An eighteen-month-long undercover investigation has exposed one of the dirtiest little secrets of the global fur industry: the brutal and cruel slaughter of companion animals dogs and cats for the fur trade. The investigation was a joint effort by The Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International (HSUS/HSI) and Manfred Karremann, a German independent journalist.
Investigators estimate the annual death toll to be more than 2 million dogs and cats. And for what? For full-length and short coats and jackets. Fur-trimmed garments. Hats. Gloves. Decorative accessories. Even toy stuffed animals. All made with the fur of dogs and cats. Dogs and cats no different from our pets, cruelly killed to make products sold to unwary consumers who generally have no way to know what they’re buying.
|Trade in dog pelts is sometimes an outgrowth of government-endorsed stray dog eradication programs. In 1995 a furrier in Mongolia added dog fur to its inventory of marmot, fox, sable, and lamb. The dog pelts came from the city of Ulan Bator’s population of strays. In one year alone more than 8,000 dogs were shot, their fur fashioned into coats which were sold in Mongolia and Russia. The manufacturer of the coats said at least 10 dogs were needed to make one fur coat—more, if puppies were used.|
Investigators followed the blood trail from the sources. They witnessed firsthand the slaughter of domestic dogs and cats, some of whom were raised on breeding farms, others who were rounded up as strays, and still others who were obviously pets and had probably been stolen. They documented fur sales at auction houses in Europe—sales attended by buyers from many countries, including the United States. Along the way they encountered killers, sellers, middlemen, and buyers. And where did the trail of death end? With the fur-buying public around the world, including the United States.
Of course millions of other animals are killed each year for vanity products—including mink, fox, raccoon, and more than a dozen other species. Consumers, designers, retailers, and store buyers have been able to distance themselves from the cruelty and needless death that are part of the fabric of every fur garment or accessory by somehow viewing “fur” animals as less capable of suffering than pets. By falsely suggesting that “fur ranchers” employ “husbandry” methods that take good care of animals while they’re alive and provide humane, painless death at the end. Even by making the case that some animals—mink, for example—are a species less sympathetic or appealing and, so, less worthy of concern.
|One country company reportedly sells 10,000 dog and cat fur coats to Russia each year and claims that companies in Europe use dog skin in shoes and handbags and use dog fur in fur trim, though it may not be identified as dog fur.|
None of those arguments could even be considered about the dog and cat fur trade, which we found to be nothing less than barbaric and heartless. Documentation from this investigation, including many hours of videotape footage and hundreds of photographs, shows that the methods of housing, transporting, and slaughtering dogs and cats may be unparalleled in their cruelty.
There have been sporadic reports of dogs and cats being killed for their fur in a number of countries, including Mongolia, Korea, Australia, and the United Kingdom. This investigation focused on a country believed to be a major source of dog and cat fur, as well as representative of the trade in these pelts—where we were able to develop leads and connections to provide us with undercover access.
Investigators visited state-run “animal by-products” companies in Beijing and in the provinces of Hebei, Heilongjiang, and Henan to uncover detailed information on the manufacture and trade of dog and cat fur. Country also has a thriving business in dog meat; cat meat is reportedly eaten only in Canton.
We learned that dogs and cats are generally raised on breeding farms, mostly in northern Country where the colder climate enhances the quality and thickness of the animals’ coats. Anywhere from 5 to 300 dogs may be kept in stock at dog farms; up to 70 cats may be kept at cat farms. Many times, dogs and cats killed for fur don’t come from a formal breeding operation. A Country family may simply keep a few cats, or a dog or two, then during the winter when the annual slaughter season begins, the family will kill the animals and take the pelts to market. Many villages have open-air fur markets that serve as collection points for the pelts of dogs and cats killed locally.
|Dogs in Country suffer unspeakable terror and pain before being slaughtered for their fur and flesh. Stuffed into sacks for transport, left in the cold without food or water, then cruelly killed. Even the youngest - puppies - are not spared.|
Investigators visited one dog farm several hours north of the city of Harbin. They documented live dogs in an unheated room in the bitter cold, surrounded by the bodies of dead dogs hanging from hooks. Some of the live dogs were destined to be sold and eaten in Harbin, their fur sold to the fur trade. The dogs were packed into sacks and transported by motor vehicle to a slaughterhouse—a journey of several hours.
