Donated furs make warm nests for rescued animals
By JESSICA HEASLEY Columbia News Service | December 04,2005
When Cindy Stewart was a little girl, she loved to watch her mother primp for a night on the town. Her favorite moment came when her mother would swing her luxurious mink stole over her shoulders and whisk out the door.
As much as Stewart cherished the memory, however, she could not wear the fur "in good conscience." So not long ago, Stewart, a retired attorney in Vienna, Va., donated the stole to the Humane Society in her mother's memory. Now her mother's exotic mink is giving warmth and comfort to someone else: a rescued baby animal.
"My mom would have been so pleased," Stewart said.
Stewart is among thousands who have donated fur coats and other furry fashions to wildlife rehabilitation centers across the country. Every year thousands of animals are rescued from roadsides, Dumpsters and back yards, then nursed back to health at these centers and returned to the wild.
Wildlife rescuers cut up the furs and style them into surrogate "mothers," toys and comforting nests for abandoned and injured raccoon kits, baby bunnies and other creatures.
The Fund for Animals Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ramona, Calif., recently took in five orphaned 2-week-old coyote pups. An assistant manager, Cindy Traisi, went rummaging for the coyote coat she had received through the Humane Society fur donation program months before.
"We wrapped each of those pups up in a piece of the coat every time we bottle-fed them," Traisi said. "And they thought they were being fed by Mom."
The more than 300 orphaned coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions that are taken to the center each year are traumatized when they arrive. "We have to do something to relieve their stress," Traisi said.
While no one has scientifically proved that baby animals are soothed by nestling in real fur, rescuers believe it can increase their chance of survival.
"The fur definitely gives the babies a sense of comfort," she said. "They immediately snuggle down into it and seem to relax."
Americans have donated more than 15,000 fur coats and accessories, including hats, stoles, gloves and even slippers, to the fur donation programs at the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the past decade, the groups say.
The Humane Society took in 124 coats in October alone. The bulk of the donations tend to be mink and fox, but the group also receives rabbit, beaver, raccoon, leopard and even monkey fur. PETA sends the coats it doesn't need for wildlife centers to homeless shelters around the world.
For many donors, the gesture is more than just a tax deduction; it's symbolic of a change of heart.
"We had one donor who told us that when she moved to Alaska, she bought fox fur-lined gloves to ward off the cold," said Andrea Cimino, coordinator for the anti-fur campaign at the Humane Society. "Then she looked out her back window and saw an arctic fox in her back yard for the first time. She said, 'The fur looks better on the fox than it does on me,' and sent the gloves to us."
Elinor Hunter, 86, is a former foreign service officer who was living in Switzerland when she bought a mink coat, a three-quarter-length leopard coat and an otter jacket. "It meant you and your husband were doing well," she said.
But for nearly 50 years, the coats sat in her closet. "More and more it occurred to me where they came from," she said. So she donated them to the Humane Society in Washington.
Not everyone shares the anti-fur sentiment that drives donations. The fashion industry says fur is still selling well at retail stores, thanks, in part, to the recent resurgence of fur coats and trim on fashion runways. According to the Fur Information Council of America, sales of fur and fur-trimmed apparel and accessories reached $1.81 billion in 2004, an increase of 1.1 percent over 2003.
Some wildlife rehabilitators also question the usefulness of fur donations for animal rescue. "Some of the fur is really old and chemically treated from being cleaned over the years," said Lori Ketchum, a wildlife rehabilitator from Middle Island, N.Y. "And unfortunately, once the animal has used it and it's been urinated on, it's garbage."
But Ketchum has observed that one particular wild creature benefits from the program more than any other. "Baby rabbits don't respond well to human contact at all," she said. "So a bed lined with rabbit fur is really helpful for their rehabilitation."
To donate a fur, call the Humane Society at (301) 258-3109 or PETA at (888) FUR-AWAY. Or visit www.hsus.org/furdonation or www.furisdead.com/ donate.asp.