People who call themselves “animal lovers” can cop a lot of flack for it. According to many, unless you are a dedicated vegan your opinions are null and void. You might mention that you care about one topic, and then are slammed with a barrage of “Well if you care about that, you had better care about this too or you’re just a hypocrite!” It doesn’t seem to work the same way in other circles – for example, if someone likes cricket, but not basketball, they probably aren’t told that they are a hypocrite and not a true sports fan unless they fully support all sports everywhere.
However, in my experience even vegans can get the same amount, if not more grief for their lifestyle choice. I am not currently vegan, but when I was trialing it I would commonly hear things like,
“You do realise that you’re not actually saving anything by not eating meat, right?”
“I read that plants scream when you chop them up – have you ever considered what those poor veges go through to make your salad!”
“So you don’t use any animal products at all? What – are you trying to ruin our economy?”
I don’t understand why some people feel they have to put vegans ‘in their place’ if they aren’t pushing their morals on others; it’s an amazing ethical decision, and I have huge respect for people who take the time to live a vegan lifestyle. I can guarantee that there are currently enough people in support of using animal products to ensure that the economy won’t be “ruined by vegans”.
Realistically one person cannot solve all the world’s problems. I know that if I personally tried to get involved in every single cause I cared about I would burn out very quickly and be no use to anyone or anything. I am at peace with the lifestyle I currently lead, and with what I believe in. My focus the last few years has been to do with animal industries that I feel have no necessity – e.g. street entertainment, the illegal wildlife trade, endangered animal parts for ‘traditional’ medicines. Another industry I feel there is no necessity for in the western world is fur farming – especially when it involves endangered or protected species.
Most of us no longer need fur to survive. There are, of course, small populations of peoples who do not have access to easy trade and do require the fur of animals for the sustenance of their communities. But for most of the world it is no longer a necessity. People on the pro-fur side might argue that when an animal is killed for, say, food, that the whole body should be used in order to minimise waste – but the types of animals most popularly hunted for food (e.g. deer, boar, poultry) do not yield the kind of pelt used for high-demand fur (e.g. fox, mink, wolf).
Ventana, White Wolf Sanctuary
When I first started at the White Wolf Sanctuary I got two know two pretty intriguing characters, Ventana and Nepenthe. This arctic wolf pair had come from an apparently horrific fur farm that was breeding wolves and other animals for their pelts, and forced the animals to live in terrible conditions. Nepenthe and Ventana were six months old when they were rescued from this facility, and had been confined in such a small space that they’d never had the chance to develop their hind legs and could not properly stand. It took a lot of work and care to rehabilitate them, but they eventually grew into strong, capable wolves, and each lived for over a decade at the sanctuary where they were cherished and cared for.
An article about a farm in Minnesota was recently brought to my attention. The farm, Fur-Ever Wild, is a “working agricultural farm, that celebrates our traditional connections to the land and mother nature… from the pioneering trappers and hunters… to our ranchers and farmers who are feeding the world today.” ALDF, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, is compiling a case against FEW with the aim of shutting their operations down.
Fur-Ever Wild have a range of species on their farm which they breed for various purposes. Animals include cougars, grey wolves, pigs, horses, deer, raccoon, cattle and goats. FEW markets themselves as an educational facility that aims to connect people back to nature while also promoting “ethical outdoorsmanship” (which, to FEW, includes hunting, trapping and pelting animals). The way they achieve education is through inviting customers to pay to “get up close with North American wildlife” – hand-feeding animals, “pet-n-play” sessions, and live animal demonstrations. All of these services can involve adult wolves and/or wolf pups.
One thing instantly strikes me when reading about what this facility does, and that pertains to it promoting itself as an educational organisation. I am simply not convinced with the “education” that they do. Just as I do not believe that selling elephant rides in Southeast Asia is advocating elephant welfare or their conservation, I am not a supporter of bundling children in to a pen with immature wolves and promoting this as wildlife education. Teaching people that you can keep wild animals in a domestic setting with frequent hands-on contact is not wildlife education in my opinion, and I’m against the breeding of intrinsically-wild animals for the main purpose of turning a profit.
Fur-Ever Wild takes animal exploitation one step further. They also sell the pelts of their own animals. FEW proprietor, Terri Petter, says that when an animal at the establishment dies, “I use everything I can. I don’t think anything should be wasted. I openly admit that.” ALDF, however, is alleging that Fur-Ever Wild doesn’t just wait for their animals to die naturally before they are pelted, but slaughters them in their prime. With federal protection recently being reinstated for grey wolves in Minnesota and nearby states, this means the grey wolf is protected by the Endangered Species Act. The ESA prohibits the killing of a protected species.
While looking into this myself I was only able to find examples of FEW representatives talking about pelting their animals after a natural death – however, during discussion with some activists rallying against the facility I was sent documentation from a 2012 court case in which Terri Petter admitted to breeding animals specifically for their fur, and alluded to having them slaughtered in their prime. One line that really struck me is below:
Q: “Have you pelted anything in the last few months?”
A: “I pelted two wolves last night. And there is another two going tonight… then the rest of them go. There will be 25 within the next three weeks-two weeks.”
As a genuinely interested party I contacted Fur-Ever Wild directly for some clarification on whether they do slaughter animals themselves, or if they wait for natural deaths. FEW received my messages last month, but I have had no reply as yet.
Unsurprisingly, Fur-Ever Wild is a strong talking point for many animal rights activists at the moment – and FEW are understandably not happy about it. Their Facebook page proudly displays plenty of recent posts talking about “animal whacktavists” and how misinformed people can be. Some of their communication gets quite personal – they have openly given the name of one activist and posted her photograph online, and one of their volunteers has even set up a petition against another activist involved in the case, labeling her an “ecoterrorist”.
To be fair to FEW, many of the comments I have read in support of shutting them down have been utterly horrific. I understand that it is an extremely passionate topic for some (I do not exclude myself from that), but resorting to slander, threats and abhorrent language is no constructive way to get things done. That, however, goes for FEW too. In my opinion they have conducted themselves in a very unprofessional manner.
I am completely against what this facility does. Even with legalities aside I personally could never support an establishment that breeds animals primarily for their fur – I do not deem it a necessity in the modern world, not even for the sake of “education”. Educating people on the “old ways” of traditional hunting, trapping and pelting could easily be demonstrated through the use of photographs, illustrations and examples of tools such as you might find in any truly educational facility. Using education as an excuse to carry on a tradition that calls for the unnecessary breeding and slaughter of live animals is simply not a strong enough argument to convince me.
The fact that grey wolves have federal protection just adds another filthy layer to this already messy case. I hope to remain in discussion with people directly involved, and will follow any legal outcomes closely. If this facility is indeed illegally slaughtering protected species then hopefully adequate legal action is enforced. I do admit a personal concerned interest in all of this. The majority of animals I have spent my time working with have been rescues. Rightly or wrongly, if I discovered that any of them had been sold into industries that hold no necessity in my mind, I would most likely be appalled.
I like to think that many people who wish to view wild animals would consider other options before giving money to an establishment that breeds captive wildlife and allows the animals to be exploited in this manner. I suppose by now, though, I have come to learn that countless tourists and customers are prepared to turn a blind eye for the sake of some hands-on contact. Would you be comfortable supporting an establishment that breeds and potentially illegally slaughters its animals for fur? I certainly wouldn’t.
Animal Legal Defense Fund
ALDF article on Intent to Sue Fur-Ever Wild, with link to 2012 court case