Friday, February 20, 2009

PETA vs China

Warning. This post is about a highly disturbing dog video which PETA has been using as an awareness/funding tool. I'm going to try to keep the details to a minimum but you may want to skip this posting if you think it may be too much to handle.

I received an e-mail the other day from a good friend of mine asking me to sign and forward an attached PETA petition asking the Chinese government to stop allowing the skinning of live dogs in the Chinese fur trade.

Before I go into that, though, I'd like to share some personal background.

For one year, many years ago, I lived in China. It was in the Northeast where the air always hung heavy with coal smoke. I lived on an university campus there and taught English to a class of engineers. Everyone still wore mostly Communist grays and greens and blues. What colour there was, was generally muted by the soot in the air.

Every morning, I would wake up at 6:00 and go to an outdoor basketball court where I'd be taught kung fu by an English student of mine. He wasn't very good. Imagine a guy who looked like Spock with thick glasses but with no Vulcan super powers. I suspect he didn't know a damn thing about martial arts other than what he'd seen in Chinese censored versions of Enter the Dragon. I wasn't very good either, though, so it didn't matter. At least it gave me something to do.

A dog used to come by the court in the mornings while we practiced our kicks and punches and secret death kill grips. It was a dingy, brownish mutt. At first it was cautious but curious around us, not sure if what we were doing was threatening or a game it might be able to join in. Eventually, over the course of a few weeks, it decided that we were neither dangerous nor terribly interesting, but still, it would come over daily for a quick visit - maybe to check if that day was the day we had finally brought it a snack - and then it would return to the ugly concrete and stone house it came from.

That house was lived in by one of the labourers at the university. Every morning, the coal faced man would put out a bowl of rice gruel for the dog to eat. The dog would gulp down the food and then settle down on the front doorstep of the house and that's usually where the dog was when we finished our practice sessions in the morning.

One morning, after the dog had finished its visit with us, it walked back towards its house. Its owner came out and with a bowl of food in his hand and started calling to the dog. This was a little unusual because I'd never heard the man talk to the dog before. The dog approached the man excitedly, sniffing the scent of the food. When the dog got close enough, the man dropped the food then grabbed the dog by the scruff of the neck and stuffed it into a dirty sac. While the dog struggled and yelped, the man tied up the sac then beat it with a club until the struggling stopped. Then the man tied the sac to his bicycle rack and rode off.

I tell you this because I want you to understand that I know about cruelty to dogs in China. I make no excuses for them. It didn't matter that the man who did this was some shmuck who would have been lucky if he made $5 a day. My disgust was visceral. It was like getting punched in the gut. It wouldn't have mattered if the person throwing the punch was rich and educated or poor and ignorant. Either way it would have still sucked the air right out of me and left me feeling ill.

Now back to the PETA e-mail petition.

In my version of the e-mail, it didn't actually mention that the events described take place in China but I suspected as much and later the suspicion was confirmed.

Here's an excerpt:

There is no need to see the video, but if you must, be aware, it's horrible.
The following video is of excruciating violence. Its painful silences affect
us all deeply. If we don't protect animals from this type of brutality, we
become accomplices.
Please sign and forward to all your contacts - this has to be stopped!!!
I explain the process below:
With a hidden camera, animals were filmed being SKINNED ALIVE!!! They say
it's done to get a more perfect ''cut''; afterwards the carcasses are tossed
into a pile, still alive, and for up to 10 minutes you can see their hearts
still beating, in agony, their eyes still blinking, and the puppies' little
paws still shaking. There was one pup, that still lifted his head and gazed
at the camera with bloodied eyes.
If you don't care to see the video, please sign and forward to your friends:
this monstrosity has to be stopped, we have to act!!
When the list reaches 500 names, please forward to:
Thank you.

The e-mail links to a PETA site (I'm not linking to it due to its graphically violent nature) which has the video. I scanned the site and saw a couple of images that showed more than I needed to see. There was no way I was going to watch the video but there's enough descriptions of it from many varied sources that I'm pretty sure the event it records is horrifically real. The are questions, though: How and why?

All sides of this bother me. Mostly, I am sickened by the suffering imposed on the dog. Again, it's visceral, no logic involved. It makes me want to scream and hit and destroy the destroyer. It makes me want to condemn the butcher, his family, his country all to Hell. I weep for that dog and will always weep for that dog when I think about what it was put through. I sit here seething at my impotence to act against such inhumanity, to help the helpless. What can I do? What can I do?

