NEW YORK CITY — The Board of Health upheld the long-standing city ban on ferrets Tuesday, despite pleas from animal advocates to lift it.
Though legal in New York state, the city banned the furry creatures in 1999, classifying them as a "wild animal" that is "naturally inclined to do harm" to humans.
The Board of Health voted 3-2 to lift the ban, but six votes were needed for the measure to pass.
Five members of the board abstained, according to the Department of Health.
"We appreciate the Board’s concern for the health and safety of New Yorkers in their decision to keep in place the prohibition on ferret ownership in New York City," the Department of Health said in a statement.
Despite the efforts of his Department of Health to have the ban lifted, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was fine with the ruling.
"I thought that was a decision for the Board of Health to make. If that's their judgment, I'm comfortable with their judgment," de Blasio said during an unrelated press conference at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn.
Ferret lovers have long called for the ban to be lifted, saying the animal is no more dangerous than any other pet allowed within city limits.
The American Ferret Association said they were disappointed with the decision but were "undeterred" from their goal of making the animals legal in the city.
"Our hope is that someday the ban will be lifted everywhere and ferret owners can openly go to the vet or even on a stroll around the yard without living in fear of their pet being taken away," the group said in a statement.
Under the revised law, ferret owners would have been required to immunize their pets against rabies, sterilize them to prevent them from reproducing, and restrain them when outdoors.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani vetoed a bill to lift the ban during his administration, but the de Blasio administration was in favor of the change.
In May 2014, the Department of Health granted a request asking the city to consider removing ferrets from the list of prohibited pets, and more than 400 people sent in written statements of support for a hearing in January 2015.
"The comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of amending the Health Code to allow ferrets to be owned as pets," the Board of Health noted in the proposed amendment to the code.
Lorelei Tibbetts, manager at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine said the city could be missing an economic opportunity. If ferrets were legal, everyone from breeders to pet stores to veterinarians could benefit.
"They are one of the few animals I recommend for people in New York City apartments," said Tibbetts. "They are not dangerous animals. They are active, fun and not more aggressive than any cat or dog."
Camille Bautista contributed reporting.