Hanging by the neck from a wire noose, water is poured down their throat through a hose until they drown. Many are skinned while still alive.
This is just one of the horrific scenes captured on video by investigators from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) as they infiltrated the cat and dog fur industry in China, Thailand and the Philippines. Cats and dogs that were once someone's pets, rounded up, transported in sacks and crates. Some are held in dingy, dark unheated buildings during the bitter winter of northern China, often without food or water.
The 18-month undercover investigation discovered that the trade in cat and dog fur is far bigger than was ever previously believed - the HSUS has revealed that more than 2 million of these domestic animals are abused and killed by the international fur trade each year. And this sick trade isn't just something that happens in far off lands - at least one company in Britain recently traded openly in the furs of these animals.
Infiltrating this industry, the HSUS and German investigative reporter Manfred Karremann filmed and photographed the whole sordid business from start to finish, exposing how the trade is inextricably linked to the rest of the fur industry. Cat and dog fur products were found by the HSUS in several countries across Europe as well as the USA, and according to the HSUS "(fur) auction house employees said that some of their customers come from the US, though most are from Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain."
These animals end up as gloves, coats, hats or fur trim; their skins are used in the production of drums and other musical instruments.
Some of the animals are raised on breeding farms, mostly in northern China where the colder climate enhances the quality and thickness of the animals' coats. Anywhere from 5 to 300 dogs are kept on dog farms; up to 70 cats are kept on the cat farms. Not all the animals come from these breeding centres; some Chinese families keep a few cats or dogs and kill them when the annual slaughter season begins.
Long-haired cats are kept as pets in China. Short-haired cats, especially grey cats or orange tabbies, are kept outside, generally tethered by wire, and raised for their fur. Estimates are that about half a million cats are killed each season, from October to February.
Investigators visited fur companies where they were told 50,000 cat skins and the same number of dog skins were in stock. One claimed to have as many as 100,000 cat skins in its factory. The furs are made into coats that are virtually indistinguishable from fur such as mink or fox, and are on display with furs from other animals.
Referring to the similarities between domestic cat and dog fur, and fur from other species, a HSUS spokesperson said "We can consider all fur trim to be suspect", adding, "consumers have to be vigilant" and report suspicious items.
The president of a German company prominent in the cat fur trade is quoted as saying: "When cat fur is dyed it is not easily distinguished from other furs."
Around 24 cats are required to make a fur coat, and 10-12 dogs. This number is obviously higher if kittens and puppies are used.
In the Philippines, investigators visited a cat slaughterhouse where as many as 100 cats are killed and skinned on one day. The animals here were killed primarily for their skin rather than fur, but the suffering is the same. Only male cats are used as the nipples of female cats reduces 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 drive to distant cities to round up the cats. Some of the animals are strays, while most are stolen pets. The cats are stuffed into sacks and driven for up to 6 hours without food or water to the slaughterhouse. Investigators witnessed cats hung from the neck by ropes, while other cats watched helplessly. Videos and photos show young children helping in the slaughterhouse.
The involvement of children appears to be common, as when police in the Philippines raided the home of a woman in September '99 who had been killing cats for their fur, they found that she was using children to round up and kill the animals. Police found the remains of butchered cats as well as live cats in bamboo cages. The home owner's business apparently exported the cats' fur to Japan (where it was used as lining for boots, purses and coats) and sold the flesh as meat to be ground into sausage.
It is clear that cat and dog fur does not usually get labelled as such. Fur traders told investigators that any label could be put in any garment or fur product, depending on the preference of the buyer. According to the HSUS "in other words, the company supplying the fur was perfectly willing to label dog or cat fur as being fur from some other species presumably more acceptable to consumers."
A German importer told investigators that the export of cat and dog furs to the US wasn't a problem - explaining that it was just a question of what the product is called.
Cat fur is known by several names: house cat, wild cat, Katzenfelle, Goyangi, mountain cat.
Dog fur may be labelled as gae-wolf, goupee, or sobaki, among other names, while dog skin is often referred to as special skin, lamb skin or mountain goat skin.
Dog and cats skins are used for a variety of products, such as bed sheets, golf gloves, handbags and rheumatism aids. In some countries the furs are on open sale - in Germany cat fur pelts, jackets and throws are on open sale in petrol stations.