These reactions are real. They are inescapable. And of course these are the reactions PETA wants.

Animal rights organizations have had a long history with using animal snuff films to generate public debate, awareness and, of course, funds. Unfortunately, some of these films have come at great expense to the animals involved. Instead of a quick death, a more torturous end is staged and the animal is forced to suffer excruciating pain - all for our viewing (dis)pleasure.

Here's an excerpt taken from the Fur Commission USA website which is a lobby group for American mink farmers (so, yes, there may be spin on this but I haven't found anything to contradict the information provided):

1964: Film of a seal being skinned alive is used by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to vilify Canadian sealers, and is screened on CBC television. Following a public outcry and investigation, the man in the film, Gus Poirier of Prince Edward Island, signs an affidavit declaring that he was "employed by a group of photographers ... to skin a large seal for the film. I solemnly swear before witnesses that I was asked to torment the said seal and not to use a [club], but just to use a knife to carry out this operation, where in normal practice a [club] is used to first kill the seals before skinning them." A Federal Standing Committee castigated CBC "for not enquiring into its accuracy before screening," but the damage had been done.

Here's another one:

Mid-1990s: In 1996, video footage of a brutal dolphin slaughter is used in a campaign to raise money and generate public support for embargoes against Venezuela's two exports, oil and tunafish. As they market the video, various groups claim the film "proves" that 40,000 dolphins are killed annually in a country where dolphin kills are illegal. No proof exists except the film. When the uncut film footage is finally discovered, it becomes obvious that the film was staged. The filmmaking crew had represented themselves to the fishermen involved as scientists from the local university, saying they needed to kill a dolphin for research and that they would take total responsibility. "Act natural!" yells the cameraman to the fishermen. The filmmakers supply the knife used to inhumanely butcher the animal while they direct the action. "More blood! Get me more blood!" yells the cameraman.

The Venezuelan government charged the filmmakers with fraud and treason (since the film was part of an orchestrated attack on key Venezuelan exports), but the filmmakers fled the country. They have never been caught to face the charges.

And here's one that readers in Toronto might remember:

2001: Jesse Power, a vegan student at the Ontario College of Art and Design, enlists two other young men to film the brutal torture and killing of a house cat. Acts committed on video include hanging the cat by a noose, then cutting its throat while stabbing it, and finally slitting its chest open. At trial, Power's lawyer argues that the project was conceived as an "artistic protest" against meat-eating.

The Fur Commission site lists more than a dozen other staged animal snuff movies created and/or used by animal rights organizations including Greenpeace, IFAW, HSUS and, of course PETA. It also talks about the dog skinning video.

The implication from the video is that live skinning is standard operating procedure for the dog fur trade in China. However, outside of entertaining sadistic psychopaths who fester in every society, skinning any animal live for its fur doesn't make any sense because it's inefficient.

Here's an excerpt from a press release by the Chinese government ( regarding this video:

Pictures showing animals being skinned alive are obviously plotted. All those with common sense would not choose this slaughter method to attain fur. Reasons are as follows: First, the animals are bred for quality fur and those with a thinking mind know this method would seriously affect the quality of the fur. Second, animals being skinned alive would struggle and might hurt the skinner, which would increase the difficulty of skinning process. At last, the method is a very inefficient one to attain fur. To a fur farm with hundreds, even thousands of animals, it's ridiculous and infeasible to adopt the method.

So where does the truth lie? I'm guessing somewhere in between. I agree with the arguments presented (once I've managed to control my nausea) that it would be stupid to perform the act shown on the video on a large scale but I also find it hard to believe that such occurrences would never happen simply because the humans involved in the butchering will inevitably make mistakes. And anyway, the whole dog fur industry is so appallingly grotesque - especially when you realize that it's being used to counterfeit other animals' fur sold to western countries, either directly or through European countries - that the argument over whether or not this particular video was staged or not seems moot.

Well, not for this particular dog.

And so the eternal question, does the end justify the means?

What is the desired end in this case? That China cave in to foreign pressure and put a stop to its dog fur trade? Has China given Tibet more autonomy due to foreign pressure? No. Has it reduced its rate of capital punishment due to foreign pressure? No. Has it improved its human rights record due to foreign pressure? No.

