By Jenny McQueen
First you need to arm yourself: with information. It’s not just about carrying postcards, but also having some basic understanding of the fur trade as it exists in Canada and around the world. I'm no expert, but I do know that Canada Goose uses trapped wild coyote, that the white fur on other branded coats such as Moose Knuckle could have been a beautiful fox that was confined to a tiny cage on a Canadian fur farm, and that the cheap coats with the brownish fur could be a raccoon dog from Asia that suffered an awful life and death.
Unfortunately, there's no shortage of places and scenarios where you'll encounter fur. On transit, at the movies, in a vegan restaurant, at work, shopping, possibly at home, and, of course walking on the street (sometimes with a gorgeous dog in tow, too).
The temptation can be to use anger and sound reproachful when approaching a fur wearer: how dare this person wear the skin and fur of an animal that suffered so much! Justifiable anger can, of course, be useful in some instances, but not every situation. Oftentimes starting with a smile, and an offer “Can I give you some information?” or “Can I give you a leaflet?” will work. It's an opening to allow you to point to the offending fur trim and say “Did you know you're wearing a real animal?” or even “it's about your coat.” If they seem to be receptive, pointing to the animal on the postcard, or just naming who you think it was and starting to describe its life and death may be possible.
You also have to be ready to encounter a myriad of reactions, and get used to dealing with how you find yourself reacting to them. How they respond will influence your next steps. Here are the spectrum of responses you may get; I've grouped them as the 4 "A"s:
- incredulous and apologetic
- explains it was a gift
- laughs nervously
This is your chance! You may find yourself having an intelligent conversation with them, listening to them tell you about the dog they love, that they have started to realize and regret their purchase – and even help them to zip off the trim (some but not all Canada Goose jackets allow this)! You can tell them how the fur could be used to help orphaned animals at a wildlife sanctuary. If they're not ready to do it right away and you don't want to give them your own contact, you can use firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. This scenario actually happened on transit – it went so well that vegan literature was also well received and a Facebook friendship was formed!
- refuses to even acknowledge you
- asks you to stop harassing them
- how dare you, a stranger, speak to them
- threatens to call the police
- refuses to stop and chat – in a hurry
This is tough – this is where you could try communicating a few choice details of animal suffering, or you might prefer to just comment "check out MakeFurHistory.com and see for yourself.” A postcard may be the one thing that they'd accept, albeit reluctantly.
- accuses you of wearing leather
- asks what about caring about children/refugees etc.
- points at your faux fur hood
This is another form of avoidance, where they deflect what you're trying to say by changing the subject. Stay focused, perhaps suggest that one can widen one's circle of compassion to include wild animals, and if you donate/volunteer to help children/humans, now's the time to mention that. Maybe you are wearing leather – but don't let that put you off – anyone can and should care about the needless suffering of fur-bearing animals. If you can look at replacing your leather shoes with cruelty free options, then that would of course give you peace of mind that they can't attack you for wearing animals.
- laughs at you
- doesn't care about suffering animals
- bought the coat because it IS real fur
Are these people worth your time? I think so. I've resorted to playing a hunter's video which shows a coyote struggling in a trap, barking and howling just like a dog. If one of these people were to come across an animal trapped and suffering, wouldn't they want to help?
In any of these situations you also need to consider your own peace of mind! You might be comfortable shouting down the street… or not. But heck, that may be just what you need to let off some steam.Try and resist swearing or hurling personal insults however tempting that may be – it's more pertinent to stick to the suffering of the animal and concentrate your passion on defending their lives.
If you think you're in danger of letting off too much steam, i.e. starting to feel too much anger, or not getting anywhere with the fur wearer – then you shouldn't feel bad about "walking away.” Not everyone is ready to hear our message – in fact, you may find yourself talking to a hunter or trapper. People can change, but if they're giving you a hard time, mocking your compassion, or just not taking in what you’re saying, then walk away. You've done your part. Planting a seed is all you can do.
Some of us have been doing this for years. We're not putting our personal safety on the line – I think it's more dangerous crossing the road in a busy city. We're simply using logic and compassion to speak up for our fur-bearing brethren – it really is the least we can do. We've had our eyes and hearts opened to the suffering that animals endure – isn't it our moral duty to share it?
While initially confronting a stranger wearing fur can be intimidating, the thing to remember is that you're doing the right thing. Speaking up might result in a few raised voices, perhaps anger directed at what you're saying, but it could also save lives – everyone within earshot, and even those who initially reject your message could have the seed planted within them to NOT purchase cruelty going forward.
Jenny McQueen is a long-time activist, supporter of The Fur-Bearers, and co-founder of AnimalRightsToronto.com.
Photo above by Jenny McQueen: a Canada Goose wearer removed and donated her fur trim after learning the truth about the fur industry.