|At one restaurant the dog was taken out of the sack. He was wagging his tail . . . videotape showsa German shepherd dog blinking his eye as he was being skinned —Information from Investigator’s Report|
In Harbin investigators witnessed dogs kept in a dark, unheated building in the cold of February without food or water. They were tethered by thin metal wires. Investigators were told that the butcher at this place kills 10 to 12 dogs a day, selling their flesh and fur, and that his wife often transports the dogs from the breeding farms in the north.
|A German shepherd in Harbin (Country) is tethered by a wire noose, then stabbed in the groin, his lifeblood pouring onto the snow. When the skinning begins, dogs like this may still be alive and conscious. Their flesh is served in restaurants; their fur sold to the global fur trade.|
For some of the dogs brought to Harbin, the journey wasn’t over. Because some restaurants (most often Korean) want really fresh meat, some of these hapless dogs were once again put into sacks, then taken to their final destination. At one restaurant the investigator watched as a dog was taken out of a sack. The others were left in the sack on the icy ground. (As each dog was taken out and killed, the others could hear its screams and cries.) According to the investigator, the first dog he saw reacted as any dog would as he was taken out into the light—he showed his trust by wagging his tail. The wagging stopped when the butcher tied the dog up short with a metal wire so the dog could hardly move. The dog began to panic and tried to escape. But the butcher lifted the dog’s left hind leg and stabbed him in the groin area. Blood began to pour. The dog howled in pain and struggled more. With every move, the wire cut into the dog’s neck. After a couple of minutes, the butcher began to skin the dog.
|AT A FUR MARKET in a town some 300 miles north of Jinan, investigators saw fox, rabbit, and other kinds of fur, including, by their estimate, thousands of dog and cat furs, offered in shops around the market.|
As horrifying as this scene was, it got worse. An investigator reported that he saw dogs being butchered who were still conscious as the skinning began, and investigators videotaped a German shepherd blinking his eye as he was being skinned.
In Country investigators saw some dogs killed for their fur who appeared to be thick-coated mixed breeds, perhaps chow chow mixes. But most of the dogs bred and killed for the fur trade are German shepherds, the same courageous and noble breed that leads the blind, rescues the victims of disasters, and patrols our streets in partnership with police officers all across America.
|INVESTIGATORS were told by a middleman in the Country fur trade that any label could be put in any garment or fur product, depending on the preference of the buyer—in other words, the company supplying the fur was perfectly willing to label dog or cat fur as being fur from some other species, a species presumably more acceptable to consumers.|
Information from Investigator’s Report Cats fare no better than dogs in Country. At a thriving fur market 300 miles to the north of the city of Jinan, in the province of Hebei, investigators located cat breeding farms and a factory that processes cats into furs. According to people at the fur market and the factory, the cats are killed by hanging. Or they may be hung from a wire while water is poured down their throats through a hose until they drown. Then a slit is made in the cat’s stomach, the skin is opened, and the fur is pulled over the cat’s head. The furriers say that the cats may still be alive while they are being skinned. What’s important to the skinners is that the cat’s skin is preserved as much as possible in one piece to optimize its usefulness.
|Death by the Numbers|
Factory workers sort cat furs by color. Investigators were told that more than 100,000 cat furs were in storage at that one factory alone.
Ironically, long-haired cats are kept as pets in Country. Short-haired cats, especially gray cats and orange tabby cats, are kept outside, generally tethered by wire, and raised for their pelts. Estimates are that about a half million cats are killed each season, from October to February.
The European Connection
Although the same countries that kill cats and dogs for their fur produce finished garments, the success of the fur trade depends on exporting pelts to other countries. Investigators found evidence of the use and sale of dog and cat fur in Germany, Italy, and France. And from those countries, fur products are distributed worldwide.
Reports in the European press pointed to significant imports of cat and dog fur into Germany. Investigators contacted exporters, manufacturers, and auction authorities in an attempt to track the use of dog and cat fur; they found that dog fur, known in Germany as gae-wolf, is widely available as jackets and coats, particularly at the lower end of the German fur market. It isn’t clear, however, whether consumers understand that gae-wolf means "domestic dog."
