Even scavengers reject pelts
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:
NORTH BAY, Ontario; WASHINGTON
D.C.––Fur industry bravado about
making a comeback was cut short on December
14 at the North Bay Fur Harvesters auction in
North Bay, Ontario. The first major North
American pelt sale of the year offered the pelts
of 167,107 wild animals––but sold just 23%, a
record poor showing.
A day preceding public disclosure
that the Humane Society of the U.S. had caught
the Burlington Coat Factory chain selling garments
trimmed with dog fur, none of the
world’s major fur buyers felt confident enough
about the longterm prospects of the industry to
scoop up pelts that almost couldn’t be given
away, and warehouse them in speculation.
Even when fur sales were in free fall
during the late 1980s and early 1990s, North
Bay auctions usually sold 95%-100% of often
much larger consignments.
Rumors of the impending revelations
might already have hit the fur world. On
December 15, still hours before the T o d a y
S h o w a n d Dateline NBC amplified the HSUS
findings, Associated Press reported that
“Burlington Coat Factory, the largest coat
retailer in the country, said it had been duped
by a vendor who admitted selling the company
men’s parkas trimmed with fur from dogs killed
in China. The Burlington chain,” AP continued,
“which operates more than 250 stores,
removed hundreds of coats from its racks last
week after learning of the deception.”
Burlington spokesperson Ric Bramble
claimed that, “The purchase order actually
called for coyote trim.”
“More than two million dogs and cats
are killed each year for use in the international
fur trade,” HSUS announced in a press release
distributed as the AP article hit the wires. “An
18-month investigation by a nine-person team
led by HSUS vice president of investigative services
Rick Swain and German journalist
Manfred Karreman found that dogs and cats are
cruelly slaughtered for the manufacture of fur
clothing and accessories worldwide. Dog and
cat fur is sold in the U.S. as hats, gloves, decorative
accessories, and even toy stuffed animals.
The HSUS investigation focused on practices
in China, Thailand, and the Philippines,”
the release added, describing “live dogs being
kept in an unheated room in the bitter cold surrounded
by the bodies of dead dogs hanging
from hooks” at a dog farm in Harbin, China.
Undercover video footage documented
“animals dying by slow suffocation, hanging,
bludgeoning, or bleeding to death.”
Charged HSUS executive vice president
Patricia A. Forkan, “American consumers
are being tricked into purchasing garments
made with dog and cat pelts because of misleading
labeling. Our investigators purchased a
men’s fur-trimmed coat labeled ‘Mongolia dog
fur’ from a New Jersey outlet of Burlington
Coat Factory. A DNA test of the fur trim on the
garment tested positive for domestic dog.”
Tests of fur-covered figurines found
at other stores brought similar results.
As a positive test for canine DNA can
indicate either a domestic dog or a wolf as
source, Burlington Coat Factory and the other
firms involved might have contested the findings––but
to deny using domestic dog would
have required admitting use of an endangered
species. While there is no U.S. law against
importing and selling either dog or cat fur,
importing and selling wolf fur would have violated
the Endangered Species Act.
Instead, Burlington Coat Factory
pledged to donate $100,000 to HSUS, to seek
a federal ban on importing dog and cat fur,
and to strengthen the present fur labeling law,
which exempts garments wholesaling for
HSUS did not find confirmed examples
of cat fur items in U.S. stores, but Swain
shared with Brian Mooar of The Washington
P o s t a memo he obtained from the Henan
Animal By-Products Import and Export
Company of Zheng Zhou, stating that “grey
dog skins are called Asiatic raccoon, yellow
dog skins are called Corsac fox, and cat skins
are called wild cat by USA people. You may
use these [names] for your order.”
Wrote Mooar, “The memo confirmed
the order of 15 sample garments priced
from $105 to $125.”
Swain, Mooar said, also obtained a
memo from Da Yuan of Lucky Star Ltd., a
Henan Animal By-Products subsidiary in New
Milford, New Jersey, apparently confirming
details of the hypothetical transaction. Yuan,
however, denied dealing in fur garments, and
Yu Shuning of the Chinese Embassy in
Washington, D.C., told Mooar that “The
Chinese people do not have the tradition of
using cats and dogs as materials for the fur
That claim was belied by the long
history of previous revelations about fur industry
sales of items made from cat and dog fur.
For instance, Tecnica Inc., a New Hampshire
distributor of ski wear, was caught selling
Chinese-made boots lined with dog fur in
1991. The International Fund for Animal
Welfare and the World Society for the
Protection of Animals documented the same
killing methods that HSUS did.
