I've been an animal rights advocate for more than two decades, and during that time I've come to believe that the animals killed in the name of fashion are some of the most abused beings on the planet. Foxes on fur farms spend their whole lives pacing the wire floor of a tiny cage, slowly losing their minds from the extreme confinement and deprivation. On Angora rabbit farms, workers violently rip the fur out of rabbits' skin as the animals scream in pain. Snakes are nailed to trees and skinned alive in the belief that live flaying keeps their skin supple.
But recent footage released by PETA highlighting cruelty documented at 19 wool sheds in Australia - the world's leading exporter of wool - and on 14 ranches in the U.S. has shocked even many veteran PETA staffers. Shearing sheep for their wool is a violent process that leaves these gentle animals battered and bloodied. I urge everyone reading this to watch the videos on PETA's website - and then trade in your wool sweaters and jackets for animal-friendly options.
In the wool industry, time is money, and since most shearers are paid by volume, not by the hour, they have an incentive to work as quickly as they can, with little regard for the sheep's welfare. One worker can shear up to 27 sheep - or 35 lambs - every single hour.
PETA's investigators in Australia documented that shearers punched the struggling sheep, poked them in the eyes and routinely jabbed them in the face with sharp clippers, leaving them bleeding. In the investigative footage, one sheep's face can be seen with blood soaking the wool all around it.
Workers stomp on sheep and stand on their heads and necks. They grab and drag sheep by their legs and slam them against the hard floor of the shearing shed. The ordeal doesn't end until the sheep are completely shorn - and many of the animals are literally thrown down chutes into holding pens.
Terrified lambs, taken from their loving mothers, cry out before and during their first shearing. "They've been separated from their mums and they're calling for them," one worker explained. "They're going, 'Mom! Mom!'"
Because the shearers work so quickly, most sheep are cut - some severely - on their abdomen, hindquarters and limbs. When this happens, workers use a needle and thread to try to sew shut the most gaping wounds - without painkillers and in the same unsterile environment in which the sheep were shorn. Many sheep also have swaths of skin cut or pulled off during shearing. One worker even cut off three sheep's tails with clippers.
The investigators never saw anyone reprimanded for their callous treatment of the sheep - or any veterinary care administered to them. Instead, injured sheep were shot in full view of their companions. One was butchered, and the body was left where other sheep could see it.
PETA's investigator in the U.S. documented similar abuses. One shearer repeatedly twisted and bent a sheep's neck, breaking it. At another ranch, workers hauled a critically ill ram - struggling to breathe - into a trailer to be sheared. The ram was left in the trailer overnight and was found dead the next morning.
Most people would agree that electrocuting foxes for their fur or ripping the skin off live snakes and leaving them to writhe in agony is wrong. The pain and fear endured by sheep in the wool industry are just as real as the suffering of other animals used and abused for their skins.
PETA's videos are hard to watch. If you care about animals at all, they will upset you. But these animals don't need our tears. They need our action. When you see the word "wool" on a coat label, please remember the sheep whom were beaten bloody and dragged along the floor by their hind legs. And leave that item on the rack.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.