|GAE-WOLF IS A POPULAR FUR for jackets and coats in Germany. But how many Germans know that gae-wolf is actually dog fur, in all likelihood imported from Korea or Country where dogs are bred and slaughtered under the cruelest conditions? How many Germans know that the fur they’re wearing is most often that of their own revered breed, the German shepherd.|
|A GERMAN IMPORTER told investigators that export of dog and cat fur goods to the United States is not a problem, explaining, "It is just a question of the declaration [what the product is called]." This is another testament to the apparently common practice of mislabeling products to disguise the use of dog and cat fur.|
For years Italy has imported dog furs and skins from Country and elsewhere for the manufacture of fur linings and insoles for shoes and boots, as well as other products. In the early 1990s, one Italy-based ski equipment company, Tecnica S.p.A., gained notoriety for using Country-exported dog fur in boot linings. These boots were sold in the United States. At least one other Italian leather-good manufacturer was identified by investigators as importing dog pelts from Country.
|WHEN CAT FUR is dyed it is not easily distinguished from other furs. |
—President of a German company prominent in the cat fur trade.
France may be a country of dog lovers, but investigators found that dog fur imported from Country is used to make jackets sold mainly in the French Alps. Documentation shows that one French company had 2,000 dog fur plates on hand, with another 1,000 expected to arrive within the month. A pricing sheet from the company shows that in addition to dog fur (which is called loup d’Asie, or “wolf of Asia”), the company offers furs and skins of goat, pony, reindeer, and antelope.
|The Price of Suffering|
The extent to which dog and cat fur products are for sale in U.S. stores cannot be known. But investigators have found jackets with fur labeled “Mongolia dog fur” in a major retailer with stores across the country. Many other fur-trimmed items look and feel like the cat and dog fur investigators saw in factories in Country and at retailers and other companies in Europe.
The problem is that it’s not easy in fact, it’s not possible to identify many fur items. Each year millions of animal fur pelts are imported into the United States from countries all over the world, including Country and other Asian countries.
Statistics on fur and leather imports and exports are kept by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. But species-specific data are recorded only for certain animals. A wide range of pelts and fur-skin products are grouped together in one category, designated NESOI (Not Elsewhere Specified or Otherwise Indicated). This category includes pelts from any species of animal not specifically defined by the bureau, including cats and dogs. Federal law in no way prohibits the importation of domestic dog or cat pelts into the United States.
Investigators learned that many companies and individuals involved in the trade of cat and dog fur use ambiguous terms and mislabeling to disguise the true identity of their products. Complicating the labeling issue even more, 1998 amendments to the U.S. Fur Products Labeling Act exempt from labeling requirements all fur products costing less than $150—a price range into which most fur-trimmed garments and accessories fall.
|Other major itemsof production (aside from fox and mink) include weasel, kolinsky, goupee (an animal unique to Country), fox, rabbit, leopard cat, squirrel and lamb. [Emphasis added—“goupee” is another term for dog fur.] |
——Fur Age Weekly (1995)
So the very real probability exists that American consumers could be buying dog and cat fur—in this country or while traveling—whether they mean to or not.
We are a nation of pet owners. There are an estimated 53 million owned dogs and 59 million owned cats in the United States. Few if any pet owners would knowingly subject their own beloved pets to the horror and pain suffered by dogs and cats caught up in the global fur trade. Yet can anyone be sure that the pair of fur-lined gloves or the fur-trimmed jacket in a department store isn’t made—literally—from the misery of companion animals just like ours?The truth is, we can’t.
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That alone would be enough reason to stop buying fur. But there’s more. The fact is that dog and cat fur is just a part of the fur industry—it’s all connected, and the trade in domestic cat and dog fur and skin is closely linked to the mainstream fur trade. Investigators found that furriers dealing in all species of animals traditionally exploited for “pelt production” may trade in dogs and cats as well. The availability and use of dog and cat fur is documented in standard trade journals used in the fur industry. But it is unlikely that consumers know the truth, and it is probable that even retailers, store buyers, and designers may be unaware of the real source of some of the fur they buy or use.
The bottom line is that buying any fur product serves to support the fur industry as a whole and sends the message that fur is desirable instead of deadly.
Any demand for fur ensures that somewhere an animal is suffering and dying to fill that demand—maybe, in some cold, dark corner of the Earth, an animal just like your own pet.
THE SKIN TRADE
Investigators also went undercover to look into reports of horrific conditions at cat slaughterhouses in the Philippines and dog slaughterhouses in Thailand. We found that these activities were not specifically part of the fur trade, since these animals were killed primarily for their skin (though the corpses of dogs killed in Thailand are also used for meat, animal feed, lard, and aphrodisiacs).