Tecnica president John Stahler
acknowledged to Kathy Larkin of the N e w
York Daily News that the boots were “a
byproduct of the food industry” in China,
where dogs are commonly eaten.
Tecnica promised to discontinue the
dog fur-lined boots on February 12, 1992.
Similar scandals broke in July 1994
over the manufacture of key chains from
domestic cats’ tails in Ontario, Canada; later
in 1994 over the manufacture of fur garments
from dog and cat pelts in Bulgaria; and in
December 1996 over similar manufactures in
Odessa and Kiev, Ukraine.
None of the revelations were new to
longtime fur trade investigators and critics.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE files include clippings
of previous mass media disclosures
about dog and cat fur sales published in 1985,
1986, and 1987, after investigations by other
Public access television producer
Mary de La Valette, of the Gaia Institute in
Peabody, Massachusetts, told the local newspaper
North Shore Sunday that, “Burlington
Coat Factory is just the tip of the iceberg. I, at
one point, was married to a fur buyer for
Revillon, who used to go to the auctions in
Frankfurt and Leningrad. He’d bring back
pamphlets advertising 25,000 domestic cat
pelts. This was back in 1975.”
“Trappers were reportedly selling cat
pelts for $1.00 to $2.00 apiece in Nebraska,
1979,” ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt
Clifton wrote in North American Fur Trade &
Sources In The 1980s, a 300-page report commissioned
by HSUS. The report was personally
delivered to HSUS vice president for
wildlife John Grandy on June 1, 1988.
“The British group Petwatch [in their
newsletter The Petwatcher, volume 1, #1] in
1985 documented the sale of about 100,000 cat
pelts per year by chapters of the Royal Society
for the Protection of Animals,” the report continued.
The pelts, from animals killed in shelters,
were apparently exported to Germany.
The RSPCA reportedly stopped such sales
later in 1985.
After HSUS reneged on a publication
contract, Clifton shared North American
Fur Trade & Sources In The 1980s with 18
other anti-fur organizations, who made extensive
use of it over the next several years––but
the shock potential of the dog and cat fur
aspect apparently never occurred to anyone,
as that angle was not amplified.
The exposure this time was a coup
for Swain, who first won recognition in animal
protection circles on September 11, 1981.
Then a police detective in Montgomery
County, Maryland, Swain acted on a warrant
based on evidence collected by People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals cofounder Alex
Pacheco and led the raid on the former laboratory
of biomedical researcher Edward Taub
that commenced the Silver Spring monkeys
case, brought the first-ever cruelty conviction
of a biomedical researcher (overturned on
jurisdictional technicalities), and took PETA
from impoverished obscurity to national clout.
The dog fur expose may insure the
passage of a fur labeling initiative on the
March ballot in Beverly Hills, California,
which will require furs to bear a tag stating,
“This product is made with fur from animals
that may have been killed by electrocution,
gassing, neck-breaking, poisoning, clubbing,
stomping, or drowning, and may have been
trapped in steel-jaw leghold traps.”
The initiative petition, filed by local
activist Terri Macellaro, was signed by 5,000
Hollywood residents, 2.5 times as many as
required, including celebrities Jay Leno,
Larry King, Pat Boone, and Vidal Sasson.
While HSUS reaped headlines and
the dog fur expose focused public outrage, the
North Bay auction results dealt a blow to the
industry that can be readily measured.
Offering 46,225 raccoon pelts,
5,662 coyote pelts, and 4,889 red fox pelts,
North Bay sold so few that the auctioneers
didn’t publish average prices. The top prices
paid were $22.00 for raccoon, $24.00 for coyote,
and $25.00 for red fox: far less than the
averages for each species 22 years ago.
Those are normally the mid-price
pelts, in steadiest availability and demand. At
the upper end, North Bay couldn’t unload an
unspecified number of fisher. The top price
paid was $50––about 10% of the average in
the late 1980s.
Also at the usual upper end of the
price range, North Bay offered 2,273 otter
pelts, but moved only 20%; offered 9,861
sable, moving 27%; and offered 27,261
beaver, moving 30%.
At the bottom end, buyers took just
31% of the 60,914 muskrat on the block.
Demand fell further at the Ohio Fur
Takers auction on December 20. Prime beaver
pelts reportedly brought $17.00 tops, midsized
beaver went for as little as $5.00, wild
mink fetched $7.00, raccoon brought $4.00,
and red fox sold for only $5.00.
