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N.Y. caseworker fired for asking welfare recipient to watch his ferret

NEW YORK — Advice to New York City employees who wish to stay employed: Do not ask a welfare recipient to watch your beloved pet ferret.

A caseworker at the Human Resources Administration was fired after doing just that, the city’s Conflict of Interest Board said Tuesday. It was the latest episode in a long line of municipal controversies wrought by the misunderstood mammal.

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The caseworker, Kempe Hope, exploited his position by soliciting a paid ferret-sitting session from a person whose benefits he was overseeing, the board found. It was a lesson learned too late for Hope, who discovered that of all the political pests that can vex public servants, the ferret often leaves the harshest bite.

After banning pet ferrets in 1999, then-mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani became so incensed about the animals that he called a ferret advocate deranged. “This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness,’’ Giuliani said in an extended rant on his radio program in 2000, later cited by political opponents as an example of unhinged behavior by the mayor. (Ferrets are cousins of the weasel.)

A former Massachusetts governor, William F. Weld, earned praise and mockery when he insisted his state not be ‘‘immune to the discreet charm of the domestic ferret.’’ And as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to legalize ferret ownership. He called the measure flawed, but added: ‘‘I love ferrets. I co-starred with a ferret in ‘Kindergarten Cop.’ ’’

Efforts to reach Hope were unsuccessful. But the pet care that he requested would probably have been taxing for the sitter. “Things happen very quickly with ferrets,’’ said David Guthartz, executive president of New York Ferret’s Rights Advocacy, and the man whose love for the animal prompted Giuliani’s radio rant. Proper care, he said, requires vigilance: ‘‘We don’t own them. They own us.’’

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