The thrill of glimpsing a wild animal in their habitat is as much in our true nature, as it is in the animal’s to desire freedom. We are a culture of Planet Earth documentaries, awed by the unbridaled beauty of the animal kingdom. Yet on fur farms, those same animals endure the indignity of captivity so severe it strips them of all the natural behaviors we find so enthralling. In this time of our heightened awareness of societal injustice, mindfulness can extend to what we eat and wear. As a moral species, we have long acknowledged that inflicting suffering on sentient beings for trivial means is wrong. Fur, and other materials that are the products of oppression, therefore have no place in the modern wardrobe. Now is our opportunity to literally wear our wokeness on our sleeve.
Fueled by increased demands in developing economies of Russia and China, the fur trade has in recent decades grown into a global multi-billion dollar industry. But this momentum is showing signs of slowing, and Europe has experienced groundbreaking political and legislative developments, with fur farming now banned in eight countries. Among them is the United Kingdom, where it’s been outlawed since 2000; the long-awaited Croatian fur ban came into effect last month; and the Dutch Supreme Court recently upheld a mink farming ban in the world’s fourth largest fur producer, the Netherlands. Japan has closed its last fur farm, and New Zealand has a partial ban. But the fur machine churns on. 125 million rabbits and 75 million mink, foxes and raccoon dogs are killed for fur each year in China. On fur farms in the European Union, over 32 million animals per year are killed for fur year-round. In the US and Canada, highly unregulated trapping kills over 7 million fur-bearing animals annually. In this story, LAIKA speaks to some of the witnesses, activists and experts who are determined to bring those numbers down to zero.
“If you could see what I’ve seen, you would never wear that coat.”
“The fur is everywhere,” says photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. She is speaking to LAIKA from Scandinavia, home to fur giants Saga Furs and Kopenhagen Fur. “Some people don’t even know that animals are killed for their fur coats,” she says. “What I see is the death of a hundred individuals.” McArthur has seen more than most. By her estimate, she has documented twenty five fur farms in Europe and Canada.
Mink are the world’s most widely farmed for their fur. Denmark alone produces 17.8 million pelts a year. Confined to extremely small wire cages, some only 8 inches across, “They pace back and forth, everything is completely unnatural,” says McArthur. “These are animals who [in the wild] live close to water, they live solitary lives. But yet they’re crammed in. They cannibalize. It’s very normal for them to have injuries on their scruffs, ears missing, paws missing.”
The farms are typically situated in forests. For the animals, it’s freedom that’s close, yet hopelessly out of reach. “They can feel the breeze … There’s trees surrounding the cages, and they just look at that day in and day out,” says McArthur. She describes the filth and unbearable stench of their immediate surroundings, the excrement piled high underneath, the cages caked with fur and dust.
Most recently McArthur captured aerial views of enormous mink farms on the east coast of Nova Scotia, which she says are “more like a brand new concentration camp.” These fully mechanized factory fur farms generate an extreme amount of pollution. The runoff creates algal blooms in nearby lakes that have become increasingly common in the region. “There are kids camps that are next to these lakes, and they don’t just impose a ‘no swimming policy,’ they move the whole camp because it’s a dangerous bloom,” McArthur says. “And they don’t know if they can ever get rid of it, or treat it. It just kills the lake, the animals who drink from it get sick. And this is because of useless mink farming. It’s creating a catastrophic chain of events.”
And whether the farm is new or old — “it’s hell,” says McArthur. “If you could see what I’ve seen, you would never wear that coat.” In addition to mink farms, she has documented fox farms, one of which also kept raccoon dogs. In the wild, these animals (who are in the same family of species as domesticated dogs) live in densely vegetated areas, roaming vast distances.
On fur farms, they “have zero autonomy,” McArthur says. “They can’t choose their friends, they can’t choose their mates. The loneliness that they must endure.” The wooden structures they’re housed in are often worn down from chewing, which results in severe mouth injuries that go untreated. “These animals spend a lot of time circling trying to find a way out,” she says. These and other stereotypic (abnormal repetitive) behaviors, like fur chewing and self-injury, are a sign of psychological dysfunction and a common sight on fur farms. Many animals simply succumb to despair. “They’re just really despondent and sort of beyond fear,” McArthur says.
