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Investigating Animal Cruelty

How current legislation doesn't do enough to protect animals from pain and exploitation.

Alanna Devine, lawyer and Director of Animal Advocacy at the Montreal SPCA, has dedicated her career to bring human-inflicted animal suffering to an end. Here, she explains the shortcomings of current legislation to protect animals from pain and exploitation, and what you can do to help.

The reality of how our current animal protection legislation fails to actually protect most animals from human-inflicted harm is grim. Nowhere is this reality more apparent than with the commercial fur industry. Each year, more than 2.5 million mink and fox are raised and killed on commercial fur farms in Canada alone. We at the SPCA remain virtually helpless to bring their suffering to an end, as the deprivation and intense confinement these animals are subjected to are considered legal.

I have seen first-hand what these animals’ lives are like day in and day out. I have seen thousands of mink, living on gigantic piles of their own excrement and urine, forced to stand on wire flooring, breathing in putrid ammonia-filled air while pacing incessantly in their tiny cages. I have seen foxes, living in barren wire-bottom cages, desperately circling and trying to dig and hide – as foxes naturally do – but with nowhere to go.

Inside a fur farm

The sounds, sights and smells will haunt me forever, but what is most disturbing is that almost all of the suffering I witnessed is entirely legal, and all for the sake of producing an unnecessary luxury item.

Our legal system permits practices that cause harm to animals, provided that their pain or suffering is considered necessary in order to produce something that is “beneficial” to humans, even if that benefit comes only in the form of amusement, convenience or profit. Our current Criminal Code provisions, which have remained basically the same since 1892, prohibit causing “unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal”. This implies that there is pain and suffering that can be considered “necessary”, even when that “necessity” is to ensure that a corporation can efficiently exploit animals for profit.[1]

The provincial animal welfare laws also contain exemptions for generally-accepted agricultural practices. Any practice that is widely used by a specific agricultural industry, no matter how inhumane that practice may be, is thus almost always exempt from the provincial legislation. [2]

We can help animals like Rose.

Only in extreme cases do we have the power to intervene. One of these extreme cases was a red fox I named Rose. Rose was born and raised on a fur farm and spent all ten years of her life in a dirty, wire cage. She never knew what it was like to play in green grass or even feel solid ground under her feet.

Each year she was forcibly impregnated, only to have her kits taken away from her and killed for their pelts. Rose suffered from severe psychological distress and, like many foxes living in these types of conditions, began to self-mutilate. It was so severe that she chewed all the skin and muscle from one front paw, leaving only bone exposed.

Somehow, Rose continued to survive (and reproduce) in these unfathomable conditions. When I met Rose, it was already too late for her: she was so compromised, both medically and psychologically, that experts deemed her situation hopeless. The only thing we could offer her was a compassionate death.

Ironically, Rose was one of the lucky ones, because we were able to end her suffering in a humane manner. For the remaining 2.5 million animals on fur farms across Canada, their suffering only comes to an end through inhumane means, such as anal electrocution or gassing.

I hope that when you read about the fur industry, or see fur on the street or in stores, you will remember Rose. I hope you will remember that millions of others, just like Rose, are out there suffering. And although the horrors of what these animals endure are, for the most part, still legal, that this does not mean that their suffering is unavoidable. You can make a difference.

Please pledge to go fur-free and visit #makefurhistory for more ways you can help prevent the suffering of millions of mink and fox.


[1] See for example Regina v. Pacific Meat Company Limited et al., [1957] B.C.J. No. 98 (BC County Court).

[2]  Note, however, that some provinces require that exempted practices also be reasonable and/or humane in addition to being generally accepted.