24 December 2006

Are You Wearing Man's Best Friend? That Trim on the Hood of Your Jacket Might Be Dog Fur!

According to this Associated Press story, if you are wearing a Sean John jacket with fur trim purchased from Macy's, that trim might have come from a dog indigenous to Asia known as a "raccoon dog." These dogs (pictured here) phenotypically resemble raccoons in that they have relatively short legs and bushy fur (and sometimes even have facial markings resembling raccoons), but despite their appearance, they are dogs. They belong to the canine species Nyctereutes procyonoides.

As reported in the AP story, two styles of Sean John jackets—one a hooded snorkel style, the other a classic version—were originally advertised as faux fur, but an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] found that the jackets were made from dog fur. According to HSUS's investigation (detailed in their press release), the Sean John Hooded Snorkel Jacket on sale at macys.com for $237.99 was advertised to online customers as having an "imitation rabbit fur collar." According to the press release, Macy's website went so far as to "identify" the materials used as "Nylon/faux fur/goose down." But when HSUS purchased several of these jackets, the jackets arrived bearing the labels "Made in China" and "genuine raccoon fur." Though these jackets originally arrived with the label "raccoon fur" on them, they were falsely marketed to consumers as "faux fur." According to the AP story, nine of ten jackets tested by HSUS were found to have trim made of dog fur, but were mislabeled in violation of federal law. The jackets were being sold by Macy's, both in its brick and mortar stores and in its online store. Macy's has pulled both jackets from its shelves and its web site in light of HSUS's findings. The AP story doesn't indicate how many of these mislabeled falsely-advertised jackets were already sold, but presumably many were sold and those conscientious consumers who were deceived into thinking they were purchasing faux fur may never find out about the mislabeled coats. Macy's should do the right thing and take out television and newspaper ads inviting anyone who purchased such a falsely-labeled jacket from any of its stores an opportunity to return the jackets for a full refund. It's doubtful that Macy's will do any such thing, but that doesn't prevent conscientious consumers from returning the jackets and demanding a full refund on the basis of false advertising.

Macy's is not alone in misrepresenting the materials used in making its coats. According to the HSUS press release, HSUS revealed earlier this week that Burlington Coat Factory was falsely advertising real fur garments as faux fur in newspaper circulars, on its web site, and in store displays at its 350 locations nationwide. HSUS also reports find fur garments falsely labeled "faux" at Loehmann's, revealing an industry-wide problem when it comes to fur labeling.

Given the garment industry's track record and the track record of department store chains like Macy's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Loehmann's where "faux fur" is concerned, it is reasonable to assume that any time you see a jacket with trim that is labeled "faux fur" the trim is "faux faux fur," i.e., it is reasonable to assume that it is real fur being deceptively passed off as faux fur to trick well-meaning conscientious consumers into buying a product of torture they would otherwise never purchase. Wherever companies profit from cruelty, you can rest assured that they will try to hide that cruelty from consumers, because cruelty makes a rather poor PR statement.

The NY Times article Keith linked to earlier today (see here) points out that fur sales are up 9% over last year and from this statistic goes on to infer that "fur is back in style." But is it really? Not according to my students. Each semester when I teach Contemporary Moral Issues, on the first day of class I begin with a survey. One of the questions on the survey is: "Is it morally permissible to kill animals for fur coats?" The students' answers to this question have remained remarkably consistent over the last ten years. Consistently, each semester over 90% of my students answer this question in the negative. But if fur is not "in," what accounts for the increased fur sales? Fraudulent labeling might be a big part of the explanation for the increased fur sales. After all, if fur is "in" and "trendy" and "hip" and "cool," ask yourself why stores like Macy's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Loehmann's are labeling their coats made with real fur trim as "faux fur." Why not exploit the fact that it is real fur and charge a premium for it? Because, despite a NY Times story designed to promote fur sales, real fur is associated with cruelty, and cruelty is never "in."

Those who object to fur coats and fur trim on moral grounds, do so for two main reasons: (1) The animals whose fur becomes those coats and trims are being killed for no good reason, and (2) these animals are killed in horrifically inhumane ways and thus are made to suffer horribly for no good reason. "Just how do Chinese workers kill raccoon dogs?" you might wonder. The standard method of skinning raccoon dogs is as follows: The dog is removed from a cage, picked up by the tail (or hindlegs), and then swung violently headfirst into the ground. Sometimes, the dog is picked up a second time and slammed to the ground again. Documentary video reveals that this does not kill the dogs. Instead, dog after dog writhes about on the ground in pain. At this point, the worker may pick up a block of wood or a pipe and hit the dog over the head a few times. Again, documentary video reveals that this typically does not kill the dogs. The point is to injure the dogs severely so as to render them defenseless, and that is all. No serious attempt is made either to kill the dogs or to render them unconscious. As a result, the dogs typically remain fully conscious throughout the entire ordeal. After having slammed the dog to the ground once or twice, the worker takes a hatchet and chops off the front legs of the still fully-conscious dog. The still living, struggling, fully-conscious dog is then lifted up and hung upside down by a hind leg. The worker then cuts the fur from around the hindquarters, grabs hold of the fur, and begins pulling downward forcefully. The still conscious dog flails about in agony as she is skinned alive. The traumatized dog is then thrown in a dumpster on a pile of previously skinned dogs. Lying in the dumpster, the still living, still conscious, now skinless dog lifts her head, blinks her eyes, looks around in desperation, breathing her last breaths. Why is the dog subjected to such unspeakable cruelty? Just so stores can sell jackets with fur trim or falsely labeled "faux fur" trim.