In the wild, foxes dig complex burrows, but on fur farms they are forced to stand on wire flooring for the duration of their lives. “If you can feel the horror and urgency of what it would be like for your cat or dog — that’s what millions of animals are feeling,” McArthur says. “And imagine how your legs must atrophy, not being able to take a stride, standing hobbled on cage flooring. It makes you twist your body in all sorts of ways to alleviate pain. There’s no recourse from that other than lying down, and that’s barely a recourse.”
The Coldest Coats
A name synonymous with fur these days is the Toronto-based Canada Goose, which deceptively markets its fur-lined down parkas as “humane.”
The coyotes caught with leg hold traps for Canada Goose, and other companies that use fur, sustain injuries like severance of tendons (caused by animals twisting their limbs to free themselves), limb amputations and profuse bleeding, among many others. Traps may go unchecked for as long as five days, as the animal suffers from thirst, starvation and fear. To preserve the pelt, instead of being shot, the coyotes found alive by trappers will be clubbed, suffocated or strangled with a snare — a metal noose that delivers an agonizing death that can last eight minutes.
Canada Goose obsessively claims that its $900 jackets, favored by city-dwelling celebrities and status seekers, provide “functionality,” yet there is no scientific proof that fur trim or down are a requirement for warmth. High performance synthetic materials have been sufficient for even subarctic expeditions.
This boldness with misleading consumers is rooted in Canada’s complicated relationship with trapping. The romanticized history of the country’s settlement “influences everything from government policy to wildlife management practices — the North American Wildlife Conservation Model is based in the assumption that wildlife must be used as a resource,” explains Lesley Fox, executive director of Canadian organization The Fur-Bearers. “Politicians who covet a rural vote frequently hide from these issues,” she says. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even participated in Canada Goose’s Employee Global Conference recently. Its CEO Dani Reiss was made Member of the Order of Canada last year “for his commitment to the preservation of Canada’s North, notably as chair of Polar Bears International.” Reiss told The Telegraph UK in December that “polar bears are icons of the north; we’ve made jackets for the scientists and support staff who work with them.”
The coyotes slaughtered for those jackets are also North American icons — called “God’s dog” by the Navajo. Like our beloved pet dogs, they are members of the genus Canis. In LAIKA’s issue 6 feature “Kindred Creatures,” Camilla Fox, founder of Project Coyote (no relation to Lesley Fox), explained that the animals maligned by Canada Goose as “pests,” are in fact a keystone species that plays a vital role in a thriving ecosystem.
Activists in Canada face steep hurdles, among those an absence of federal labeling laws: retailers are able to market the fur of dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals as “faux fur.” (“It can be difficult for some consumers to know what is fake and what is real,” says Fox.) The Fur-Bearers, however, make gains on the municipal level, working with individual communities to end their use, and support of, trapping. “Several municipalities in British Columbia have enacted or requested permission from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to prohibit trapping as a direct result of this campaign,” Fox says.
And there is an upside — many Canadians feel a strong connection with nature, because of how accessible it is. “That makes the discussion of introducing new ideas regarding the sentience of wildlife a little easier,” explains Fox. Educating the consumer dwindles demand, as evidenced by sporting goods giant Canadian Tire recently dropping fur at two of its subsidiaries. Atmosphere, one of the stores that stated they will not stock fur, except for their Quebec stores, was a long-time carrier of Canada Goose.
“When you focus on the victim, it is easy to overcome fear.”
In New York, where Canada Goose opened its U.S. flagship last fall, a passionate grassroots initiative has been ignited. Protests in front of the Soho store are a weekly occurrence, and two Anti-Fur Marches have taken place this winter. Posters and stickers bearing the Canada Goose logo with the slogan “Proudly torturing animals since 1957” and “Fur trim kills” are a common sight on buildings and bus stops in NYC and have made their way to other parts of the world.
“Our main focus is to change the way the general public looks at fur,” says organizer Rob Banks. “This issue needs to be handled on different levels — we fight on the streets, educating the public, while others fight to get laws changed.” Through their Facebook page “Stop Canada Goose Now,” Banks and fellow activists share prints, exchange ideas and help activists in cities around the world set up demos. On Instagram, #fuckCanadaGoose appears thousands of times, and even Canada Goose’s own hashtag #AskAnyoneWhoKnows has been overtaken by anti-fur posts.
