By Brenda Shoss
Fur: America's New Pacifier?
In January I saw the Broadway hit "The Producers" at Saint Louis' elegant Fox Theatre. I also saw enough dead animals to fill a forest. Ankle-edge mink, glossy rust fox and lavishly colored lynx gushed over the limbs of theatre patrons. At my seat, four women shed floor-length furs with choreographed precision. I felt lost inside their finely tuned dance of apathy and un-compassion. I was so disheartened, I bolted into the lobby to gulp down air.
Before departure, I uttered loudly to my husband: "I need to leave. I am surrounded by hundreds of animals who have been electrocuted through their genitals." The furry foursome didn't flinch.
Born again fur-wearers are everywhere. During a recent trip to New York, I spotted pelt-wrapped pedestrians from all socioeconomic backgrounds. At my bank, I saw a man in floor-sweeping mink over denim slacks. He looked really stupid. Yet fur's comeback isn't as much a fashion blooper as it is a state-of-mind. Post 9/11 consumers possess a refurbished sense of entitlement and live-for-the-moment indulgence. Designer Nicole Miller told Fur World magazine that the terrorist siege left shoppers with a need to feel secure. Apparently "comfort fabric" furs are America's new pacifier.
"Once in hiding, furs now are flying out of the closet," writes Susan Phinney in the Seattle Post-Intellingencer. "'The year 2000 was the fur industry's best ever, with sales of $1.69 billion,' Fur Information Council executive director Keith Kaplan told The New York Times."
On the other hand, surveys indicate that 72 percent of shoppers favor faux furs; 54 percent believe the sale of fur garments is not socially responsible; and 47 percent frown upon stores that market fur-trimmed items.
The fur-clad might experience remorse if confronted with a wild animal as electricity hurls through his quivering body. But most won't acknowledge graphic footage of life inside the modern fur farm. Fur is political attire and the wearers are determined to oppose the anti-wearers.
"You can't talk about fur without talking about anti-fur," says Judie Schwartz of Style Matters, a Denver-based radio show. When the AR movement gained momentum in the 1980s, fur that didn't resemble fur emerged in day-glo orange, sizzling red, lime green, and powdery pastels. Designers still shear fur to imitate velvet. They weave the hip new hides inside jackets, scarves, hats, gloves and vests. The industry plugs fur trim to capitalize on consumers' illogical buying habits. Somehow, a little less fur means a little less suffering and death.
Agencies such as Fur Commission USA hoodwink a gullible public with claims that "the animals die quickly and humanely." In fact, no federal laws exist to moderate slaughter. Fur farms use the cheapest means possible to harvest undamaged pelts.
Anal electrocution is the primary mode of extermination, as investigator Matt Rossell learned during his undercover stint at a typical fur farm in Illinois. Rossell, who concealed a camera inside his belt while assisting in the genital electrocution of 500 foxes, pulled each animal from the cage in a neck noose. Dan, the farm's owner, pushed a probe into the animal's rectum and a metal conductor down his throat. Dan taunted the struggling fox to chomp on the conductor before shooting 240 volts of electricity through the small body. "In an unsuccessful electrocution, they are left convulsing until Dan can pick up the probe to shove it back inside this poor animal writhing in pain. And then it has to be done again and again until the animal finally succumbs to a heart attack," Rossell says.
For low-cost neck "popping," the preferred method for smaller animals, the killer grips the animal's neck with one hand and clutches the lower body with the other. He then yanks the animal's vertebra out of the socket. One worker at a California chinchilla farm told PETA investigators that the animal spasms and kicks for nearly five minutes after the neck is broken.
Some furbearers are gassed with carbon monoxide derived from hot, unfiltered engine exhaust. Minks, agile swimmers able to hold their breath for long periods, often awaken to be skinned alive. Leghold traps are reserved for the wild animals who cannot be ranch-raised. These indiscriminate devices snap shut on dogs, cats, deer, livestock and two to ten times as many non-target animals. One of every four animals caught in the traps gnaw their teeth to the jawbone or chew off their feet to escape. Trappers often crush surviving animals to death. Others finish off animals with clubbing, drowning, suffocation, shooting or strangulation.
Fur Commission USA alleges, "Farm-raised furbearers are among the world's best cared-for livestock." Yet inquiries reveal rows of animals frantically pacing in dingy feces- and urine-saturated cages. Some perish from dehydration, starvation or self-mutilation. Rossell's photographic evidence shows cannibalized cagemates and a fox who'd chewed through his entangled leg to reach food.
The fur industry defends its violent product as an environment-friendly resource. "By feeding their domesticated carnivores the ‘leftovers' from human food production (beef, fish, dairy, poultry), fur farmers reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector as a whole," the Commission contends. The fur trade's use of meat/dairy remnants merely supports modern mega-farms, which feed the world's animals rather than people. Agricultural livestock already outnumber humans five to one and ingest at least half the world's grain supply. The feed it takes to fatten them could nourish billions of impoverished people.
Does a society in search of feel-good fixes really need to wear tortured animals to feel snug? Oleg Cassini, Todd Oldham, Calvin Klein, Betsey Johnson, Bill Blass, Stella McCartney, Geoffrey Beene and other prominent fur-free designers don't think so.
Moreover, faux is fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that when my mom gave me a mock fur jacket for my birthday I worried that the activists would come after me. Synthetics now bear the movement, sheen and warmth of real fur--minus the misery and death.