Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Animals Feelings and Fur: Who (Not What) We Wear is An Ethical Choice

We Don't Need to Wear Animals

If one doubts that animals have deep feelings consider what they endure as they become unnecessary clothing. It's easy to say that animals used for fur coats and fur trim (and leather) don't like how they're treated. As sentient mammals they have deep and enduring feelings just like our favorite companion animals, dogs and cats. And we would never subject our companions to the reprehensible treatment to which fur-farmed animals are subjected. But in some countries dogs and cats do wind up as clothing

We don’t need to wear animals to be warm or to feel comfortable. Fur farms and the people who trap and use animals for clothing are purveyors of the most unspeakable horrors. In the process of becoming a coat the bones of a fox, chinchilla, or mink go snap, crackle, and pop as they are tortured unrelentingly and unnecessarily. The number of animal skins needed to make a 40-inch fur coat may surprise you — 60 mink, 50 muskrats, 42 red foxes, 40 raccoons, 20 badgers, 18 lynx, 16 coyotes, and 15 beavers. According to animal activist Camilla Fox (Founder of Project Coyote), globally, more than 50 million animals a year continue to be killed for their fur. Although the number of wild animals trapped in the United States has decreased from nearly 14 million in 1987 to fewer than 4 million in 2005, increasing overseas fur markets and the growing popularity of fur trim could reverse this trend. (It's interesting to note that many former fur trappers, unable to profit from their trade, have switched to “nuisance” or “damage control” trapping, a fast-growing, highly unregulated industry capitalizing on increased urban/suburban conflicts with wildlife and employing the same body-gripping traps used in fur trapping.)

Fox has also disclosed that there are extensive negative effects of trapping that significantly compromise the well-being and behavior of many different species who are used for fur. Clearly, ethical concerns abound. Many animals used for fur also suffer out of our view beneath the surface of lakes and rivers. Consider what Fox wrote in my Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior about trapping aquatic animals: “Leghold and submarine traps act by restraining the animals underwater until they drown. Most semi-aquatic animals, including mink, muskrat, and beaver, are adapted to diving by means of special oxygen conservation mechanisms."

The experience of drowning in a trap is extremely terrifying. Imagine what a dog or cat might feel. Biologists Frederick Gilbert and Norman Gofton discovered that animals display intense and violent struggling and were found to take up to four minutes for mink to die, nine minutes for muskrats to die, and ten to thirteen minutes for beavers to die. Mink have been shown to struggle frantically prior to loss of consciousness, an indication of extreme trauma. Most animals caught in aquatic traps struggle for more than three minutes before losing consciousness.

The suffering of these sentient beings goes unnoticed because the water in which they live shrouds it. What is simply unacceptable is that there isn’t any legislation that is concerned with this hidden problem. Because most animals trapped in aquatic sets struggle for more than three minutes before losing consciousness, wildlife biologists have argued that they did not meet basic trap standards and therefore can’t be considered humane. Fox concluded, “For an activity that affects millions of wild animals each year, it is astounding that so little is known about the full impact of trapping on individual animals, wildlife populations and ecosystem health.”

Some claim that fur is green. Fur surely isn’t green despite the claims of the Fur Council of Canada. They claim, “buying a fur coat is the ecologically correct thing to do because fox stoles and mink coats are natural, renewable and sustainable. By contrast, synthetic furs are no more than by-products of the petro-chemical industry. Making a single faux fur coat can chew up 19 litres of petroleum, a non-renewable resource, says the council. Ergo, buying a fur coat is good for the planet.” Of course they don’t consider the horrible lives of the animals they torture.

We can all make more compassionate choices - to expand our compassion footprint  - in who we wear - not what we wear - for animals used for fur are sentient beings not unfeeling objects. Among the easiest things we can do is to stop buying clothing that is made from animals. Doing more for animals is actually pretty simple. For example, an eight year-old boy humbly reminded me that when we buy something we’re essentially saying “It’s okay for the store to carry it” and “It’s okay for the manufacturer to make whatever it is we buy.” Everything we purchase is a vote to make more of it. Let’s stop the use of animals for clothing but refusing to buy and to wear the skins of abused sentient beings. Thanks to the clothing manufacturers and stores who have stopped offering fur products. And I'm sure the animals who are saved from unnecessary suffering and death would thank us for making more compassionate and ethical choices if they could. 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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