Banks believes that anyone can find the courage to speak up for animals. “When you focus on the victim, it is easy to overcome fear,” he says. “My actions are posted publicly. It motivates and inspires other activists to come up with their own methods, actions and words. We are all learning and becoming stronger with each encounter.” He has confronted hundreds of people using different tactics. For some, social approval is their achilles heel. “Shaming and humiliating them is the type of attention they don’t desire, making them reconsider wearing fur in public again,” Banks explains. He also stresses the need for diversity of outreach. While social media is an indispensable tool, in-person encounters are “needed to reach the people that normally would never see an animal rights related post.”
He recalls a memorable exchange with a mother and daughter who had stopped to watch one of the protests, unaware that the fur trim on the little girl’s coat was real. Banks suggested that they donate the trim to the activists, who would then send it to an animal rehabilitation center, where donated fur is used as bedding for orphaned animals. “The mother turned to her 6-yearold daughter and left the decision up to her,” says Banks. “Without any hesitation the little girl said, ‘YES!’”
“We wanted to trigger them to think for themselves.”
In the Netherlands, animal rights organization Bont voor Dieren is tapping into that child-like love for animals with When Did You Stop Caring, an arrestingly beautiful video that has an unforgettable ending:
The creative video’s goal was to strike a chord with young people who may otherwise turn away from graphic imagery. “We wanted to trigger them to think for themselves,” explains Bont voor Dieren’s campaigns manager Barbara Slee. The organization teamed up with Reclamebureau Roorda, a Dutch agency with a string of successful anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns targeting kids. They brought an understanding of the science behind behavioural changes resulting from visual campaigns. “The ad agency came up with the idea of showing how important pets are to people, especially children, and to show the contradiction in wearing a fur trim when you’re older,” Slee says.
To the video’s young director, 23-year-old Joren Molter of production company The Boardroom, authenticity was imperative. “I was looking for real moments between animals and kids,” he says of his decision to not use actors. Molter and his cinematographer Tijn Sikken interviewed regular children at home about what they normally do with their pets. The resulting video captures their genuine interactions.
When Did You Stop Caring has not only resonated deeply with the Dutch public, but with the video’s director as well. “I thought, ‘We live in the 21st century, of course it’s fake,’” Molter says of once assuming that all fur trims were faux. With mass production, particularly in China, now causing items with real fur trim to be cheaper than faux fur, he believes that “it is very urgent to tell this story.” To address the growing problem, Bont voor Dieren recently collaborated with a Chinese NGO on an anti-fur website called Fur Free Life. Slee is confident that raising awareness will change the perspective of the Chinese population and for that reason, she says, “It is crucial to invest in education and sharing information.”
“When people stop buying, the animals stop dying.”
To safeguard its tremendous economic interests, the fur trade has been pushing back with “ethical branding” and “greenwashing” strategies. The industry-funded WelFur project promises to ensure high animal welfare standards in fur production — an unattainable goal according to ethicists and welfare experts, due to the inherent problem of confining wild animals to small cages which prohibit essential behaviors like running, climbing and swimming.
While marketing its products as ethical, Saga Furs (one of the world’s largest fur auction houses) is covertly very active in China, where animal welfare legislation is extremely limited. “The fur industry’s PR strategy has taken a more sinister turn using similar tactics as the tobacco industry by introducing its version of science in its defense,” says Brigit Oele, program manager of the Fur Free Alliance (FFA), a coalition of 40 international animal protection organizations (the aforementioned Bont voor Dieren and The Fur- Bearers are members.) They share resources and tactics, and collaborate on research projects and campaigns. FFA has successfully persuaded a number of luxury retailers to go fur free, including the Armani Group and Hugo Boss, and works as a “united front” to end the fur trade worldwide. The European countries that have enactied fur bans, Oele says, “Are an example of how, in a modern civilization, the public’s ethical concerns are reflected by law.” And she believes that gains in the anti-fur movement will inevitably benefit animal rights as a whole.“We often see that progress in one area stimulates discussion on other areas in which animals are used for human benefit,” says Oele.
Mark Glover, director of the UK’s Respect For Animals, also a Fur Alliance member, has been at the forefront of the anti-fur movement in Europe for over 30 years. He played a key role in the UK’s ban on fur farming in 2000. It was only after the fur trade was weakened by falling sales resulting from intense public scrutiny, he explains, that a successful political initiative was possible. By the time he appeared as a witness at a Committee meeting in the Scottish Parliament during the debates that led to the ban, the industry had unravelled. “In their desperation … the fur trade circulated a photocopied sheet purportedly showing a meal made from minced mink that was being eaten in China,” Glover recalls. “It was laughed out of court!”
