In today’s New York Times there’s a piece I wrote about nutria. Nutria are “swamp rats”that have soft fur that people like to wear. In the late 1800s and early 1900s fur farmers brought them from Argentina to Louisiana. At right is a Sears Roebuck ad for nutria hats, circa 1897.
Some nutria farmers ended up releasing the rodents into the wild. Once people stopped wearing so much fur, their population got out of control–they eat the bottom of the plants that hold together the wetlands. Eventually the state started paying people to kill them. So there are plenty of people who advocate shooting them. And if you’re going to kill them anyway, why not make a nice coat. That’s the story in a nutshell. Now you don’t have to read it!
While working on the article, I acquired a nutria pelt. (“How big is it?” My dad asked me today. “It’s about the size of a nutria,” I said. D’uh.)
Personally, I’m not sure where I stand on the whole issue. But I won’t lie: I saw the nutria pelt and my first thought was “doggie coat!” So, I draped it on Amos. When I took this picture, he’d been sitting in this exact position for ten minutes. It was like he was frozen. Was he thinking a nutria had mounted him? Did he think he’d turned into Barney Rubble? I don’t know. But I decided that it wasn’t an experience that he enjoyed. No fur coats for my doggie, except the one he already has. I think I’ll make it into an iPad cover instead.
Or maybe not. I’m really not sure where I stand on the whole issue. I am one of the biggest animal lovers I know. If I came home and someone had wallpapered my room with Scholastic-style posters of kittens sitting in teacups and puppies in sunglasses, I’d be psyched. And yet, I love bacon. I wear leather. Do I feel a little ashamed of both those facts? Yes! I can’t defend the fact that I eat pig and wear cow but treat dogs like ersatz children. I’ll hear the arguments in my favor (they’re bred to be eaten, we’re at the top of the food chain, my cowboy boots rock, what have you), but I will also point the finger at my own hypocrisy. I’m really just too lazy to live up to my own ideal ethical standards.
Hey, I see why they have to die, and if they’re dead than I guess it doesn’t bother me to make them into coats. Then again, can’t we kill them in some nicer way? After all, it’s our fault that they ended up here in the first place. If we’re doing this with nutria, then why don’t we just go all 101 Dalmatians and do something clever with the carcasses of the thousands of dogs and cats that are killed in shelters each day? Are nutria lives worth less to us? And if so, isn’t that just because most of us don’t sleep with them at night and express their anal glands when they start dragging their butts ?
These questions were in my head when I was working on the story. While I was reporting, I received the below statement from Bruce Friedrich, PETA’s VP of policy. It got axed from the article, but for what it’s worth, here is what he had to say.
These animals are individuals, made of flesh, blood, and bone, like we are. They have the same five physiological senses and value their lives; slaughtering them and then turning their corpses into garments is no more acceptable than doing that with euthanized dogs and cats would be–there is no difference. For the same reason we would all recoil at wearing a dog or cat coat, we should be similarly revolted by the idea of wearing any animal corpses on our backs.
On a more practical note:
The state has been subsidizing this cruel industry for years, yet the nutria simply compensate by doing what any population under duress does–they breed more rapidly. In addition to being horribly cruel and unethical, the nutria-slaughter program is an absurd boondoggle on the Louisiana people and any environmentalists short-sighted enough to support it. They killed 450,000 individuals last year, and hundreds of thousands annually in the years before that. This isn’t allowing the population to stabilize: It’s making the problem worse, like pouring gas on a fire and arguing that you’re helping put the first out. We owe it to these animals who have ended up in the U.S. through no fault of their own to either leave them be or deal with them in the most humane way possible. If officials are dead-set on using lethal methods, the animals should be humanely trapped by wildlife biologists (not bounty hunters) at a level that is scientifically determined to eliminate their populations, and then they should be humanely euthanized.