Well, maybe then the video will turn off enough people from wearing fur that the dog fur industry (and counterfeit animal fur industry) will dry up in China. Maybe but I'm not betting on it. Before the credit crunch hit, fur had its biggest year ever propelled by all the new wealth in Russia and China. People who wear fur aren't thinking about animal suffering. They're concerned about how they look.

And so, I believe that the dog in the video was put through a terrible death in vain. I believe that it would have been enough just to film what regularly happens to dogs in China - stuffed in cages like you'd stuff a suitcase, butchered in open markets - without having to resort to creating such extreme additional suffering - even if it's only the suffering of one dog - to get the message across. If the film makers staged the torture scene, they stepped over the line. They would have become the tormentors and tormentors deserve to rot in hell.

But still, did I sign the petition? Of course.


Barb said...

I've seen the video you describe, and some of the images will haunt my nightmares for the rest of my life.

But I was also very skeptical of it, for the reasons you mentioned. Mostly, that skinning animals while alive just doesn't make any sense whatsoever from a practical or a business point of view. And there is NO WAY you get a "better cut" or a better quality of pelt that way.

But although I had heard rumors that some of these videos were actually STAGED - the perpetrators paid or otherwise persuaded to torture animals - I had difficulty believing it. I think I am even more sickened by finding out that these videos are staged than I am by the acts portrayed.

But I'm not too surprised... I have finally realized that the animal rights movement has much less to do with protecting animals than it does with just removing animals from human influence or contact.

Anonymous said...

The Fur Commission will say and do anything, just like the monster scumbags in the documented videos, from PETA as well as Swiss Animal Protection Society, (who courageously filmed these atrocities to the defenseless dogs). Don't spread the lies of the legalized animal abusers.

Fred said...

Anonymous, thanks for commenting. It gives me chance to clear something up.

I am in no way denying the inhumane scumbagginess of the scumbags directly involved in the willful torture of these animals. Anyone who would skin a dog alive consciously knowing full well there are alternatives may as well be a different species as far as I'm concerned - a species that will hopefully go extinct.

I am in no way denying that these horrific acts do indeed occur because people, especially callous people, will make errors in their "technique" and will end up inflicting extraordinary pain on an animal that is not fully unconscious or dead just as someone going into a hospital may end up with a deadly case of staph infection because the doctors didn't wash their hands.

What I am questioning is whether or not a dog was tortured and killed for the specific purpose of making this particular video and also whether or not such action is a justifiable, necessary evil to help prevent such deaths in the future. It's still my feeling, though of course I'll never know for sure, that this particular event was staged, and that if so, it was unnecessary.

As for the Fur Commission, I may completely disagree with their principles but that doesn't mean the information they point to is necessarily wrong. I may disagree with some of the principles and strategies of PETA and HSUS (and disagree strongly with their recent actions with regards to Pit Bulls) but that doesn't mean I think everything they do is wrong. I don't think we live in a black/white world and if we're ever to move forward and win this war against the abuse of other living creatures, we need to start looking for similarities within other organizations, and not just differences, and work with those similarities.

redstarcafe said...

A dog may have been deliberately tortured for the making of videos such as this, and thanks for raising that point, Fred.

I, too, would have signed the petition anyway. I have no time for fur lobbyists. I'm starting to see German Shepherd and cat trimming, or maybe it's Raccoon Dog and fox but that's no excuse, on the jacket of every second person on the subway and you know how hard it is to keep warm in our large flat grey city without killing some animal for trim...

I expect that there are plenty of less-activist sites out there, should one wish to pursue the awful research, where we could find out about the unnecessary brutalization of animals for their skins, claws, teeth, and gall bladders, never mind the cats that are flung alive into pots of boiling water and dogs that are beaten before killing so the meat becomes natural Viagra.

I've just finished Temple Grandin's excellent book, "Animals Make Us Human", which talks about the key animal emotional systems. Grandin, an autist, consults to slaughterhouses. Recognizing that we eat meat, she has designed systems where animals do not feel fear or panic. She has a whole lot to say about battery cages and farrowing crates too.

Fred said...

redstarcafe, that's a very interesting point you bring up about fur trims on people's clothing. With so much of our clothing being made in China, I have to wonder how much of that fur is dog. I'm guessing a lot of it. Dog's got to be cheaper than coyote or whatever they label it as - not that it being coyote would be any better.

redstarcafe said...