While there are now far fewer fur outlets in the UK, there is a recent proliferation of fur trim, which many people wrongly assume is fake (this is one of the reasons that none of the organizations we spoke with overtly promote faux fur. “If something is deemed immoral, why would you want to imitate it?” says Glover.) Along with calling for clear, prominent labeling, Respect For Animals and their Fur Free Alliance colleagues, will be rolling out a range of initiatives to counter the fur trade’s propaganda.
Among those is an increased involvement with social media, which lends itself particularly well to engaging compassionate young people. “The fur trade’s tawdry message of selling misery in the guise of glamour does not translate to mass social media,” says Glover, who remains confident about the future. “The fur trade will end, as did, for the most part, commercial whaling, but its demise will be consumer led,” he says. “When people stop buying, the animals stop dying. Real fur wearers, especially celebrities, should be ostracized and shunned by the public.”
Facing the Fashion Industry.
In France, animal rights activists are confronted with cultural challenges, often paradoxical ones. “Asking for a [fur] ban is quite a radical question,” says Muriel Arnal, founder of the French organization One Voice. “We have 91 percent of people wanting a label that guarantees there’s no fur. But they are always reluctant to ban. It’s freedom. People need to feel ‘free’ in France.”
While France has only eleven fur farms in operation and obtains its pelts primarily from China and Northern Europe, the country is “big for the fashion industry,” says Arnal. Indeed, Paris is the fashion capital, where the runways are a glut of fur. Passing a ban here could be a watershed moment for fashion. It was for this reason that One Voice, which is also a Fur Free Alliance member, recently released an unprecedented investigation of six French mink farms. “It was a way to show — no, it’s not just in China. It’s bad in France. It’s very bad,” Arnal says. The investigation revealed a complete disregard not only for the animals, but for the environment as well. Extensive media coverage followed, which put the country’s fur producers on the defense — they accused One Voice of doctoring the footage and dodged any discussion. “The TV, newspapers and radio mentioned [the investigation], and I had debates, but the fur industry didn’t want to come and confront what we had to say,” says Arnal. “But it reached the public.”
This is in stark contrast to how things used to be. Twenty years ago, French television would refuse to cover investigations. Arnal recalls how animal rights activists’ homes would be raided by police. “We were accused of being a sect because we were vegetarians or vegans,” says Arnal. Before social media and sophisticated technology, “It took a lot of time to get things done,” she says. “We barely had mobile phones … we didn’t have proper cameras to get inside labs. It was a really lonely battle. Now things are much easier. But it doesn’t make things easier for the animals.”
Where the passage of legislation becomes a challenge, Arnal and One Voice push on in a multitude of other ways, like running the Fur Free Retailer program (French haute couture house Franck Sorbier is the latest to drop fur) and by consistently educating consumers. “We’ll need to show more footage, go back to the public, to the media and say, ‘Look. Don’t forget these animals.’ And remind them constantly. Many people will think, well there is space for improvement. We have to educate people and say, ‘No you can’t. There is no way you can improve the conditions on fur farms.’”
In those early days of the anti-fur movement, what gave Arnal strength was talking to activists from other countries. “I think it’s important to keep having that,” she says. “We really need to learn from each other and to help each other all around the world. There are no borders for animal suffering.”
What You Can Do.
Donate your fur coat or item with fur trim to be as used as comfort for orphaned and injured animals as part of their rehabilitation. Coats for Cubs is a great program, and you can drop off your item at any Buffalo Exchange location. You can also donate directly to wildlife centers that use fur for rehabilitation. Born Free USA is a fantastic organization that also offers a fur donation drive. Although their drive cycle has already ended, you can still donate to their partner sanctuaries.
Swap out your fur garment with a hi-tech vegan one. Wully Outerwear is a Canadian company that offer a $300 discount on any of their parkas when you trade in your Canada Goose (or any similar jacket with fur trim). There are many other functional and beautiful alternatives like Save The Duck; The North Face has vegan collections fit for extreme weather; Vaute; Arc’Teryx is another outerwear brand with vegan options; Fjällräven is a Swedish company that recently took a fur-free pledge and supports The Fur Bearers’ campaigns. The list goes on.
Get active. Whether educating those around on the inherent cruelty of fur production, or attending a protest, or getting involved with one of the organizations mentioned in this story, or asking a store in your neighborhood to stop stocking fur because they are losing your business — there is a myriad of ways in which to speak up for animals. And remember, you’re not alone.
By Julie Gueraseva