An official with the Montreal branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Friday that she's visited the unidentified fur farm near St-Hyacinthe, Que., twice since May and that the animals are in poor health and living in horrific conditions that appear to have worsened with time.
Alanna Devine, the director of animal advocacy at the Montreal SPCA, said the animals were subject to severe neglect and in a desperate state during visits in early August. Government officials were also present during the visit.
The animals were dehydrated, living in cramped quarters and malnourished. Devine believes things had gotten worse since her first visit in May, days after receiving a complaint.
Several animals were seized during previous visits and some had to be put down. Roughly 80 red foxes and several thousand minks remain on the farm.
"I couldn't believe the condition the animals were in," Devine said. "Being on site that day, my assumption had been ... the next step was to remove the animals."
The government has opted to leave the animals there and give the owner a chance to improve conditions.
Laurent Lessard, the Liberal cabinet minister who oversees Forests, Wildlife and Parks, said Friday there is zero tolerance for such situations.
"When the department ... was informed of this situation, which, I repeat, is absolutely unacceptable, protection officers intervened with the goal of stopping the abuse and restoring the situation," Lessard said in a statement.
Lessard said a representative of the Forests, Wildlife and Parks Department has been to the farm 10 times and the situation is being monitored to ensure the animals' well-being. On Friday, the government dispatched a private veterinarian to the farm. The veterinarian has come up with a plan to ensure the condition of the animals continues to improve.
Tania Marin, a spokeswoman for the department, said since the owner has continued to co-operate with provincial authorities, there is no plan to remove the animals.
The facility hasn't been identified by either provincial authorities or the SPCA. Devine says they want to maintain the integrity of the investigation with legal cases pending.
The SPCA and other animal welfare groups have suggested criminal charges be laid.
Devine oversees cruelty investigations for the SPCA and said her visit to the farm left a lasting impression.
The smell of feces and urine in extreme heat permeated the facility. The foxes didn't have access to their water bowls and their feet were cut due to the sharp wire cages in which they were housed. Many had untreated eye and ear infections as well as broken limbs that had also not received care.
"This is something I will never, ever forget, just in terms of sights, smells and sounds," Devine said. "It really was a living hell for these animals ... really the stuff nightmares are made of."
During the August visit, the SPCA brought along a veterinarian, Dr. Sherri Cox, to inspect the animals. The Ontario-based wildlife vet determined in a report that none of the animals were receiving proper care.
"Overall, I am very concerned with the level of illness and injury seen in the foxes and mink on the farm," she wrote in a preliminary report.
While the SPCA deals with dogs and cats, wildlife, including wildlife bred for commercial purposes, falls to the provincial government.
Devine says these types of farms for the fur industry lack enough oversight and rules.
She is urging people to write to Lessard to have the animals removed. Devine says the SPCA is prepared to house the animals if they are removed.
But the Fur Council of Canada says the farm in question is the exception, not the rule.
"I've spoken to quite a number of farmers this week and people are really devastated and really upset," said Alan Herscovici, executive vice-president of the council, a non-profit, national industry association. "This is not at all acceptable. What we can see on these images and what we've seen in the reports, it's certainly not acceptable practice at all."
Herscovici says Canada is not a big producer of farmed fur, but says it is known for a high quality fur on the international market.
"You can only produce that quality by providing excellent care to the animals," he said.
Herscovici believes the farm in question is an isolated case. He says in large part, such operations are family-run, multi-generational operations.
"They work very hard to take good care of their animals and this is certainly not what they want to see," he said.