Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mr. Serrano's Little Animal

I get Google alerts for ferrets. No, that isn't quite like Onstar, in case one of my babies gets lost (would be a good idea, though). These alerts are supposed to bring me stories about ferrets that arise from just about anywhere on the internet. Well, that was what I had *thought* it would do.

For the most part, I get news stories about someone "ferreting out" one of their local dishonest politicians, or stories from a publishing company named Ferret Music, or even bizarrely industrial stories from an organization called Ferret Australia. The stories that come from Ferret Australia have nothing whatsoever to do with ferrets that I can tell. They're usually about software design and sheet metal, and I have as yet to figure out what in the heck these people actually do.

Every once in a while, I actually get an alert that's about a ferret. One of the last ones was about a vicious ferret attack in the Bronx. You might remember the story. Two little girls named Melanie and Melody were walking their pet ferrets when one of them went stark-raving mad and attacked poor Jon-Luc. Jon-Luc's mother, Wanda, reported that "the girls harbored the 'wild' and 'ferocious' animals, which are 'prone to vicious, unpredictable attacks on humans, particularly young children and infants.'" Ferrets are illegal in New York City. Naming your obviously defenseless son "Jon-Luc" is not, apparently. I would suggest martial arts to help improve this delicate child's confidence.

Today I had gotten another Goggle alert about a New York City man who was beaten into critical condition because he attempted to regain his ferret from some thugs. Now, I had previously gotten three alerts to this story, but this one came from Channel 47-KGPE, Fresno, California. The previous alerts had directed me to much better versions of the story, mostly from the east coast. I thought to myself that maybe the good people of Fresno might be interested in a man who was beaten into critical condition over a ferret. I know that it had sparked my interest. So I go to the Channel 47 web site and take a look at the other headlines of the day - "Lawsuit Says SpongeBob Shirt Burned Boy," "Obese Man Loses 81 Pounds in One Day," "Chicken Nugget Creator Dead at 84." In my mind, I began to question the seriousness of the good people of Fresno's journalistic integrity. I do have to admit, however, that the stories were hilarious, way funnier than MSNBC. Against my better judgment, I would probably be coming back to this site just to read the freak show of headlines.

I will relate my reason for mentioning the Fresno news site in just a moment, but I want to expand on the seriousness of the original story.

The best version of the story is found in the New York Times. Joe Serrano, an elderly Mexican immigrant, was a superintendent of a building located on 572 West 173rd Street in Washington Heights, New York City. He was emptying out the apartment of a tenant who had died and found a ferret named Mico. The tenant had been dead for awhile, and Mico was starving. Being the kind soul that he was, Mr. Serrano put Mico in a cage, gave him some food, and gave him a home in the boiler room located in the basement of the building. Mr. Serrano lived in a tiny apartment next to the boiler room, no more than a few feet wide and fifteen feet long. Mico also shared the boiler room with a pit bull named Max.

Mr. Serrano often took to the streets of New York with Mico on his shoulder, and many people had reported seeing him do this. One day, however, Mico came up missing from the boiler room. Mr. Serrano went looking for his ferret, spotted some young men who were carrying Mico, asked them for his ferret back, and was promptly pounded into a bloody pulp. Mr. Serrano wobbled to his feet, saying, "My animal, my little animal." Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos, Sr. Serrano.

Oddly enough, the next section of the story states that "owning ferrets in New York is illegal, and is punishable by a fine of between $200 and $2,000." Nowhere in the article does it mention the illegality of beating a man to a pulp and sending him to the hospital in critical condition with severe head trauma. Mr. Serrano might have suffered brain damage, possibly impairing his ability to speak and the use one of his arms. From what I've read, Mico has not been recovered. The New York Times accompanied the story with a stock photo of a ferret. There was no photo of Mr. Serrano, however. He probably wasn't cute enough.

Now, there's a reason I've mentioned Channel 47's website story. The story had been on a few other independent internet news sites as well, and each one has accompanied their story with a stock photo of a ferret. All very cute ferrets, but none of them the real Mico. That's understandable. I imagine any dashing news photographer might have been dissuaded from snapping Mico's photo by New York City's $2000 fine. But Channel 47's accompanying stock photo was a bit different. It was of a smart-looking sable ferret walking through the grass. Being the curious fellow that I am, I right-clicked on the photo and hit "properties" so that I could see the URL. I wanted to see if this photo might be one of the actual Mico. No such luck. This was the URL:

