Help Us Free the “Little Thieves”

The Rise for Animals Team, April 19, 2023

Delightful, mischievous, obliging, dancing adventurers. Such are ferrets – part of the order Carnivora, family Mustelidae, and relatives of mink, otters, and weasels – to those who have had the good fortune of befriending one or more of them.

The name “ferret” is derived from the Latin word furittus, meaning “little thief” and likely referring to their “common habit of secreting away small items.” 

Though only meant in an adoring sense, the “little thief” moniker highlights a devastating irony: ferrets are imprisoned by the thousands in animal research facilities.

The use of ferrets in biomedical research dates back to the early twentieth century and continues in force today. To be sure, in 2021, U.S. research facilities reported exploiting 12,671 wild (“Black-footed”) ferrets and 34,030 “[d]omestic” ferrets. (Ferrets join thousands of other nonhumans in the “Other” category.)

Tragically, then, it may be no accident that a group of ferrets is called a “business”. 

The exploitation and commodification of these small creatures with larger-than-life personalities is, indeed, huge business for the animal research industry, in which ferrets are:

  • Used to study myriad human diseases (influenza, cystic fibrosis, peptic ulcer disease), the cardiovascular system, pediatric endotracheal intubation, vomiting, and more – including, as recently revealed, “Havana Syndrome”, via bombardment by radio frequency resulting in symptoms of “traumatic brain injury”. 
  • Forced to act as “a surrogate for dogs when test material is in limited supply” or when the use of dogs draws public ire . . . even though industry willingly acknowledges that, just like dogs, ferrets “are friendly, curious, and playful”, with “distinct behaviors and a unique biology”.
  • Bred in huge numbers by Marshall BioResources, a horrific factory-farm that sells ferrets to research facilities and to the “pet” industry, including Petco. (Learn more about Marshall – a prolific breeder and abuser of dogs and other nonhumans – and our campaign against them here.)

Ferrets continue to be reduced to humane experimental subjects despite undeniable sentience and strong bonding with humans

Not only are ferrets revered companion animals, but they are: 

  • Relied on as (legally-unacknowledged) service animals – they can, for example, be trained to alert their guardians to oncoming panic attacks – and emotional support animals – they are “very social, attentive, and bond closely” with their guardians. 
  • Astonishing providers of emotional support to humans through participation in animal-assisted therapies (through which they actively improve human physical well-being) and animal-assisted activities (through which they actively improve the emotional well-being of hospital patients, nursing home residents, and other humans in need). 
  • Deserving, as are all nonhumans, of protection from human harm.

April is Adopt a Ferret Month. Please join us in working to secure the freedom of “little thieves” – and all of their nonhuman brethren – from animal research facilities. Sign up for emails below for antivivisection news and insights, plus ways you can help us end animal experimentation for good. 

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