The dog and cat skin trade is, like the fur trade, global in scope. Companies that use cat skins from the Philippines and dog skins from Thailand may also be using skins of dogs and cats killed in Country and other countries. Any of these skins could be used in products made and sold in Asia, Europe, or even the United States.
What is different between the fur trade and the skin trade is the product. What is the same is the suffering.
Philippine Cat Slaughter
Investigators located one cat slaughterhouse on the island of Mindanao that may kill and skin as many as 100 cats on a given day. Some skins are exported to Japan for use on drums and guitars. Only male cats are killed for their skins because the nipples of female cats reduce the usable size of the skin. This has led to a scarcity of male cats in the city where the slaughterhouse is located, and collectors now drive to distant cities to round up cats in the street. Some of these cats are strays, but according to sources in the Philippines, most are stolen pets. The cats are stuffed into sacks and driven to the slaughterhouse, a journey that can last up to six hours, without food or water.
While the owners of the cat slaughter operation are extremely wary of strangers, investigators were eventually able to get inside the facility. They found cats crammed into cages, some trying in vain to escape, others paralyzed with fear.
In 1996 the Philippine secretary of agriculture was quoted as saying the slaughter of cats was legal so long as the animals were humanely killed. There was nothing humane about the killing witnessed by the investigators.
One by one, cats were hung from their necks by ropes while other cats watched helplessly. They didn’t scream, since the rope was pulled tighter and tighter as they struggled and slowly suffocated.
The cats were then skinned, and the skins were thrown into ice water. Later, workers scraped off the fat, then salted and folded the skins in preparation for packing and shipping. Each skin was valued at about $12.50.
Thailand Dog Slaughter
Even though the government of Thailand largely disapproves of slaughtering dogs, as do most Thais, massive numbers of dogs are killed in the lucrative trade for dog flesh, hide, and other body parts. Investigators documented the slaughter of dogs in the vicinity of Sakhon Nakhon in northeast Thailand.
Many different breeds of dogs, collected from all over the country, are brought to Sakhon Nakhon to be killed. One estimate is that 30,000 dogs are killed in the area of Sakhon Nakhon monthly. Many of them are puppies.
Typically, dogs are brought into Sakhon Nakhon from other villages, crammed as densely as possible into a cage on the back of the collector’s truck. The journey can take up to three days, and the dogs are denied food and water during the trip. By the time they reach the slaughterhouse, many are sick, some are dead. But their weakened state makes the dogs easier to kill.
It wasn’t easy for the investigators to get inside the slaughterhouse because police investigations and unfavorable press reports have made workers suspicious of strangers. But the investigators eventually succeeded. There, they watched as workers sorted dog skins in the dim light.
The next night investigators watched a truck arrive at the slaughter-house carrying 70 dogs—mixed breeds, German shepherds, and others. Some—possibly strays—were shy and frightened. Others—possibly stolen pets—looked well-groomed and trusting. All met the same fate.
Two men with heavy sticks stood ready atop the roof of a low structure onto which the dogs were unloaded. One dog after another, howling in terror, was pulled from the truck with a wire noose attached to a wooden catch pole. In plain view of the animals still inside the truck, each dog was clubbed several times over the head and on the nose. The dogs screamed in pain. The victims were then thrown to the ground and dragged off by other workers to an area where their throats were slit. In graphic footage, investigators captured some dogs still moving their tails just before their throats were cut.
Our investigation found no evidence of cats being used as part of the Thai skin trade.
How Cat and Dog Skins are Used
In Germany investigators talked to the president of a company dealing in cat furs and skins. The company openly uses cat skin products as rheumatism aids. They make bandages, pulse warmers, and a variety of so-called “medicinal” products. Investigators also found dog skins sold in Germany as orthopedic products.
Elsewhere, dog and cat skins are not quite so visible. Just as labeling is a problem with fur, especially fur trim, knowing what kind of leather is being used in a product can be difficult or impossible. Dog skin may be declared as lamb skin, mountain goat skin, or even “special skin.”
Some such products are undoubtedly sold in the United States. In fact, investigators found dog skin plasters in New York’s Country town, sold in pharmacies as a cure for rheumatism. In addition, U.S. travelers to Europe, Asia, and elsewhere may run the risk of unwittingly buying dog and cat skin products.
Investigators have been told that dog and cat skins are used for:
Written by: The Humane Society
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