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Why ‘Genuine Leather’ May Actually Be A Pet

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Could your ‘genuine leather’ shoes be made of cat or dog leather? You may be surprised!

By Chere Di Boscio

Have you ever seen the label ‘Genuine Leather’ on gloves, shoes, or bags? You probably assumed it was cow, sheep, lamb or even pig leather. Which is, frankly, bad enough in my opinion. But then again, I’m a vegan who’s against killing animals for food or clothing.

For the average consumer who has normalised the exploitation of animals, though, there’s nothing shocking about the ‘Genuine Leather’ label. Until now, that is.

Animal rights campaigners PETA have recently drawn attention to a horrific practice of skinning dogs to make leather – and it’s far more common than you’d think.

Few people know that most of the world’s leather comes from China, a nation notorious not only for animal abuse, but also for consuming vast quantities of endangered animal parts such as tiger penises and rhino horns for its so-called ‘traditional ‘medicines’. In fact, exports of leather from China to the USA topped $270 billion in 2018, and Italy has recently overtaken the US as the biggest importers of Chinese leather, meaning ‘Made in Italy’ may involve much more cruelty than one would expect: there are no penalties against abusing animals that are killed for their skins in China.

Undercover Horrors

In 2014, an undercover PETA reporter visited a Chinese dog leather slaughterhouse. Here, the investigator filmed workers as they grabbed one dog after another around the neck with metal pinchers and bashed them over the head with a wooden pole. Some dogs fell to the ground unconscious, while others cried out and writhed in agony. Some still struggled to breathe after their throats were cut before their skins were ripped off their bodies.

The leather from these animals – as well as from cats – was destined for garment making factories, where it would be transformed into men’s and women’s gloves, belts and other accessories. The investigator made a video of the whole process, but we believe it’s too distressing to show here.

According to PETA: “Eyewitnesses have documented as many as 20 cats crammed into a single cage—and as many as 800 animals stacked in cages on a single truck. The bodies of cats and dogs who don’t survive the harrowing journey are left among the living.

For China’s unregulated cat- and dog-fur industry, making a few pennies from animals’ skin is worth more than their suffering. Workers crudely kill animals by hanging, strangling, or bludgeoning them to death. Some still show signs of life as their skin and fur are agonizingly torn and cut off.

You can spot coats and trinkets made from cat and dog fur at markets in China, but that’s not the only place they’re found. Some companies have been known to mislabel their vile accessories deliberately in order to dupe unsuspecting consumers in other countries. If you know anyone who still wears fur, they may very well be wearing the remains of an abused cat.”

This issue was largely ignored by the public and social media until Hollywood star and longtime vegan Joaquin Phoenix spoke out in a video about Chinese dog leather, stating: “If you buy leather gloves, belts or shoes, remember: there’s no easy way to tell whose skin you’re really in.”

You Can’t Tell

Indeed, PETA states that it’s not only dogs that are killed for their skins: cats are too. It’s easy and cheap enough for Chinese leather makers to find strays in the street to slaughter, but they are also known to breed cats and dogs for this purpose.

Although the USA banned the importation of dog and cat furs and leathers, with a punishment of fines up to $10,000, distinguishing dog and cat leather from cow, sheep and pig leather is virtually impossible without inspectors doing DNA testing, making it pretty simple for unethical manufacturers to pass off skins from cats and dogs as leather and fur from ‘legally approved’ animals.

PETA confirms that dog and cat leather from these Chinese factories can and does end up in shops on U.S. or European high streets because, as mentioned, unless the skin is tested, no one knows which animal the leather has actually come from.

Meat, Fur, Leather – It’s All The Same

According to the Guardian newspaper, the dog leather trade is dependent on the dog meat trade; since killing dogs for meat is not illegal (and is actually quite popular) in China, the byproducts, including skin and fur, may be used for other purposes. In short, dog and cat leather and fur is largely a byproduct of dog and cat meat trade. If China were to ban eating these animals, it’s likely we’d see a demise of the fur and leather trade, too.

For this reason, PETA Asia has been focusing its energies on promoting veganism and vegetarianism in the country, and Bloomberg News has reported that there are now more than 100 animal welfare groups active in the country. However, the Chinese still see meat eating as a status symbol, and there’s also much resistance to animal welfare legislation if it means companies and individuals will lose money: the Chinese people and government are both obsessed with GDP growth and increasing wealth.

Not Much Pet Love

While many cultures value and crave the company of animals, this isn’t so much the case in modern China, thanks to Chairman Mao. Pet ownership was banned for years by the authoritarian Communist Party (still in power today) as being bourgeois, and pet owners who protested by keeping their pets were forced to watch Party members bludgeon them to death. Citizens managed to sneak in birds and small animals such as crickets, which have traditionally served as pets in China, but  until recently, most people couldn’t have afforded the upkeep of dogs. Today, the status-obsessed Chinese are now perceiving dogs as being something of a symbol of material wealth, and are starting to enjoy the company of dogs as pets. However, many people still prefer to eat dogs and cats rather than keep them as pets.

Each year, around four million cats and 10 million dogs are thought to be slaughtered in the country. for meat. The Humane Society says the majority are stolen pets and strays that are captured and kept in cages, and notes that every June, the city of Yulin in southern China hosts a dog meat festival, where live dogs and cats are sold specifically for eating and an estimated 10,000 are slaughtered for their meat.

China Isn’t Alone

But China isn’t the only country in the world guilty of such atrocities. In South Korea, for example, dog meat dishes are so common that they have their own name – Gaegogi. Korea has an estimated 17,000 dog farms, according to the Humane Society, where animals are raised for human consumption.

An estimated five million dogs are believed to be slaughtered for eating in Vietnam each year, and demand for dog meat is so high, it has led to an illegal trade from neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

But we seriously need to ask ourselves: why are so many people horrified by the dog and cat meat and leather trade, but fully complicit with the slaughtering of other sentient, intelligent animals like pigs and cows for the same purposes? Until we refuse to eat any animal, or wear any animal fur or skin, we must all accept dog and cat products as being just as ‘ethical’ and ‘acceptable’ as any other.

Image credits: 1,2 and 3, Pixabay. 4 and 5 PETA. 6 Wikicommons via Rob Sheridan – https://www.flickr.com/photos/demonbaby/2088034091/

Chere Di Boscio

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