NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Ferrets won’t get a legal foothold in New York City.

The city Board of Health decided Tuesday to maintain a long-standing prohibition on keeping the animals as pets. The vote was 3-2 to lift the ban, but it needed six votes to pass. There were five abstentions, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.

The decision Tuesday by the city Board of Health to maintain the ban on ferrets as pets came after some members expressed concerns about them biting and potentially crawling through apartment walls and getting loose.

However, David Gaines of the American Ferret Association said that is extremely rare.

“Internally it doesn’t happen often enough for it to be so significant that it would be the main focus on preventing their being legalized in NYC,” he told 1010 WINS.

“I’m greatly troubled by this. I have to say that, at this point, I’m not at all convinced that it wouldn’t be a substantial health risk to allow ferret ownership in New York City,” Dr. Lynn Richardson said.

But others suggested it wasn’t fair to single out ferrets for potential problems that other, legal animals also can cause.

“I am sort of moved, a little bit, by the idea of equity,” Dr. Joel Forman said.

A Brooklyn college started a petition last year to lift the ban.

Ferrets are believed to have been domesticated about 2,000 years ago. They have gained popularity as pets in recent decades, spotlighted by such celebrity fans as Paris Hilton. The American Veterinary Medicine Association estimated in 2012 that some 334,000 households nationwide have ferrets, a minute fraction of those with dogs or cats.

Many states have lifted ferret bans over the past 25 years. California and Hawaii still have them, as does Washington, D.C.

Ferrets are legal in the rest of New York state, but fur has flown over the issue for years in the city. The city’s ban on ferrets was put in place under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration in 1999.

Giuliani once told an ardent ferret aficionado to get psychological help, saying the man’s “excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness.”

The city has long defined ferrets as wild animals and generally prohibited them, but the ban became specific in 1999.

Ferret fanciers say it reflects an unfair, outdated view of their inquisitive, playful companions. Owners say ferrets can make ideal apartment dwellers: They’re small (about a foot long and three pounds), quiet and litter-trainable and can be caged when no one’s home.

“They’re a perfect pet,” ferret owner Shanise Regis said at a Health Department hearing in January.

Owners say concerns about biting and escape are overblown. The proposal to nix the ferret ban would require the animals to be vaccinated for rabies, sterilized and restrained when outdoors.

Board members were worried about enforcement of the regulations, but lead petitioner Ariel Jasper said all those concerns were addressed in the testimony of the advocates

“Why did I even write this petition if the board never actually read the first draft?” Jasper said.

“I’ve never been this let down by the government,” Jasper told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “We’re laughing stocks, UK has been laughing at us. ‘Oh look at New Yorkers, afraid of two-pound ferrets.’”

“We are responsible pet owners, and we are begging to be able to take our pets to the vet without fear” that the animals will be seen and ultimately confiscated, ferret owner Veronica Nizama said at the hearing. “Or even just go outside and let them feel the sun or the grass between their paws.”

But some New Yorkers say the dense city is no place for the agile animals, which can emit a distinctive musky smell.

“I don’t think they’re appropriate in New York City,” Dylan Miller said at the hearing, after describing how his girlfriend’s neighbor’s ferret made a scent-marking mess.

A Quinnipiac University poll in June found New Yorkers divided: 42 percent opposed and 39 percent supported allowing ferrets as pets. The difference was within the poll’s 3.1 percent margin of error.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t taken a position, leaving the decision to the health board.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

More From CBS New York

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
Get Our Morning Briefs

Watch & Listen LIVE