My first visit to a fur farm


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Linn Krogstad of the Norwegian Animal Protection Society (Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge), on her way to inspect her first fur farm. 

Throughout my life it’s been quite evident that I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for animals. The instincts and feelings of animals have been of great interest and importance to me. In spite of my strong concern, I didn’t have too much personal experience regarding animals in fur farms. I’ve talked about it, seen footage and films and kept myself up to date on the subject. However, this summer I was about to get first-hand experience with an industry, that would send a chill down the spines of most people. 

In August, I travelled with a group of four people, to document the living conditions on the fur farms in the Norwegian county Sogn og Fjordane. The tour was planned well in advance, and I spent a lot of time preparing myself psychologically, so I would be able to handle it. However, as the tour got under way, it became evident that whatever preparations I’d done in advance, nothing could have prepared me for the reality. No words, pictures or films can fully communicate the living conditions and the tragic lives of the animals I met.

Linn inside one of the sheds, next to two of the fox cubs.

We visited a total of five farms, but I want to talk mostly about the first farm visit, as it was my first real encounter with evil, an encounter that neither film nor pictures can truly describe. Neither will my words be able to convey the empty eyes, the frightened animals or the severely damaged beings, that awaited me on the first farm. As I opened the car door in a considerable distance from the farm, an indescribable smell hit me. A stench that might resemble a mix of rut, dung and urine. Thankfully, I've never come across a corpse that’s been laying dead for a while, but if I was to picture the smell of it, the smell of the farm would be my best guess. As neither video nor pictures can convey smell, I wasn't prepared for it at all.

We had to walk for a while through the woods to reach our destination. As we approached the farm, I heard someone hammering. "Shit, now we’ll have to wait out in the woods till the farmer’s gone to bed," I thought to myself. The three others whom I was with didn't stop, but continued straight towards the farm. "Didn’t you hear the hammering?" I whispered to one of them, that had been on fur farm inspections before.  He replied "It's not someone hammering. Its just one of the foxes pounding on its cage."

My heart skipped a beat. That fox was pounding in a desperate attempt to get out, and now I was about to go in and witness first hand the living conditions of these animals. "What in the world are you doing, Linn" I thought anxiously, while pushing away a branch, so it wouldn't hit my face. How would I be able to deal with it, when just the sound of a fox pounding on its cage, was enough to make my heart jump.

The doors into the long sheds were left open.

We reached the fur farm, which consisted of several rows of wire mesh cages in open sided sheds. Long, ramshackle sheds with tin roof, that were probably no more than 6 meters wide, but of considerable length. Red paint was peeling off the walls. The doors were left open, and the door of the first shed didn't hang properly on the hinges. We didn't even have to open the doors to go inside. As we turned on the dim light inside the first shed, I shut my eyes. Slowly I opened one eye, then the other. The first fox looked back at me. The tail was there, the ears were there, the feet were there. I caught myself counting the body parts of the little being sitting there. From the photos and films that I've seen, I’ve learned that for these animals, keeping all your body parts intact is not something to be taken for granted.

I exhaled somewhat relieved that this beautiful creature, with silver grey fur, was one of the lucky ones, until the moment I made eye contact with the fox. Blank, empty eyes stared back at me. Big, black eyes without any hope, eyes without any joy staring back at me. The big black eyes broke off eye contact, when the fox jumped to hide on a “shelf” inside the cage.

I continued further down the line of cages, while I looked around in the dim light inside the shed. The floor I walked on was old, and some places a board or two were missing. Fur from the animals, feces and remains of food lay on the floor and were stuck to the cages, on the walls and just about everywhere. The horrible smell stung in my nose as I peeked into one of the foxes’ drinking vessels. The water was so dirty that I wouldn't even have used it to wash my boots. Throughout the first and second row, it was all the same. Small cages, empty eyes, no hope, only despair.

Upon entering the third row I’d resigned myself to the situation, and felt that it was somewhat tolerable, that is, as tolerable as it could possibly be. I had overcome the intense wish to run back to the car, and felt almost a little proud. In an attempt to keep my spirits up I was thinking to myself "you’ll be fine, you're doing good, you're doing something important", as we calmly entered the third row, and the lights went on. Immediately my heart stopped, and my eyes filled with tears. A female breeding fox gazed up at the light. Imprisoned in her cage, to benefit the farmer with the best breed. For years these foxes are kept here. 

"These are female breeding foxes" one of my companions whispered to me. It was just as well that she told me, the small furry creature curled up inside the cage was not easily recognizable. The small, deformed body, the coat falling off in huge chunks, and the eyes... abnormally red, and so exhausted that nothing can describe it. The fragile creature laid completely still, a burden to no one, but herself. Existing only for the purpose of profit to the owner of the farm. 

Exhausted breeding fox inside the wire mesh cage.

The entire row was filled with animals with the same fate, each one more exhausted than the next. The eyes betraying a gruesome story, of animals that had witnessed their own offspring getting their limbs chewed off, or of cubs chewing on them. A story of a lifetime spent inside the walls on this farm of horrors. Occasionally we heard foxes screaming. The sound was almost reminiscent of the screams from a human in intolerable pain or agony. I constantly had the shivers and goose pimples, and it felt as if my heart was in my throat the whole time. 

I steeled myself as we walked in the door of row number four. At this point, I wasn't sure of how much more I could take, before I would run back to the car. On our way in, I’d observed cubs living there. Small shadows were flickering on the wall as we walked inside. In the depth of the building, as the lights went on again, tiny, furry creatures were staring back at us. Fox cubs, that were not that different from puppies. The cubs looked up with hope in their eyes, and my heart stung. They were probably hoping for a good life, and thankfully, they knew little of their future as a fur coat, a collar, or maybe a small tassel on a hat.

Awaiting me in the next cage, was a sight I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and that I'm sure I’ll face again in nightmares for a long time to come. Two small cubs, one grey, the other one white. The grey one was missing one leg, the white one half of its tail. Both of them were bloody. The one missing a leg lay completely motionless. The white one with the blue eyes was rather active, walking around, with blood smeared on his coat. While I fought back the tears, the white cub started to attack the grey one, which continued to lay there almost lifeless. He screamed when the pain became intolerable, but made no resistance against the attack. And what was he supposed to do? He was trapped, with no place to escape. Not that he’d be able to escape anyway, with one leg missing.  

It felt terrible to do nothing but observe it, and then take out the camera in order to take pictures of it. Nevertheless that is what I did. That was the reason we had come, to document the suffering, in order to put an end to it. 

Later, when we were done, I made a promise to myself, to never forget what I’d seen. I would not forget any of the animals I’d met. I would keep this gruesome experience with me, and use it as motivation in my continuing work towards the ban of fur farming. This promise I will keep. Visiting the farms was one of the toughest experiences I've had in my life. Several days were spent looking suffering straight in the eyes, and it has left its mark on me. Nonetheless, I don't regret the experience, as the animals in fur farms are like the three in the woods. They suffer, whether we see it or not. 

Linn Krogstad
, Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge


Pictures: Activists inspecting Norwegian fur farms