Canadian Lynx, Gilligan, and his built-in show shoes.

Demise of the Fur Trade

Demise of the Fur Trade

Pearlie and Howard Baskin25 Years ago we bought out 56 bobcat and lynx kittens from the Fur Farm in LeCenter, MN because when I learned cats were being killed for their fur, I thought I could put a stop to that.  (Those kittens were about the size and color that Pearlie is in this photo taken today with Howie)  That led to saving 28 bobcats and lynx the next year, 22 bobcats and lynx the next year and with that the fur farms in America were no longer killing cats for their fur.  Tiger Lilly the Bobcat is the last of those cats.  The following 2 years we were working on emptying the fur farm cages in Canada.  Apollo the Siberian Lynx is the last of those cats.

Just this year scores of clothing designers and retailers around the world have banned fur from their products—including Coach, Burberry, Versace, Chanel, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Donna Karan, Armani, Hugo Boss and Gucci, to name just a few. Even major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are banning the sale of fur outright.  Indiana and Ohio have yielded to public pressure to scale back bobcat hunting and other states are seeing similar changes coming.

Today I woke up thinking about that and the first email I opened turned out to be PETA talking about ending the fur trade permanently for all animals, especially rabbits.  That was even more coincidental because I’d been laying in bed thinking about how PETA gets a bad rap, even in animal lover circles, because ignorant people believe what the bad guys tell them without doing any research on their own.  That’s the same way so many of our supporters used to talk about us, until they learned who we really are, so I was thinking to do a LIVE Facebook cast today talking about that.  It’s pouring rain and there is a tornado watch in the area, so this will have to do.

I remember back in the 90s PETA was saying some mean things about us, that weren’t true, but it was understandable that they would suspect us of animal abuse because they knew back yard breeders and dealers in big cats were bad news.  They had no way to know that we were different.  When I was alerted that “PETA is here!” I didn’t call them out and run them off.  I welcomed them.  I figured they would actually like us if they knew us, so I introduced them to the cats, told their rescue stories and more importantly offered to take them anywhere and show them anything they wanted to see.  Suspicion grows in the absence of transparency.  It was my first experience with opening our books and back rooms to outsiders so they could decide for themselves who and what we are.

Over the years we’ve worked with PETA for better laws to protect the cats.  I know a lot of people who have worked there over the past quarter of a century, and a lot who still do.  They have some truly brave, intelligent and dedicated staff who do the dirty under cover work others fear.  They are some of the most tender hearted souls, but they bear witness to unbearable animal cruelty.  (The kind of things you’d scroll past fast on social sites because you can’t stand to see it)  They put themselves in harm’s way in order to gather the footage and evidence necessary to bring to justice some of what we consider the worst abusers, like Dade City’s Wild Things.  They have some of the best animal lawyers in the industry who use the pathetically inadequate laws we currently have to enforce the endangered species act where the government just chooses to turn a blind eye.

Many times we have worked with PETA, who chose to stay in the background, because of the people who would regurgitate untruths about them in an effort to derail the real objective.  People who abuse animals don’t have a story that resonates with the public, so their only defense is to try and discredit those who are bringing them to task.  We’ve experienced a lot of that ourselves and often we have to work in the background, so that the abusers can’t divert the narrative away from their misdeeds.

I can’t vouch for every single person who says they are a part of PETA any more than I can vouch for every single person who claims to be our advocate, but the people I’ve worked with there have been some of the most animal loving people I’ve known.  I doubt that I’d agree with every statement or policy, but I’m not sure there is any organization that I would.  If you want to learn about them there are real charity evaluators like Guidestar and Charity Navigator.

Don’t be misled by statements and sites like PETA Kills Animals.  See what PETA has to say about it too. states that: “ is run by the disingenuously named Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a front group that’s funded by KFC, Outback Steakhouse, Philip Morris, cattle ranchers, and other enterprises that cruelly kill millions of animals every year, not to end suffering but to turn a profit. The CCF’s clients fear the impact that PETA has made in educating consumers about cruelty to animals in the meat, circus, and experimentation industries and in changing people’s buying habits. That’s why the CCF devotes a tremendous amount of time and money to attempting to mislead caring people and divide the animal-protection movement by deliberately mischaracterizing PETA’s work.”  I found that by just searching the word PETA.  If you look for the truth, it isn’t hard to find.

