By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City health officials are considering a repeal of the city's ban on keeping ferrets as pets, officials said on Wednesday.
Keeping the small furry mammals in New York City has been prohibited for decades, but health officials would recommend lifting the ban if changes include such requirements as rabies vaccinations, according to a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The move comes under the administration of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal who made the banning of carriage horses in Central Park an issue in his election campaign last year.
Domesticated ferrets, who are related to badgers, otters, mink and weasels, live an average of 6 to 8 years. They sleep much of the day and are known for being mischievous and playful.
KC Theisen, director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States, said she welcomed the move.
Earlier concerns have been resolved with the availability of a rabies vaccine for ferrets, she said.
"We commend them for being cautious about public health and safety while trying to welcome more pets into people's homes," she said.
Other than New York City, having a ferret is not allowed only in California or Hawaii, according to animal advocacy groups.
Debate over New York City's ban stretches back decades, and it has been upheld in state and federal court.
In 1999, under Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Department of Health pronounced ferrets unpredictable and prone to "vicious, unprovoked attacks."
Giuliani weighed in, calling a ferret rights activist "deranged."
"This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness," the former mayor said in what would become a widely replayed exchange on a radio call-in show.
The activist, David Guthartz, who heads the New York Ferret's Rights Advocacy, said on Wednesday he opposes the proposed repeal as giving officials too much power with licensing or fees.
"It becomes more Gestapo techniques," he said.
Before the health code can be changed regarding ferrets, officials will hold a public hearing and public comment period.
(Editing by Gunna Dickson)