Average pelt prices, North Bay
Species 1976 1986 1996
Beaver $15.83 $17.08 $26.86 $18.06
Coyote $45.00 $29.37 $22.40 none
Mink $14.00 $16.56 $18.80 $11.50
Muskrat $ 4.75 $ 2.54 $ 3.34 $ 1.53
Otter $53.00 none $54.08 $31.80
Raccoon $26.00 $19.02 $15.70 none Red
Fox $48.00 $31.58 $20.94 none
Sales trends at North Bay have forecast
the future of the fur industry for more than
20 years. In 1976, when the U.S. dollar
bought about two and a half times what it does
today, high pelt prices presaged the trapping
boom of the next 10 years. During the winter
of 1980-1981, more trappers killed more animals
than ever before or since. Aggressive
trapping depressed pelt prices somewhat by
1986, but that translated into cheaper fur garments
and more consumer demand, both in
the U.S. and abroad. In 1987-1988, U.S. retail
fur sales peaked at $1.85 billion, yet still
accounted for less than 25% of total U.S. and
Canadian trapped fur producton, as exports
boomed parallel to U.S. sales.
Then came the crash. U.S. retail fur
sales bottomed out at $850 million in 1991-
1992. They “recovered” to $1.27 billion in
1997-1998––which, adjusting for inflation,
means sales have crept back to the 1990-1991
level ($1.14 billion).
As furriers, trappers, and fur ranchers
are uncomfortably aware, the seemingly
permanent loss of a third of their clientele is no
real recovery. Of the people who stopped buying
fur, no more than 25% have been lured
back during a decade of intensive targeted promotion.
Whether the rest turned against fur,
lost the wherewithal to buy it, or just died off,
they’re gone for good. First-time fur coat buyers
are about as scarce as the trapped-out lynx.
And now Asian and Russian economic
straits have cut off overseas pelt
demand as effectively––at least for the time
being––as if the European Union had imposed
the ban on imports of trapped fur that was supposed
to have taken effect, after two years of
postponements, in January 1998.
Succeeding in dismantling it after six
years of effort, the Bill Clinton/Albert Gore
administration promised a fur trade recovery.
The North Bay numbers suggest it
won’t happen in what’s left of the 20th century,
if ever. If trapped pelts don’t sell in cheap
Canadian dollars, they won’t sell in expensive
American dollars later this winter.
Trapped pelts require much less
investment to produce than ranched pelts.
Only the highest-priced trapped pelts tend to
fetch more at auction than ranched mink––and
when top-end trapped pelts don’t sell, as at
North Bay, ranched pelts may not sell either.
The North Bay auction followed
weak sales at the first major ranched pelt auction
of the season, in Helsinki, Finland.
“Only 75% of the skins were sold,”
reported Jaana Reijonaho of A n i m a l i a, published
by the Finn Federation for the
Protection of animals. “The median price of a
blue fox skin was under production cost.”
As the number of active U.S. mink
ranches dropped from 415 in 1996 to 401 in
late 1997, ranchers “pelting out” to quit the
business raised the mink pelt volume produced
in the U.S. by 7%, to 2.84 million, despite a
6% price slump in 1997.
Globally, the mink pelt supply
increased 5.5%, to 28.3 million going to auction
in 1998-1999. The increase abroad was
also believed to be entirely due to “pelting
out,” especially by Russian ranchers who
could no longer afford to buy feed. Of the
estimated 200 mega-sized fur ranches in
Russia circa 1990, just 30 are still in business,
vice president Viktor Chipurnoi of the Russian
state fur trading company Soyuzpushina told
Marine Babkina of Associated Press in late
December. Russia formerly not only was a
major fur producing nation, but also imported
about 40% of all the pelts on the world market,
Ranched fox killing, globally, held
even at 4.7 million, but the number of fox
ranches tracked by the USDA, believed to be
about a third of the total, fell from 40 to 29.
Finished fur apparel imports,
accounting for about 60% of U.S. retail sales,
The Clinton/Gore administration had
more embarrassing concerns than the state of
the fur industry, but the North Bay auction
failure certainly caused red faces in Ottawa.
As Gary Gallon of the Canadian Institute for
Business & Environment reported back in June
1998, “Environment Canada [the Canadian
equivalent of the Environmental Protection
Agency] is providing $367,000 a year to the
Fur Institute of Canada to promote wild fur
trapping in Canada,” as a purported renewable
“Environment Canada estimates that
over the four years 1997-2001, it will provide
the Fur Institute of Canada with $1,468,000,”
Gallon continued. “Members of Parliament
sitting on the Standing Committee on
Environment and Sustainable Development
have questioned the appropriateness of
Environment Canada dedicating its limited
resources to trapping animals when the same
money could be redirected to environmental
The only Canadian trappers with a
good chance to make money this winter will
be those who manage to catch lynx alive: the
Colorado Division of Wildlife is paying $400
apiece for up to 100 lynx, to be radio-collared
and released in a population restoration effort.