Like most animal abusers the critics take some element of truth and turn it into a lie that people will believe.  PETA does operate a shelter and they do euthanize animals who can’t be adopted, so it makes it easy for people who don’t want to think about the alternative to accept that as proof PETA is evil.  “No Kill Shelters” have found that the public will support them over shelters that euthanize because the public wants to believe that every animal can find a happy forever after.  It just isn’t true.  The only way no kill shelters can exist is to only take in the most adoptable animals and turn away the rest.  Those that are turned away either end up out on the street or in kill shelters.  The whole shelter system is broken because our laws don’t prevent people from doing the irresponsible things that result in unwanted pets, but that’s a mission I hope to pursue once the exotic cat crises is ended.

In some ways, Big Cat Rescue, faces a similar dilemma.  We can only take in the animals we know we can provide lifetime care to because all of our current population depends on us making hard decisions to ensure their survival.  Because of the work to change laws that we, and IFAW, HSUS, ADI, AWI, Born Free, PETA and others have done, we don’t see nearly as many big cats in private hands who end up in need of rescue.  The big influx of cats into the collective of sanctuaries comes from all the places that “can’t say no” and breeders who never took into consideration what their actions would ultimately mean for the wild cats in their facilities.

Cat hoarding is no different from big cat hoarding.  It’s a life of misery, for the animals and when they are rescued from their daily hell, their long term options elsewhere are dubious, unless they are taken by those who commit to that animal never going hungry, or without water or vet care again.  Good intentions aren’t enough.  The rescuer has to have the resources to back up that commitment.  I am always dismayed when someone tells me they’ve donated to some other sanctuary because they are “rescuing” big cats, and they want to be part of a rescue, or because they think we are doing well financially and don’t need it.

I read the 990s of these places (see Guidestar) and I know they can’t afford to keep those cats long term because they don’t have money set aside for that care and they don’t want to commit resources to building that pension plan for their animals, because that is a lot harder to do, than doing a rescue.   Most of these places have only enough money in the bank to last a couple months, or maybe a year.  Big Cat Rescue has a pension fund set aside that would carry our cats to the end of their lives.  We’d have to stop all of our advocacy and educational efforts but we could make sure our existing exotic cats never go without care.

I think another way that PETA and Big Cat Rescue are alike is that we really would like to put ourselves out of business.  We make the hard choices, the often unpopular choices, because we believe we can actually end the suffering.  Neither of us gets much, if any support, from other non profits who claim to have the same objective, because those organizations would cease to exist if the problems truly were ended.  They would lose their status, jobs, and sense of self if there were no more animals in need of rescue.  They would never admit that; not even to themselves, but if it weren’t true they’d be taking the hard stand beside us to end the abuse at its root.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless.”  The work to end the cub handling and private possession of big cats is the hard, non sexy work that people want to avoid because they “don’t like politics” but it is crucial to ending the abuse of big cats in captivity and saving them in the wild.  In the next five years the tiger could disappear in the wild due to poaching.  That poaching is increased by the demand for tiger parts that is caused by tiger farming because people want the wild tiger.  China, Thailand and other African and Asian countries are growing their tiger and lion farms.  When the U.S. tries to combat this farming they point at the U.S. and say, “At least we know where all of our tigers are.  You don’t.”  Anti-poaching is made hard to enforce when it’s legal for people to possess tigers because you can’t tell wild tiger parts from captive bred tiger parts.  Ending cub handling and private possession are the first and most necessary steps to saving tigers in the wild.

The next time you want to make a difference I’d encourage you to look beyond the surface and find out if you are only making a temporary difference for one or two animals, or are you making a lasting difference that will save them all and ensure a future that includes wild cats living free.

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One Comment

  1. Oh, that picture of Howie and Pearlie is precious. The two of them, obviously meant for each other. Happiness personified!

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