was closed and secured by a chair. Sometime later, Sonina Gallick entered the bedroom to check on Brittany, and found that she had been bitten by one of the ferrets.
I. IS A FERRET A WILD ANIMAL?
In Pennsylvania, a person who keeps a wild animal, or a domestic animal with known vicious propensities, may be liable for injuries caused by the dangerous nature of the animal. Summit Hotel Co. v. NBC, 336 Pa. 182, 8 A.2d 302, 305-306 (Pa. 1939); Andrews v. Smith, 324 Pa. 455, 188 A. 146, (Pa. 1936). The early cases indicate that the cause of action is for negligence, not strict liability: "The negligence is in keeping such an animal after notice. . .," Andrews, supra, at 147 (quoted in Summit Motel Co., supra, at 305), although the Pennsylvania Superior Court has more recently discussed the keeping of wild animals in the context of strict liability. Albig v. Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, 348 Pa. Super. 505, 502 A.2d 658, 662 (Pa. Super. 1985) (". . .the doctrine [of strict liability] has long been applied to the keeping of wild animals. . . .").
If a ferret is a wild animal, then, its owner, and perhaps the owner's landlord, may be liable for injuries caused by the ferret. We conclude that, under the applicable principles of Pennsylvania law, a ferret is a wild animal.
A. GENERAL FACTS ABOUT FERRETS
According to Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (College Ed. 1968), a ferret is "a kind of weasel, easily tamed and used for hunting or killing of rabbits, rats, etc. . . ." Generally, two types of ferrets are found in the United States: the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and the domestic
or common ferret (Mustela putorius or Mustela putorius furo).
1. The Black-Footed Ferret
The black-footed ferret has a yellow-buff coat, with brown fur on the top of the head and the middle of the back. It has a black facial mask and its feet, legs, and last quarter of its tail are black. The male black-footed ferret is larger than the female; it is about 22 inches long, approximately 5 1/2 inches of which is its tail, and it weighs about 2 pounds.
The black-footed ferret is nocturnal and feeds mainly on prairie dogs. It moves into a prairie dog colony, occupies the tunnels, and hunts the occupants. Due to the extermination of prairie dogs, the black-footed ferret is now nearly extinct in the wild, if not already so. As of 1989, a few survived in captive breeding programs run by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and in the National Zoological Park at Front Royal, Virginia.
Obviously, the ferret which injured Brittany Gallick was not this type of ferret.
2. The Domestic or Common Ferret
The domestic ferret varies in color from black or dark brown to albino, the latter being predominant. On average, it is about 19 inches long, including 5 inches of tail, and weighs about 2 pounds. Domestic ferrets will live for about four years. The females produce one, and sometimes two litters per year, with about 6 or 7 young per litter.
The domestic ferret, sometimes given the subspecific name Mustela putorius furo, is thought to be a descendant of the European polecat. It was bred in captivity as early as the fourth century B.C. It is usually tame and playful, and is used to control rodents and to drive rabbits from their burrows. It is now found in captivity in much of the world. An estimated 1 million are kept as pets in the United States, though there have been a few reported cases of rabid individuals and savage attacks on children. (Washington Post, 5 April 1988). Unlike the wild polecat, it is generally white or pale yellow in color. According to Asdell (1964),
females may have two or three litters annually. Both the domestic ferret and the polecat were introduced in New Zealand, and large feral populations are now established there. These animals are trapped for their fur in New Zealand, as well as in their original range. . . .
II Ronald M. Novak, Walker's Mammals of the World 1112-1113 (1991). A polecat is "a European mammal, Mustela putorius, of the weasel family, having a blackish fur and ejecting a fetid fluid when attacked or disturbed
. . ." The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2d Ed. 1987).
We turn now to the question of whether ferrets are wild animals. Hereinafter, the term "ferret" shall refer to common or domestic ferrets.
B. PENNSYLVANIA LAW ON WILD ANIMALS
As noted above, under Pennsylvania law, one who brings onto his land and keeps a wild animal is liable for any injuries caused by the dangerous nature of the animal
Both parties cite authorities which purport to define "wild animal" for the present purposes. Included are Corpus Juris Secundum and a statutory section which refers to the control of diseases among domestic animals.
However, as recently as 1987, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania established a definition of "wild animal" for purposes of tort law. In Deluca v. Whitemarsh Twp., 106 Pa. Commw. 325, 526 A.2d 456 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987), plaintiff had been injured by a wolf owned by a private citizen. In her complaint, she sought to recover from the township in which the owner lived, 'arguing that it had been negligent in allowing him to keep the wolf. Whitemarsh Township filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, contending that it was not liable because Pennsylvania has declined to waive governmental immunity for injuries caused by wild animals. Deluca, supra, at 456-457.
The Commonwealth Court reviewed the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 8541 et seq. A provision of the Act includes the following:
(b) Acts which may impose liability.-- The following acts by a local agency or any of its employees may result in the imposition of liability on a local agency: