Shocking cruelty on a California chinchilla farm

Updated: Apr 4, 2019

For three months, a PETA undercover investigator documented the lives and deaths of more than 1,500 animals on a North American fur farm. The case that resulted in cruelty charges against a California furrier who was caught electrocuting chinchillas by clipping wires to the animals’ genitals.

Genital Electrocution: A Real-Life Shock-Horror Story

Row after row of tiny wire-mesh cages, stacked four high and about 25 in a row, chinchillas peering watchfully through the wires, a rack of pelts hanging on a far wall. That’s the scene that two PETA investigators found at a fur “factory” farm secluded in a quiet, snow-covered town in Michigan. PETA’s Research & Investigations Department sent two undercover teams into fur “farms” in five states. Our investigators witnessed not only how animals live, but also how they die in the seedy world of fur farming. One method they documented had never been made public before: genital electrocution.

little animals, big suffering

During genital electrocution, the killer attaches an alligator clamp to the animal’s ear and another to her labia and flips a switch, or plugs the wire into the wall socket, sending a jolt of electricity through her skin down the length of her body. She jerks and stiffens. But, according to biologist Leslie Gerstenfeld-Press, although the electrical current stops the heart, it does not kill her: In many cases, the animal remains conscious.

The electrical current causes unbearable muscle pain, at the same time working as a paralysing agent, preventing the victim from screaming or fighting. A chinchilla farmer who uses genital electrocution told our investigators that he leave the clips on “for one or two minutes” to make sure the heart doesn’t start up again but that sometimes animals revive and those who do remember the pain. In front of our investigators, one rancher unplugged the animal, listened to the heart and said, “Nope, still beating,” and plugged the cables back in for another 30 seconds.

As one farmer observed, “Sometimes you’ll get one that’ll argue with you.” The chinchillas, like all animals, do not go willingly; although they make no noise as they wait, held upside down as the rancher attaches the clips, their whiskers and mouths tremble constantly until the electrical charge freezes all movement. For the benefit of our investigators, the farmer laid the animal’s body on a table, although normally, he said, he would just hang the animal by the tail from a clip. For small animals, neck “snapping” or “popping” is easy and cheap.

The owner of one farm that PETA visited wraps the fingers of one hand around the neck of the chinchilla, grasps the lower body with the other hand and jerks the animal’s vertebra out of the socket, breaking the neck. Neck-snapping takes just a second, but for “about five minutes” afterward, according to one rancher, the animal jerks and twitches. It might take two minutes for an animal to become brain-dead from cervical dislocation; in the meantime she or he kicks and struggles.

the “farm” 

The wire cages are tiny, filthy, and encrusted with dirt, clumps of fur, and excrement. Locked inside each one is a fox, imprisoned here since birth. Many of the foxes live for years in these hideous conditions before the farmer kills them and sells their fur to make coats, cuffs, collars, and trim.

The farmer told our investigator that a humane death by an injection of barbiturate was “too expensive”. So he uses a metal noose pole to lift each fox from the cage by the neck, shoves an electric prod into the animal’s rectum and forces a metal conductor into the animal’s mouth. A flip of a switch shoots 240 volts of electricity through the fox’s body. According to our investigator, “The fox’s eyes usually shut and the body goes rigid. There is a crackling sound and sometimes teeth break and fall out. Often the anal probe falls out. When this happens, the fox convulses, shakes, and often cries.” Death doesn’t come quickly. Because the electricity does not go through and stun the brain, the foxes remain awake and feel the full excruciating force of a massive heart attack. Tom Amlung, a veterinarian and administrator for St. Clair County, Ill., animal control, says, “The animals do not lose consciousness for one to two minutes. The time seems like an eternity, so one can only imagine how the animal must feel experiencing this pain during this time with the electricity running from one end of his body to the other while heat builds up at the site of the electrode.”

the lab link

The foxes were fed cast-off chickens sent by a pharmaceutical company. The chickens, who have already suffered at the hands of experimenters, arrive by the thousands, their little hunched-over bodies shoved into sealed cardboard boxes without food, water, or space to move. Our investigator documented the farmer stacking the boxes upside down in a corner of his barn and covering them with a plastic tarp to slowly suffocate the chickens. For hours, the chickens could be heard trying to escape. When the farmer cut open the boxes and pulled them out, some were still alive. “The farmer forced the live chickens feet first into the grinder,” recorded our investigator, “while they were conscious, fighting, squawking, and flapping for their lives. You could hear their screams over the roar of the engine. short.”

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