03/10/2015 07:57 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT

Banned for years, ferrets may wriggle into New York City's list of permitted pets

NEW YORK, N.Y. - After years of slinking around, ferrets and their fans may get to go aboveground in New York City.

The city Board of Health is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to lift a longstanding ban on keeping the animals as pets, which is legal across much of the U.S.

Related to weasels, ferrets are believed to have been domesticated about 2,000 years ago. They have gained popularity as pets in recent decades, spotlighted by such celebrity fans as Paris Hilton. The American Veterinary Medicine Association estimated in 2012 that some 334,000 households nationwide have ferrets, a minute fraction of those with dogs or cats.

Many states have lifted ferret bans over the past 25 years. California and Hawaii still have them, as does Washington, D.C.

Ferrets are legal in the rest of New York state, but the city has long defined ferrets as wild animals and generally prohibited them. The ban became specific in 1999.

Ferret fanciers say it reflects an unfair, outdated view of their inquisitive, playful companions. Owners say ferrets can make ideal apartment dwellers: They're small, quiet and litter-trainable and can be caged when no one's home.

But some New Yorkers say the dense city is no place for the agile animals, which can emit a distinctive musky smell.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.