Lynx, a candidate for the U.S. endangered
species list, haven’t been seen in Colorado
since 1973. Lynx also seem scarcer in Canada
than is officially admitted, as by January 5
just four had been delivered to holding cages
at Lac La Hache, Alberta.
But as Canadian fisheries minister
David Anderson prepared to announce that the
1999 sealing quota would remain at 275,000
pelts, despite scientific advice to reduce it,
there were no indications that the Liberal government
headed by Jean Chretien would abandon
support of the fur trade.
Two-thirds of the way through the
Thanksgiving-to-Christmas interval when up
to 80% of U.S. retail fur sales are made, the
industry already had the jitters when the dog
fur expose hit.
Especially rattling may have been
the exit from the fashion industry of performer/designer
Isaac Mizrahi, after Chanel
Inc. quit bankrolling his losses. Entering fashion
design in 1987, the former star of the film
Fame was ballyhooed by fur trade media as a
rising bright light for the industry, especially
after Chanel began pushing his wares in 1992.
However, admitting that “The animal
activists got to me,” Mizrahi dropped fur
in 1994, only to attempt a comeback in early
1998 featuring extensive use of fur trim.
Other prominent 1998 failures
included Andriana Furs, of Chicago, which
closed two of its three stores and filed for
Evans Inc., of Chicago, by reputation
still accounting for nearly 10% of all U.S.
retail fur sales, posted second quarter 1998
losses of $3 million. Evans has now lost
money in eight of the past 11 years. The
Canadian Export Development Program
responded by cancelling the assurance of payment
it had offered to Canadian pelt wholesalers
who supplied Evans.
Interest in trapped fur, in particular,
took a hit from the passage of the California
anti-trapping initiative in early November.
Banning leghold trapping and snaring for commercial
and recreational purposes, but with a
wide exemption for “nuisance” wildlife trappers,
the California initiative campaign may
have done more to sensitize the public to the
cruelty of trapping and snaring than to actually
force trappers to stop.
Just two weeks after voters ratified
the ban, ten months after the Dallas-based
Coalition Against the Fur Trade asked consumers
to boycott Ekco Housewares in protest
of its Woodstream subsidiary making leghold
traps, Woodstream dropped the leghold trap
line. Originating in 1848 as a part of Oneida
Community Inc., and going through several
subsequent changes of ownership,
Woodstream was the world’s leading leghold
trap maker for 150 years. The Ekco Group
bought Woodstream in November 1988. ANIMAL
PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton suggested
to numerous animal protection organiza-
tions then that Ekco might be vulnerable to boycott,
but only the International Society for
Animal Rights actually called a boycott––and
ISAR then didn’t follow up.
“I also had asked some national groups
to do this campaign several years ago,” CAFT
founder J.P. Goodwin told ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“because I simply didn’t have the resources to do
it. Eventually I decided what the hell, CAFT
might as well try it.”
Furriers did enjoy some signs of a modest
market recovery––apparently resulting, however,
only because the decade-long shakeout funneled
the remaining market into just 1,350 retail
outlets, half as many as operated 10 years ago.
The average sale price of a mink coat
advertised in The New York Times as of midDecember
stood at $3,997, nearly twice the bottom
level of $2,041 reached in 1995-1996 when
furriers rushed to dump years of overstock before
But that was virtually the same, in
inflation-adjusted dollars, as the 1992-1993 price
level, and was still well below the level of the
boom years. Beaver, fox, and fur-trimmed garment
prices were also at 1992-1993 levels.
If advertising volume reflected unit volume,
unit sales might have been sharply up. On
the other hand, struggling furriers cut back
advertising during the previous two winters.
After a 1997-1998 season that the fur industry
newsletter Sandy Parker Reports described as
“disastrous…one of the most disappointing retail
fur seasons in recent memory,” the industry had
to advertise or die.
One of the more indicative apparent
attempts to improve the image of fur was the use
of a short story about a failed would-be feral kitten
rescue, C a t n i p, by Diane Johnson, juxtaposed
with three of the eight depictions of fur in
the 144-page fall 1998 edition of Fashions of The
Times, a New York Times supplement.