Jan. 24, 2006 -- Instead of lounging around the family home, some cats and dogs in Europe and Russia have been showing up around jacket collars and in coats, according to a Humane Society investigation.
The group's undercover investigation concluded that the business of killing cats and dogs for fur is thriving in the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries. This comes as a direct reaction to thriving fur sales and a noted market shift since the U.S. banned the import of domestic pet fur, experts say.
"We have at the doorsteps of the European Union positive proof that this business is not just an Asian issue anymore," said Richard Swain, a Humane Society vice president and investigator.
Swain estimates that more than 2 million dogs and cats are slaughtered every year for their coats, with most pelts coming from Asia. And because they are extremely difficult to identify, most shoppers don't usually know that the fur trim on hats, coats or boots have been made with dog and cat fur.
Only DNA testing can reveal the true identity of a fur, Swain said.
At least one industry group was skeptical of the report, however.
"Members of the BFTA along with members of the European Fur Federation do not handle or offer for sale domestic cat and dog skins," said Andrea Martin, a spokeswoman for the British Fur Trade Association.
She said the British government has no evidence of cat and dog pelts being imported into the U.K. and insisted the fur trade is tightly regulated.
"As an industry, we are against any form of animal cruelty," the British Fur Trade Association said in a statement.
Video from the Humane Society investigation showed cat skins and some dog skins hanging at one Czech warehouse. The factory worker said in the video that most of the skins were taken from animals locally, with others coming from China.
The fur comes mostly from strays and captured pets. Bigger dogs like German shepherds and golden retrievers have the most cache, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Once captured, the dogs and cats are skinned, and then once the pelts have dried, the skins often are dyed to hide any inkling of cat or dog. To further confuse consumers, vendors and manufacturers will stitch incorrect labels.
For example, "Asian wolf," "mountain cat" or what is labeled as rabbit, fox or mink may actually be a four-legged, tongue-wagging stray.
Catwalk Fashion Embraces Fur
Fashion designers have recently made chic and luxurious furs a staple of haute couture catwalks once again, and retailers have followed suit.
Retail sales of fur garments, trim and accessories increased worldwide by 2.8 percent in the year 2004, totaling $11.7 billion compared to a year earlier, according to the latest survey by the International Fur Trade Federation.
To date France, Italy, Greece, Belgium and Denmark have banned the fur, but because of Europe's porous borders it's not enough, said Betsy Dribben, chief European representative for Humane Society International.
In her opinion, it's time for Europe to follow in America's tracks. The U.S. market dried up after 2002 when the government banned the import, export, sale and production of man's best friend after an investigation revealed some parka jackets sold here used dog fur.
"The U.S. law works because the federal ban puts the burden on the individual importers," Dribben said. In her view, stricter labeling puts the onus on the government, which isn't as effective at dissuading shady dealers and vendors because catching them necessitates regular police controls.
Even though certain members of the European parliament have sided with a member-wide ban, the EU Commission claims that it doesn't have the authority under European law to enact such a ban.
Dribben soldiers on and has already set her sight on Russia as the next continent to conquer. "The real goal is to get all of Europe to ban the import of cat and dog fur," she said.