Healing Our World Commentary: The Fur is Still Flying

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

The Fur is Still Flying

But ask now the beasts,
And they will teach thee;
And the fowls of the air,
And they will teach thee:
Or speak to the earth,
And it shall teach thee:
And the fishes of the sea
Shall declare unto thee.

-- JOB 12:7-8 (The Bible, King James Version)

Many people believe that wearing furs has fallen out of favor due to the heightened awareness of the terrible cruelty involved in its production. Unfortunately, the fur industry is still alive - it is just quieter about its successes.

Nearly 7.6 million animals are trapped in cruel steel jaw traps and more than 30 million animals are raised on farms in terrible conditions worldwide. In the U.S., there are 404 fur farms producing 2.7 million animals and commercial and 160,000 licensed freelance trappers kill another four million.

mink

This pile of dead, skinned minks in Montana is the remains from 8 to 10 coats. (Photo courtesy Fur Free Friday)
This industry, although smaller than in the past, is far from dead. It continues to profit on pain, suffering and cruel death, catering to the most depraved characteristics of our troubled society.

Fur sales in the United States amounted to $1.4 billion in 1999. Although this is down from the industry high of $1.8 billion in 1986 and 1987, it is still obscenely high. These figures include revenue from fur storage, cleaning, and repair.

Animal rights groups waged successful campaigns in the 1980s that convinced the public of the cruelty of the fur industry. Many celebrities helped expose the cause by wearing fake fur. The media was reporting on the story regularly.

Although anti-fur campaigns still continue, the media has lost much of its interest and the fur industry has changed its marketing practices, reaching their customers by more subtle means.

I believe that although the anti-fur campaigns - many of which I directly participated in - continue to convince people of conscience of the atrocities of the fur industry, the typical fur buyer is - and always has been - totally unconcerned with this information.

trap

The steel jaw leghold trap (Photo courtesy Humane Society of the United States)
You have probably heard some stories of the cruelty of the fur industry. Animals suffer for days in traps in terrible pain, chewing at their trapped limbs. Dogs, cats, birds and other "non-target" or "trash" animals often die in these cruel traps.

Over 69 countries, but not the U.S., have outlawed the leghold trap. Still, it continues to be the capture method of choice for trappers. Animals raised in farms don't fare much better. Confined in small cages for their short lives, they suffer from infections, brutal treatment and poorly done executions. They are often skinned alive.

Have you ever seen a chinchilla coat? As many as 200 chinchillas are killed for it. Have you ever seen a live chinchilla? Each one is like a giant handful-sized hamster covered with long, luxurious fur. I have rescued many chinchillas from breeders who were going to kill them. They are the kindest, sweetest animals I have ever encountered.

coat

This American lynx coat takes 8 to 12 of these endangered wild cats to make. (Photo courtesy State Fur Salon in Montana)
It takes large numbers of animals to make one coat: 22 bobcats; 70 sables; 30 kangaroos; 40 rabbits; 400 squirrels. Even dogs and cats have been used for coats.

Yet this knowledge is irrelevant to some people. Who is buying these disgusting examples of the ultimate in disconnection from the natural world?

Over half of all U.S. fur sales take place in the Northeast. Twenty-five percent of sales occur Midwest.

It is difficult to blame other people who have decided that they will not care about the suffering and cruelty that went into the production of their fur coats when every day we trash the Earth in many ways.

Look at what we all do each day:

Forty percent of America's research and development expenditures and 60 percent of the country's physical scientists and engineers are devoted to developing weapons to kill everyone on Earth 67 times.

And can we blame people for being disconnected from the rhythms and connections of the natural world when we are taught from birth to worship the God of Consumerism?

Author and media critic Neil Postman reminds us that between the ages of three and 18, the average child in the U.S. will see about 500,000 commercials on television.

Children in public schools are being subjected more and more to commercial messages inserted into curriculum by corporate sponsors who prepare slick, glossy lesson plans featuring the benefits of their activities.

The messages of those in power in most of the world are clear. Whoever dies with the most toys wins. Those who have more possessions have more power. Preying on the weak and defenseless is a sign of strength.

home

$16,000,000 home in Florida (Photo courtesy Millionaire Village)
People who embrace these principles may perceive they have more power from possessing a $60,000 sable coat. First, they will own something that few around them own. Next, they will have increased their conspicuous consumption, making it clear to their peers that they have more money and toys. Finally, and most importantly, they will be wearing something that as many as 70 animals had to die for.

To someone disconnected from the consequences of the choices of daily life, someone who does not have to worry about providing food and clothing for a family, the choice to buy such a coat represents vast power and freedom.

Most of us participate in this roller coaster ride of conflicting values. If you have leather shoes in your closet, have ever eaten a hamburger, ever flown in an airplane or ever driven a car, you have participated in cruelty to animals and the destruction of our natural world.

As I write this article, I am using a computer that is gobbling up electricity, half of which comes from polluting coal fired power plants.

Fundamental principles of our consumer based culture must change before the fur industry, or any cruel and destructive practice, will end. As long as greed and over consumption are the scales by which we measure success, power and achievement, millions of animals - and people - will continue to suffer.

The fur is still flying - and I fear it will fly for some time to come.

RESOURCES

1. To learn how you can get involved in ending the fur industry, visit the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade website at: http://www.banfur.com/index2.html

2. See what some students are doing to improve animal rights at: http://soar.contentfree.org/index.shtml

3. Keep in touch with this issue and learn how you can help at the Fur Is Dead website at: http://www.furisdead.com/index2.html

4. Your letters do work! HBO's popular show "Sex in the City" began their new season with the cast members wearing real fur. The public outcry was so great, that the show stopped the practice, even removing photos of cast members in furs from their website. Read about it at: http://www.furisdead.com/100.html

5. Read about redefining the American dream and overcoming consumerism at: http://www.islandpress.com/ecocompass/dream.html

6. Read some disturbing facts about the effects of television on children at: http://www.mediaandthefamily.org/research/fact/chduse.shtml

7. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them what you feel the priorities of our space exploration efforts should be. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html. You can also find your representatives at http://congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html

[Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He spent nearly 20 years working for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including a year working on the early development of the space station. He can be found hiking around the city, occasionally looking skyward, wondering if our space exploration will yield any new wisdom or will instead, perpetuate old errors. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his web site at http://www.healingourworld.com]