FWIW, HSUS did a little DNA study and there's quite a bit of dog out there, not to mention faux fur that turned out to be the real thing. Major labels and stores carry this stuff. Gee, we share our lives here with millions of dogs and cats, yet think nothing of picking up a jacket that could be made with their littermates. Shades of 101 Dalmatians.

borderjack said...

redstar's right...the fur trim is disturbingly ubiquitous. Every day i question the need for it. What value does it add to a coat? It's so unnecessary as to be ridiculous. Part of me thinks people buy the coats simply for economic reasons. They're cheap, and people simply don't stop and think what they're actually buying. There are, of course, those who don't give a crap, but sellers don't care about the reasons behind demand. The dog-fur trim has been in the news for a couple of years, yet i see more and more of it...

The first book of Temple Grandin's that I read was "Animals in Translation". An excellent read, it speaks to how animals respond to fear and pain. The book talks less about dogs than factory-farmed animals destined for slaughter, but there's enough about other animals to keep any animal lover interested and it was an eye-opening read. I really recommend it.

Fred said...

Borderjack, if the dog fur trim has been in the news, then I don't think it's been in the news enough because I haven't heard of it - not that I'm the measure of all things but I do listen to the news regularly. This info needs to get out to the general public then, and not just the activists.

Funny you should mention Temple Grandin. I just listened to her interviewed on CBC this morning(speaking of the news) talking about her work and her new book, Animals Make Us Human. You can listen to the interview on podcast here under the Quirks and Quarks 2009-02-21 show:

borderjack said...

I agree with you that it's not in the news enough. I remember first reading (hearing?) about it a couple of years ago, about certain retailers pulling jackets because of an HSUS (I think) investigation about the origin of the trim. I can't remember where I first heard it, but I just now googled "dog fur trim retailers", and it took me back to some of the articles. They're from reputable papers, too. It's distressing. I also read about cat fur used in things like trinkets, like the little toy cats you find at some asian convenience stores. For the life of me, I can't remember where I read that, either. (For a long time, hearing about stuff like has caused me a visceral, I-hate-humanity type of reaction, and I'm trying to get past that, to be more metered and effective in my response)

Thanks for the podcast link and congratulations on Alltop listing. When I said a while back that I don't know how you do what you do but I'm glad you do it - you're raising awareness (now on a larger scale) about things that must be at times very hard to write about. And, as evidenced by the general public's ignorance about things like dog fur (and bear bile and boiled cats and a million other horrors), awareness needs to be raised. You write well and matter-of-factly, which gives you credibility. If it were me, I'd probably be reduced to a raving lunatic by some of the subject matter. So thanks for raising awareness in an intelligent way.

Fred said...

Hah, you only think I write matter-of-factly because you don't see the first drafts. Blood and spit on the page, blood and spit.

redstarcafe said...

Hey, Fred and Borderjack, wouldn't ignorance be bliss... I did a little more reading on how faux fur isn't necessarily what it seems, and came up with this:

And here's a review of Temple Grandin's latest book. There were quite a few places where I was amazed that "gee, I didn't know that about animal behavior". It's one of those books that's hard to put down.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i also received the same email with this link to the Peta site, and i came across your blog because i'm curious to know if signing and forwarding the petition is legitimate or not? if i forward it to 10 friends, and they forward it to 10 more each, then my name is on 100 petitions going to Peta. how does that help?
and what are they going to do with lists of multiple names/countries? surely they'd be more interested in garnering email addresses for mailouts and marketing of their own...
regards, Mike.

Anonymous said...

December 16, 2009

I just wanted to say that I am on vacation this week. I am an animal lover that has always had more than one dog. They are just like my children to me. I had an envelope with some stickers that had come in, probably 2 or three weeks ago. Me being me, always having something to do, I would pick it up and start to look at it and well, maybe this weekend, or tomorrow night, but no right now. Yesterday I finally started to read some of the content and decided to get on the internet and watch the video. I couldn't finish it. I had to turn it off. I have cried numerous times. I look at my little maltese who gets all upset over me getting a towel and walking out of the bathroom, because he knows he is going to get that horrible bath thing done to him. I just can't stop thinking about what I saw. I look into my little babies eyes and I think those people are just horrible animals. Animals could never be that cruel. I will never be able to forget what I did see on the video. I went shopping today and I looked at every label and almost everything had China on it. My life has totally been changed from that five minutes. I can say with all of my being that I hate those people.