10/06/2014 05:27 EDT | Updated 12/06/2014 05:59 EST

The Fur Industry Has a Very Dark Side

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In the wake of a shocking investigation into a fox and mink fur factory farm last August by the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Fauna and Parks, the fur industry's PR machine has subjected the public to a slew of spin, hoping to obfuscate and isolate the troubling findings.

Unfortunately, the reality this investigation revealed -- animals kept in small, filthy cages, and subjected to neglect -- is all too common in an industry that puts profits ahead of common decency. It should give us pause to consider our involvement in it.

More than three-million wild animals are killed every year in Canada for their pelts. They are either raised in cages on fur factory farms, or trapped and killed in their habitat.

Fur factory farms in Canada, which focus on mink and fox, operate with very little oversight. The few federal standards that exist are voluntary and unenforceable, and no regulations exist on the provincial level regarding the care and handling of animals in these facilities.

According to on-site veterinary reports, the foxes in the confinement facility that the MFFP investigated were denied even basic access to water. The report stated that sharp edged, rusty metal dishes were present on cages, but that most were placed out of reach of the foxes. As a result, all the foxes were observed to have moderate to severe dehydration.

Further, all of the foxes were described as "emaciated," many had injured tails, broken toes and teeth and myriad infections.

Denying wild animals the ability to express some of their most basic natural instincts is standard practice in the industry. In the wild, foxes dig and burrow, and semi-aquatic mink-spend much of their time in and around water. Both species have no hope of doing either of these activities in their tiny, elevated wire cages on factory fur farms.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who owns dogs that keeping intelligent, curious, active animals like foxes in a tiny cage their whole life takes its toll. On the fur farm that the MFFP investigated in August, veterinarians reported neurotic behaviours among several of the foxes. These included "repetitive circling and pacing, chewing on their own legs (observed), and scratching incessantly at a closed nest box, and some foxes were simply lethargic and unwilling to move when approached." These kinds of behaviors are, not surprisingly, all too common on fur factory farms.

The killing methods on fur farms are as problematic as the living conditions. During the "pelting" (read: killing) season, foxes are forced to bite down on a metal rod while a second rod is inserted into the rectum, which then delivers an electric current into their bodies, potentially causing them to experience the pain of a heart attack while fully conscious. Mink are commonly killed by gassing. Both of these inhumane methods are designed to deliver death cheaply, and with minimal damage to the commercial value of their pelts.

Still, despite Canada being placed in a shameful light by this investigation, both here and abroad, our country's fur industry remains perhaps most well-known for its trapping. Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals are caught in leg hold traps, body-crushing Conibear-type traps and noose-like wire snares. If the animals of these traps aren't killed immediately, they may suffer until the trapper finally finds them and kills them, which is typically many hours -- or even days -- later. Many companion animals, hunting dogs and other non-target species are also inadvertently injured or killed in these archaic devices.

Between the traps in the woods and the rows of cages in confinement operations, millions of wild animals in Canada are killed each year for their fur, suffering along the way. Most of this fur is exported for consumers in countries like China and Russia, but some is used for clothing sold here. So we should ask ourselves: given that many equally warm and less environmentally damaging winter clothes exists, is a luxury fashion product worth all the death and suffering?

We all have the power to choose what we wear. But the fur industry's millions of helpless victims do not have a choice.