The British Connection
In March 1999, BBC Newsnight exposed a London fur company trading in cat and dog fur. The BBC investigator visited Alaska Brokerage International, based next door to the Head Quarters of the British Fur Trade Association. Equipped with a hidden camera he secretly filmed an Alaska salesman (believed to be the director of the company, Peter Bartfeld) offering 10,000 "dressed goupee" (dog fur from China) skins and 150,000 cat furs. He boasted to the investigator that whatever trade was being done in the fur in Britain, he was the one doing it.
Following this expose, Alaska International became a major campaign target of anti-fur campaigners. Shortly after the Newsnight report, a director and the secretary of the company - Kenneth and Annie Brown - resigned from Alaska and the related company A B China Direct Ltd, claiming they had relinquished all connections with the fur trade.
Peter Bartfeld, his wife Carol and son Gideon, became joint directors of the company. Peter Bartfeld has a lot of business interests in the fur trade and is a former director of the British Fur Trade Association.
Protests have been held against the company and at the Bartfeld's north London home. In June '99 their son Alexander held a wedding reception near Hyde Park - over 100 hundred protesters gathered outside the hotel to demonstrate as friends and people from the fur business arrived to the reception.
An American fur trade journal reported on actions being taken against Alaska and the Bartfeld's, saying that tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage had been caused to their home and that they have had to spend $25,000 on security. It reports "In addition, he is constantly barraged by hate mail and falsely ordered subscriptions to publications and other unwanted services."
The more money Bartfeld has to spend on security makes the trade in the murder of innocent animals less profitable.
The Campaign in the United States
The findings of the HSUS investigation caused an even bigger stir in the US. A national department chain, the Burlington Coat Factory, was found to be selling fur-trimmed garments labelled as 'Mongolia Dog Fur', one of the many names used for domestic dog fur from China. Only DNA testing can confirm the exact type of fur used, and the coat mentioned above turned out to be German Shepherd dog fur.
Following this, the Burlington Coat Factory removed all domestic cat and dog fur items and donated $100,000 to the HSUS to help cover the cost of the investigation. This was simply a public relations ploy to try and limit the damage caused, but it reveals how worried companies are at being exposed.
Unfortunately for Burlington, anti-fur campaigners have used this embarrassment to campaign for Burlington to stop selling any animal fur - after all what is the difference between a coyote and a German Shepherd?
In the US, fur products being sold for less than $150 are not required to be labelled, and conveniently for the fur trade, many items made with cat and dog fur are sold for less than $150 so are not labelled.
There are however political moves to ban the sale of cat and dog fur within the US. A national Bill is currently passing through its various stages that would, if successful, ban the trade. The bill also requires labelling of fur content for all products regardless of their price. Meanwhile, individual states are taking their own political action.
What's the difference?
While most people will be rightly horrified and distressed at the way in which cats and dogs are bred, stolen, transported, abused and killed for their fur, they will hopefully realise that there is no difference between this and the murder of other animals for their fur. 40 million animals are killed each year for their fur: reared on factory farms that cause them to go mad and mutilate themselves and each other, or caught in vicious leghold traps and left to starve, freeze, drown, be beaten to death or gnaw off their own limbs in a futile attempt to escape. This is the reality of the fur trade. The trade does not care whether the animals they kill are wild animals, are bred specifically for their fur, or are stolen pets from someone's garden. Those in the fur trade have no conscience, no morals. They are governed by greed and selfishness.
Fur trade bodies in the US had a mixed reception to the expose. While the Fur Commission was reluctant to criticise the use of cat and dog fur (later trying to diffuse the situation by comparing the killing of 2 million cats and dogs to the 8 million domestic animals put down in US animal shelters), a spokesperson for the Fur Council described it as "distasteful to think about ... who would want to buy that? Dogs and cats are pets to us."
Members of the National Trappers Association joked about the issue, commenting "on the lighter side, I was wondering if there is a market for those stray tom cats I catch in my coon cubbies!", referring to the thousands of "trash" (ie non-target) animals caught in their traps each year (coon means racoon).
In the UK, the fur industry at first remained silent. But later Jan Brown of the British Fur Trade Assn, the body representing the fur industry in Britain came out in support of the trade in cat and dog fur. She wrote to several national newspapers claiming that these animals were not pets and their slaughter for fur coats was justifiable. To read Brown's letter click here.
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