http://content.clearchannel.com/Photos/animals/Mammals/Rodent/ferret_GI.jpg

Naturally, I first looked at the end of the URL, hoping to see Mico's name, but what I saw was "Ferret_GI.jpg." Was this a stock photo of a military ferret? Had this ferret recently had general intestinal surgery? I didn't have a clue. I started looking at the rest of the URL, however, and came to the word "Rodent." Rodent? I looked at the picture again, thinking I might spot some furry little mouse in the grass, but the only mammal I could spot was the military ferret. No rodents anywhere. Had this reputable news agency mistaken a ferret for a rodent? One would think that any news agency would be up on that kind of thing, especially one involved with the state of California. Hadn't California done all kinds of research and found out that domestic mustelids were much more dangerous to it's ecology than other fissipeds? How could they not know that a ferret was not a rodent? While I was glad that they had gotten "Mammal" right, I was disappointed in the good people of Fresno for letting this one slide.

As a matter of fact, I have been increasingly disappointed in the ignorance of many of the rule-makers and legislators of both the states of New York and California. How can legislators rule on the legality of an animal when they don't even know what the animal is? Do they confuse domestic mustelids with other, more endangered mustelids? Are they really trying to protect the more endangered mustelids from the domestic ones? I'm pretty sure that if my Bubbles somehow got loose in the forests of California, that the first male black-footed ferret that came her way would take a sniff at her spayed and descented behind and walk away. I am almost entirely sure that he would want to find a much hotter black-footed female to play with, unless of course, he didn't want children and had a thing for blonds. Then, I guess, he would be no different than most Californian males. (I mean you no offense, my dear Bubbles. California males, you're on your own.)

And what in the hell about New York City? Are there businesses of roving black-footed ferrets wandering around Ground Zero that need protected? I've been to New York City a couple of times, and never remembered seeing very much wildlife there at all. I've seen the *remnants* of wildlife in Chinatown restaurants, but that is about the extent of it. I just don't get it. Why are ferrets illegal in New York City? Did they spin a big wheel and ferrets came up? Was that when they decided to make ferrets illegal? Were feral mustelids invading the Department of Health and the Mayor's office? Did Juliani have his wife on hold while talking to his girlfriend, when a mustelid meandered into his office? Did he embarrass himself by jumping up on his desk and screaming like a little girl? I'm just trying to understand here, people. I really don't get it.

How is it that Mr. Serrano was willing to defend his "little animal" with his life, but the people that have forced the ownership of ferrets underground know little or nothing about the animal that they are trying to protect Mr. Serrano from? Apparently, the Department of Health didn't mind Mr. Serrano living right next to the boiler room in a miniscule apartment. That was perfectly fine with them.

Why is it that a woman in the Bronx has to scream bloody murder when a ferret on a leash bites her son? If she's looking to protect her son from "wild and ferocious animals, which are prone to vicious, unpredictable attacks on humans," shouldn't she be considering the more dangerous fissipeds, namely cats and dogs? Or was she just looking to make a buck? New York, New York, big city of dreams...

I don't get it, California and New York City (and any other place in the United States which feels a need to make ferrets illegal). What are you basing your laws on? I know, with the Patriot Act and illegal wire-tapping, the legality of ferrets hardly seems to be an issue. But maybe that's the problem. We are up to our eyed-teeth in ignorant and bloated laws. Each and every day, the legislators just can't wait to make more of them. Lawyers have to be paid. Big Business has to be protected. Ferrets are definitely not one of their priorities, unless of course someone is trying to make them legal.

Mr. Serrano didn't care about any of these laws. He freely rode Mico on his shoulder while he took to the streets of New York City. Maybe it was because he was a Mexican immigrant that he had no knowledge of the laws of New York City. Maybe he unknowingly gave Mayor Juliani and the Department of Health the middle finger by showing off his "little animal." Good for him. But then, maybe not so good for him. Because his "little animal" had been forced underground, quite possibly the thugs who beat him to a pulp and stole Mico felt a little more emboldened to do so.

I'm just trying to understand. In a country where educated people sometimes don't even know how to classify ferrets, why do we insist on keeping these ignorant and arbitrary laws? Is there any scientific, pragmatic reason to do so? If there is one, I'd sure like to hear it.

Mi corazón sale a usted, Sr. Serrano. There was no reason for this to have ever happened. Puede usted ser curado de su estupidez.

Links to the story:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/18/nyregion/18ferret.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/view.php?StoryID=20060318-103030-3147r
http://www.cbs47.tv/news/weird_news/story.aspx?content_id=F9783ECB-29D6-4FB0-BDB8-A67F5B11FBF7