The treatment of the dogs can't really be as bad as I have described, right? Wrong. For a detailed and photo-documented description of how these highly intelligent, highly sensitive dogs are killed, see here. For full confirmation of everything I have described, be sure to scroll through to the end of the 42-photograph photo-documentary and their accompanying descriptions. To see an undercover video documenting how these innocent dogs are inhumanely killed, see here. I urge every reader to view this video [running time: 2 minutes 42 seconds]. Watch the video first, and then, ask yourself whether torturing an animal in this way is morally permissible just so that we can have ornamental fur trim on the hoods of our jackets. I suspect that you'll agree with the 90%-plus of my students who think it is not permissible.

In my post on prima facie vs. ultima facie wrongness, I discussed both the prima facie wrongness of causing animals to suffer and the prima facie wrongness of killing conscious sentient animals. Anyone who thinks that it is morally wrong to cause an animal to suffer for no good reason is committed to the prima facie wrongness of causing animals to suffer. For those who missed the previous post, to say that it is prima facie wrong to cause an animal to suffer is to say that it is morally wrong to cause an animal to suffer unless there is some overriding moral reason that justifies causing that animal to suffer. Likewise, to say that killing a conscious sentient animal is prima facie wrong is to say that killing a conscious sentient animal is morally wrong unless there are overriding moral considerations that justify that killing. One immediate consequence of the prima facie wrongness of causing animals to suffer is that it is ultima facie wrong (i.e., all-things-considered wrong) to cause an animal to suffer for no good reason.

There is little doubt that skinning animals alive is a cruel and inhumane act that causes animals horrific pain and suffering. Is there some overriding outweighing justifying good that can only be achieved by causing raccoon dogs to suffer in this way? Surely not.

Here are a few points I think we can all agree on. No one living in a modern society needs a jacket with fur trim in order to survive the winter or in order to stay warm. No one's life will be impoverished by going through life without owning a fur-trimmed jacket. No one will be deemed unstylish or unfashionable for wearing a coat that does not contain dead animals as trim. There is absolutely no good reason to torture an animal to death just to use her fur as ornamental trim on a jacket. There is absolutely no good reason to kill an animal (not even humanely) just to use her fur as ornamental trim on a jacket. Consequently, it is ultima facie wrong to torture and kill a dog for fur trim.

Anyone who embraces the highly plausible moral principle that causing animals to suffer unnecessarily is morally wrong and ought not be supported is committed to the wrongness of purchasing jackets with fur trim. I suspect that if you have viewed the above video, you will want absolutely nothing to do with the fur industry and will never ever purchase a fur coat or a coat with fur trim again. But many people are unaware of the grim realities inherent in the fur industry, and one of these people might have bought you a fur coat or a coat with fur trim as a holiday gift. What should one do, if one receives a fur coat or a jacket with fur trim (even a coat with trim labeled "faux fur")? That depends on whether one wants to support the fur industry or not. If you don't want to support the fur industry (because you think it wrong to support such a barbaric industry), then return the garment and demand a full refund. When you do so, be sure to speak to the store manager, and let her/him know why you are returning the garment. Imagine if retail stores all over the country this year were inundated with dissatisfied customers returning fur garments and alleged "faux fur" garments on December 26. That might make retailers reluctant to carry fur-trimmed and "faux" fur-trimmed jackets for next year's holiday season. Of course, no one wants to look like an ingrate. So, naturally, you would want to explain your decision to the person who gave you the gift. I'm sure the person who bought the gift for you doesn't want to knowingly support cruelty either. Ask this person to watch the above video with you, and then together return the coat and demand a full refund. If enough people do just that, then the number of fully-conscious dogs who are skinned alive and thrown mercilessly into dumpsters to breathe their last breaths will decrease. That is the power of conscious choice.

The Bottom Line:

When one witnesses an innocent dog skinned alive for no good reason, it shocks one's moral sensibilities. One wonders just what sort of person could do that sort of thing to another conscious sentient being. Sadly, there is nothing that any of us can do to help that innocent raccoon dog pictured in the video escape her ruthless tormenters. But there are some things we can do to help prevent that same fate from befalling other innocent dogs. We can say "No" to fur. We can join others who refuse to support such a cruel and barbaric industry. We can send everyone we know the link to that video and urge them to view it. We can encourage them to join us in boycotting fur. We can and should boycott "faux fur" as well, because (1) it might be real fur dyed to look like fake fur (a standard industry trick), and (2) since other people won't know that it is faux (even if it is), wearing faux fur fosters the appearance of approving of fur. These are things we can do, and if we think that it is wrong to support unnecessary cruelty, they are things we should do. If everyone who witnesses that poor dog's undeserved fate decides to say "No" to the fur industry in all its guises, then perhaps that dog will not have died in vain.

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