Rain drowned out most demonstrator support this weekend for a scheduled anti-fur protest intended to draw attention to Santa Barbara’s only remaining fur retailer.
Despite bad weather and low turnout, Animal Emancipation, Inc. – a regional animal rights group – staged an anti-fur protest Saturday in front of Ursula’s, a clothing store on State Street. Six protestors demonstrated peacefully for nearly two hours, holding signs declaring “Fur Corpses Are Not Fashionable” and leaflets criticizing the practices of the fur industry.
Activist Josh Hershfield, a Santa Barbara High School junior, said this is the third time Ursula’s has been targeted by AE since 1999, when the group successfully lobbied Saks Fifth Avenue on State St. to halt fur sales. “AE stopped Saks Fifth Avenue from selling fur in Santa Barbara,” Hershfield said. “Ursula’s is now the last fur dealer in the county.”
Ursula Dial said the protests have called attention to their store, but have not affected business negatively. “It’s free advertising,” she said. “They want me out of business because I’m the only one who also works on fur. No one else here in Santa Barbara can do my work.”
Hershfield said animals on fur farms are subjected to unethical abuses including spending their lives in tiny cages before being killed by electrocution, suffocation and neck breaking, while animals caught in traps suffer for hours before being killed.
“The fur industry makes billions of dollars a year on nothing but killing animals,” Hershfield said. “There’s something wrong with that, when you can make money off of killing.”
Ursula’s owners Robert and Ursula Dial said accusations of animal mistreatment are untrue. “You cannot produce a good pelt if the animal is mistreated,” Ursula Dial said. “The animals who are bred have to be treated well.”
Robert Dial said the activists infringe on the rights of consumers. “Our position is that the raising and caring for animals in the fur [industry] is a much cleaner environment that it is in slaughterhouses and other types of animal-product businesses,” Robert Dial said. “One of our biggest concerns is that the demonstrators want to take away people’s right to choice. And where does it end? Does it end in meat markets?”
Hershfield said the many alternatives to fur available to customers make the fur trade unnecessary. “There’s no point in selling fur,” he said. “You don’t need it to stay warm. There are all kinds of [fake furs] that look real, and are softer and nicer. It doesn’t make sense – it’s just vanity.”
Carpinteria resident Margaret Gilcrest, a longtime customer of the store, said animal rights activists at the second protest on Jan. 27, which attracted approximately 30 protesters, were “offensive.”
“They were screaming and yelling,” she said. “You just thought that maybe they were gonna tear your scalp off.”
Santa Barbara residents are supportive of animal rights in theory but fail to attend protests en masse, according to a protester named Jim, who wished to remain anonymous. “Everybody says, ‘We’re with you, we’re gonna be down there,’ but they don’t show up.”
Denise Ford and Simon Oswitch founded Animal Emancipation, Inc. in 1988 to oppose animal experimentation at UCSB. The group has also campaigned against animal abuse in rodeos and circuses. Now functioning as a non-profit, all-volunteer organization, AE has offices in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo.