The UK’s multi-million pound fur industry may seem impossible to smash, but one woman in Birmingham has decided that enough is enough. After years of despairing about the cruelty taking place behind the scenes, she decided to take action, and started a petition to get animal fur sales banned for good in the UK.
On fur farms around the world, lies a story of animal suffering. Raccoon dogs, foxes, and rabbits are held captive in filthy conditions, and suffer a brutal death. After a short life in a tiny cage, with no freedom to roam and little chance of veterinary care, comes electrocution, gassing, or even skinning alive.
At the end of this story - when the individual animal lives have been extinguished - comes a fashion item made from their fur. Taking pride of place in shop windows on UK high streets, are thick coats with fur trim attached to the hood, full coats of fur, and winter hats accessorised with fur.
When campaigner Catherine Reda sees people wearing these items, she says she feels an overwhelming sadness. It is that sadness, and the passion she has for animal rights, which fuels her to take on the might of a system as big and powerful as the international fur trade.
“For many years I’ve been getting on with my own life and hoping for the world to change,” she says.
But last year, the time came when Catherine couldn’t just sit and wait for that change any longer, and decided to take action.
UK fur farming was banned by the Labour government in 2000 on morality grounds, and the last farm closed its doors in 2002. However, since then Britain has been importing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of fur from farms abroad. Fur is still being sold right across the UK, and Catherine wants this to stop.
If her petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in the UK parliament, and (at the time of writing) she is fewer than 4,000 signatures away from this target. With less than two weeks to go until the petition deadline on 23 March 2018, the fate for both the sales of fur in the UK - and the animal lives behind these items - could face a real change.
Putting passion into action
“How the hell do you go about tackling a massive multi-million pound industry?” Catherine asked herself when she first decided on this course of action.
She soon discovered that anyone can set up a petition on the UK Government’s website, which she says is incredibly easy to do. Catherine explains that the petition needs to be about something which can reasonably affect UK law, and should not be a repeat of another petition currently on the site.
However, soon after setting up the campaign, Catherine discovered another petition with almost identical wording. She contacted the petition owner, Diane Smith, and they decided to join forces. Their two petitions were merged into one, and they now continue their fur- fighting journey together.
After a brief interlude, when all petitions were halted due to the UK snap general election, Catherine and Diane got straight back to work and relaunched their joint campaign.
To get things off the ground, they harnessed the power of social media, and shared the petition with family, friends, animal groups, vegan groups, and celebrities who they thought might stand in solidarity behind the campaign.
Once they’d reached 10,000 signatures, the Government gave Catherine and Diane a response: “While some fur products may never be legally imported into the UK the Government’s view is that national bans are less effective than working at an international level on animal welfare standards.”
The response continued: “Regarding the fur industry specifically, we are working at an international level to agree global animal welfare standards and phase out cruel and inhumane farming and trapping practices. We believe this is the best way to prevent animal cruelty and that this approach will lead to a much higher level of animal welfare standards.”
This, says Catherine, is a totally unsatisfactory response.
To spread the message a little further still, the campaigners took the petition into the physical world, and set themselves up in Birmingham city centre. By working together, they gradually built up to 30,000 signatures, but the 100,000 target still seemed like a faraway goal.
“The difficult part is getting the momentum,” Catherine says, reflecting on the challenges she and Diane faced along the way.
Amid frantic social media activity, they had a breakthrough - they got the attention of animal groups Humane Society International (HSI) and Animal Aid, who came with both valuable advice and a strong follower-base.
“As soon as they shared it the numbers just skyrocketed,” Catherine says, remembering how within 24 hours of the groups telling their followers about the anti-fur campaign, the petition had gained another 10,000 signatures.
Now, Catherine and Diane have the likes of HSI, Animal Aid, PETA, VIVA, and Lush standing right beside them, adding weight to their important campaign.
Becoming a campaigner
In launching this petition, Catherine says she had to ‘know her enemy’. To fully prepare for the possibility that the petition will end up in parliament, she has poured over every piece of information she could find about the fur industry, which, she admits, does not make for pleasant or easy reading. She learnt about the trapping and killing methods, and looked at pictures of what she terms “miserable creatures.” Now more than ever, she knows exactly what she is fighting against.
Standing right beside her, are her family and friends, who have helped her to stay strong, and carry on the fight. Throughout this process, Catherine has had some extra time on her hands. Currently between jobs, she has spent her time focused on both studying and campaigning. For many people, spare time is a luxury that does not come around often, and Catherine says that anyone who gets a break from work should grab it, and use it wisely.
After going through the petition process, Catherine says now she would not hesitate in encouraging other people to do the same. She admits she had very little campaigning experience when she started out, and has learnt plenty along the way.
“Before you start any campaign with a deadline, get the support of people before you launch the petition,” Catherine says.
Getting people motivated and tipping off groups who may offer support is all time well spent, she says, especially when you have only six months to get your petition to 100,000 signatures.
The parliamentary debate may not be a done deal yet, but running the petition has restored Catherine’s faith in the democratic process: “If you work hard enough, you can change things through the legal system. We’re not powerless as citizens,” she stresses.
With the petition deadline looming, every signature counts until Catherine and Diane reach their 100,000 signature target. They will not have to wait long to find out if parliament will debate their petition, and the next question is an even bigger one: will the Government decide to ban sales of animal fur in the UK?
Image from Klatki, a film by Connor Jackson