By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – As many as three ferrets kept as household pets attacked a one-month-old infant girl in her suburban Philadelphia home, and the child was reported on Friday to have undergone surgery for severe injuries to her face.
The baby had been left unattended in a car seat on the floor of the same living room where the three ferrets were kept caged in an enclosure made of fabric and soft mesh when the mauling occurred on Thursday, according to local media reports.
ABC News affiliate WPVI television reported the child’s father said the ferrets escaped while he was in an upstairs room taking a nap and that the mother was in an upstairs bathroom when she heard the child screaming.
A man identified as the father showed WPVI the ferret enclosure on camera and explained how the animals may have gotten loose.
“We rigged it, we tied it, but more likely they broke that out, and they can get out. The one ferret was in there, but the other two ferrets were running around when the cops came,” he said.
Darby Borough Police Chief Robert Smythe told WPVI: “This is the most horrific thing I’ve seen happen to a child in 45 years in this town.”
Police declined to say whether either parent would be arrested, but WPVI reported that Delaware County prosecutors were considering criminal charges in the case.
The couple have four other children under the age of five, who have been referred in the past to the county’s child welfare agency and were staying with grandparents for the time being, according to WPVI.
The TV station said the child suffered severe injuries to her lips, nose and other parts of her face, and underwent surgery on Thursday at Children’s Hospital.
A hospital spokeswoman told Reuters late on Friday that no information on the child’s condition was being released, at the family’s request.
The American Ferret Association, an advocacy organization in Frederick, Maryland, says ferrets – members of the weasel family – are legal to own as pets in most of the United States but are heavily regulated in some jurisdictions. In California, ferret ownership requires a special permit.
(Additional reporting by Mark Guarino in Chicago; Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)