New York State

New York’s wildest animal laws

If you live in New York City, you can’t own a ferret – and you certainly can’t give it a nose ring. Here are the wildest animal-related laws on the books in New York.

Sorry bud, ferrets aren't welcome 'round these parts.

Sorry bud, ferrets aren't welcome 'round these parts. Mitskevich Uladzimir/Shutterstock

Tough times could be ahead for New York City’s pigeons and squirrels. The city Department of Parks and Recreation has proposed a ban on feeding the winged and bushy-tailed park dwellers, arguing that they are better off foraging for their own food instead of eating our leftovers. Besides – city officials point out – food waste attracts rats.

New Yorkers are divided over the proposed ban, with some welcoming the city’s efforts to promote the welfare of wildlife and keep rat populations in check, and others calling it a “starvation campaign.”

“What you are doing is CRUEL,” one outraged resident wrote on the department’s website. “There is no food source for squirrels in the parkway.”

New York is not currently considered a leader among states when it comes to protecting the welfare of animals – the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks it No. 33 – but lawmakers just enacted the first statewide ban on declawing cats. And it seems animal issues have been on legislators’ minds for quite some time.

City & State’s recent review of animal-related legislation turned up a varied selection, ranging from the quirky to the outdated to the downright bizarre.

No “weasels” allowed in NYC

Did you know that owning a ferret is illegal in New York City? We have then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to thank for the 1999 ban. Between Giuliani (who famously called the animals “little weasels”) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (who didn’t challenge a Department of Health decision to uphold the ban), New York remains an inhospitable place for the tiny European mammal. Other animals banned as pets include skunks, wolverines, iguanas, badgers and mongooses.

Honey bees are welcome

Not too long ago, bees were considered as dangerous to public health as the most venomous spiders and snakes. But since New York City legalized beekeeping in 2010, any renter can establish a beehive if they register with the city and maintain a safe distance from their neighbors. As of last year, there were 374 registered hives across the five boroughs.

No piercings or ink for pets

It is unclear whether tattooing or piercing dogs and cats was common practice in New York prior to 2014, but the crime is now punishable with a fine of up to $250 and perhaps a few days in jail. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who sponsored the legislation, pointed to the case of a Brooklyn tattoo artist who tattooed a heart on his dog, calling it “selfish vanity.”

Banned: the sale of cat and dog fur

Though no one really knows when dog and cat fur entered the New York market, legislators banned the practice in 2003. However, it seems the ban was not being strictly enforced. In 2012, the Humane Society of the United States discovered a New York-based company was advertising “products made from dog fur.” The organization launched an investigation and urged the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure the law is enforced.

Also banned: the sale of baby rabbits and baby chicks

The Easter Bunny seems to deal more in chocolate and marshmallow candy than live animals these days, but decades ago bunnies and baby chicks (sometimes dyed in pastel colors) were not uncommon gifts for children during Easter. “The chicken and bunny populations in city parks rise rapidly in the weeks after Easter,” The New York Times reported in 1987. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cracked down on several illegal operations after conducting an undercover investigation into the matter. 

Big game hunters, take note

Though the state Department of Environmental Conservation offers a detailed guide to shooting, skinning, butchering and cooking a black bear (oven roasting is recommended for most cuts), they leave out one important fact. If you’re planning to sell the bear’s gallbladder or its bile or have the items in your possession, you’ll need to display a signed bear tag – or risk a $5,000 fine. The popularity of the small organ (which has many uses in Asian medicine) prompted wildlife officials to establish the rule so as to discourage bear poaching and organ trade on the black market.

A rule for the digital generation

As of 2014, wildlife fans are no longer allowed to pose for selfies inside an enclosure with tigers or other big cats at traveling fairs or circuses. But who would want to do that in the first place? Plenty of people posting photos on the online dating app Tinder, it turns out. Legislators banned “hugging, patting or otherwise touching tigers” after the dating site noticed an alarming increase in the so-called tiger selfie.