AN UNDERCOVER investigation has revealed a booming trade in dog fur coats from Eastern Europe, some of which are likely to be on sale in Britain.
The fur, which comes from both strays and captured pets, is often re-labelled to disguise its origins before being stitched into coats and re-dyed. A Bulgarian fur coat, recently seized by customs officials was discovered to have been made from dog fur, was incorrectly passed off as ‘Korean Wolf’.
Unlike a mink, which can cost £10,000, a top-price coat made from dog pelt may sell in markets of Western Europe for around £400.
The investigation by a German television documentary crew focused on Bulgaria, where it found that stray dogs were routinely rounded up by licensed trappers and delivered to fur factories.
Anita Singh, a campaign co-ordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Britain, said that there were also reports of pets being snatched for their fur.
‘They tend to be bigger dogs like German Shepherds or Golden Retrievers,’ she said. ‘It is important for people to realise that when they buy fur it is nearly impossible to tell whether real dog or cat has been used unless it undergoes extensive DNA testing.
‘You can find dog fur in shopping centres in Britain labelled as something else. It is a disgusting industry and our advice is simply to avoid all types of fur.’
It is not illegal to trade in dog and cat fur in Britain, although bans have been imposed in the United States, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Italy, France and Australia.
The British Fur Trade Association, which represents the fur industry, said none of its members knowingly used dog fur, and it had introduced a labelling system to try to guard against its use.
Most furs - such as mink, fox, seal or rabbit - have their own classification so it is possible to see how much is imported and exported. Fur that falls under the ‘other fur’ category, however, does not have to be listed by species and could include dog or cat fur.
Yordanka Zrcheva, the president of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Animals, went undercover for a German television documentary to demonstrate the extent of the problem.
Miss Zrcheva said that the country, which is hoping to join the European Union in just over a year, produced ‘tens of thousands’ of dog pelts to sell across Europe.
‘There is a massive industry based on the systematic killing of dogs,’ she said. ‘There are dog fur factories all over Bulgaria, and they produce all sorts of items, like fur coats, leather shoes and bags made from dogs and so on.’
According to Rumi Becker, a spokesman for the Doctors for Animals group that works for the protection of Bulgaria's stray dogs, the authorities are unwilling to clamp down because the industry is ‘big business’.
In Bulgaria the average salary is around £35 a month, while a teacher makes about £80 a month and a doctor £100. One fur coat can be sold inside the country for £200 and more than double that abroad.
‘It is hard to collate exact numbers but around 10,000 dogs are collected and killed in Sofia alone every year, often shipped straight to fur factories from dog pounds and animal shelters,’ said Dr Becker.
‘The so-called fur lords who run the factories are farming the dogs on the street without having to pay any support. They don't have to feed or house them or anything except round them up and then skin them.’
Dr Becker bought a black and white coat labelled Korean Wolf. ‘I asked if it was made with street dog fur, and the vendor said it was, but that I should keep my voice down. I was pretending to be a dealer, and asked if it would be possible to have more. She told me she had 750 in a storeroom in Sofia,’ added Dr Becker.
Two weeks ago, anti-fur campaigner Heather Mills McCartney urged the European Union to ban the trade in cat and dog fur, citing the example of the Czech Republic.
‘Domestic cats are stolen off the streets, and we're talking about 2,000 to 3,000 just in the Czech Republic, not in the whole of Europe,’ she said.
Heather and her husband, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney have been spearheading a high-profile campaign to half illegal fur trading and to prevent dog and cat furs from being imported into the UK.
Late last year, Sir Paul vowed never to perform in China after seeing horrific undercover footage of dogs and cats being killed for their fur, and called for a boycott of Chinese goods.
The musician also said he would boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics after viewing the footage taken in a fur market in Guangzhou, southern China. The graphic film showed animals being thrown from a bus, and into boiling water.
Sir Paul, and Heather looked aghast and close to tears as they watched the footage for a special report for the BBC's Six O'Clock News. The couple urged people not to buy Chinese goods.
‘This is barbaric. Horrific,’ said Sir Paul. ‘It's like something out of the dark ages. And they seem to get a kick out it. They're just sick, sick people.
‘I wouldn't even dream of going over there to play, in the same way I wouldn't go to a country that supported apartheid. This is just disgusting. It's just against every rule of humanity. I couldn't go there.’
Campaigners estimate that over two million dogs and cats are killed for their fur in China every year. China also farms animals such as mink for their fur and makes over half of the world's fur products.
A spokesman for the Chinese Ambassador in London said at the time: ‘Though cats and dogs are not endangered, we do not encourage the ill treatment of cats and dogs. But, anyway, the fur trade mostly feeds markets in the US and Europe. This fur is not consumed in China. So the Americans and Europeans should accept the blame.’
The spokesman’s arrogant tirade continued: ‘We have no plans to clamp down on this internally that I am aware of - it is for the US and Europeans to take their own action. They should boycott fur as a fashion material. I do not agree with Mr McCartney and his wife's point of view - a boycott of Chinese goods and the Olympics is simply not justifiable.’
Markos Kyprianou, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, is responsible for the area of EU law relating to fur imports.
His spokesman, Phillip Todd said: ‘As a human being, the commissioner abhors this trade and is very supportive of there being a ban. There are, however, legal obstacles which would need to be addressed before a ban could be put in place.’