rat family; rather, it is a member of the mink and otter family. Ferrets are similar to cats in that they are litter-box trained and eat cat food. Domestic ferrets do not feed on live animals any more than Morris the Cat does.
The cat, searching for a warm place to sleep, settles down in the baby's crib. The child suffocates. The family dog, jealous of the new baby, attacks his rival, with tragic results. Pet or threat?
Were cats and dogs a new idea, The Post's answer might well be "threat." Ferrets, unfortunately, are a new idea. After 3,000 years of domesticity, the ferret is being rediscovered. Like cats and dogs, ferrets can be made vicious by mishandling but are generally docile. The ferret's wild relatives do prey on unprotected young, old and injured animals. So do the wild relatives of the dog and cat.
I find it curious that the "authority" cited admittedly has as little to do with the "vicious little animals" as possible, while the opinions of nearly a million ferret owners who know and love their pets are blithely ignored.
Would I leave an infant alone with my ferrets? No. To leave an infant unattended with any carnivorous animal is courting disaster.
Mary E. Overman
Colonial Beach, Va.
Like cats and dogs, ferrets are capable of turning upon their owners and others. Given a choice, I would rather be bitten by a small ferret.
We once used ferrets as living examples of small carnivores in a university course on animal biology. We found them to be fascinating and playful creatures.
Those calling them "mean, vicious little animals" that must be banned are hysterical and might try lowering their blood pressures by petting their pet rabbits, which, by the way, are not rodents either.
Gregory S. Paul