HAGERSTOWN — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has emailed a letter to the executive director of the Miss Maryland organization asking that it not give away fur prizes at future pageants.
PETA also is asking the current Miss Maryland, Carlie Colella of Hagerstown, to donate the fur coat she was awarded to PETA’s anti-fur campaign, according to a copy of a July 6 letter PETA sent to Colella.
Neither Miss Maryland Executive Director Sherry Rush nor Colella could be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Herald-Mail received an email Wednesday from the account of Miss Maryland board member Courtney Thomas that reads, “Miss Maryland is participating in a photo shoot today. Sherry Rush, Miss Maryland’s Executive Director, accompanied her to the photo shoot and has not had the opportunity to review any correspondence from PETA.
“The organization cannot comment at this time,” reads the email, which was signed “The Miss Maryland Organization.”
On June 26, the day after Colella was crowned Miss Maryland, Rush said Colella’s prizes included a $3,000 fox fur donated by Maryland Fur Trappers Inc.
The fur trappers association, a sponsor of the Miss Maryland program, has provided a fox fur coat to the winner for 21 years, said Ronnie Leggett, association president and Boonsboro resident. Except for one year when it was a gray fox fur, they have been red fox fur coats, he said.
In the 21 years the group has provided the fur coat prize, not one winner has turned it down, Leggett said.
This is not the first time PETA has raised the issue with the Miss Maryland organization.
In June 1993, PETA was planning to protest outside The Maryland Theatre the night of the Miss Maryland crowning to object to the winner being awarded a fur coat, according to Herald-Mail archives.
Colleen O’Brien, PETA’s director of communications and a former Hagerstown resident, said PETA also wrote to the Miss Maryland organization a few years ago about the issue.
PETA brought it up this year because, “The tides are really changing. People know that fur is no longer acceptable,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien referenced a news report that the Miss Florida USA organization recently decided it no longer will give fur coats as prizes.
Organizers with Miss Florida USA could not be reached Wednesday. The organization’s website on Wednesday listed a full-length mink coat as a prize for Miss Florida USA 2011. O’Brien said that was last year’s pageant and the pageant coming up is for Miss Florida USA 2012.
O’Brien said fur sales were down and the fur coat prize for Miss Maryland was a “pathetic attempt” by the fur trappers association to get people to wear fur.
“It is not a ploy to increase sales,” Leggett said.
Furs are a luxury item, and many Maryland furs are sold in colder climates where there is a need, he said.
The fur trappers donate the fur coat to Miss Maryland as a way to educate the public about the need for wildlife management, Leggett said. The only requirement is Miss Maryland make four appearances with the fur coat, one of which is typically the Alsatia Mummers Parade, Leggett said.
In O’Brien’s letter to Rush, she states that “animals live their lives in cramped, filthy conditions before they are killed by electrocution, neck-breaking, or gassing. I am sure that many people in our community would be horrified to learn that animals are even skinned alive—just to produce fur coats, collars, and cuffs.”
To say animals are skinned alive for fur coats is a “ridiculous statement,” Leggett said.
“Here in Maryland, we have accredited methods of euthanasia,” Leggett said. Using incorrect, inhumane methods would result in a fine, he said.
While fur farms at one point used electrocution, Leggett said he was not aware of any fur farms in Maryland that use that method now.
In Maryland, a small snap trap with no larger than a 5-inch jaw spread and no teeth is used to trap a fox, alive, by the foot, Leggett said.
There are three humane methods for killing the fox, he said. Those are shooting, blunt force trauma or blunt force trauma and cervical dislocation, in which a trapper may strike the fox with blunt force to render it unconscious before breaking its neck.
O’Brien said some animals have chewed off a limb to escape the snap traps, and PETA has reports of pets getting caught in such traps.
Fur trapping is part of wildlife management, used to prevent overpopulation and to keep the population healthy by controlling disease, Leggett said.
“How many people think it’s nice to kill something? It’s not. It’s not something you enjoy doing. The kills is the worst part of the event,” Leggett said.
The fur coat Miss Maryland received was made of wild foxes from the state of Maryland, Leggett said.
Pete Jayne, game program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the agency supports fox trapping and hunting, and manages the harvest.
O’Brien said PETA uses donated fur coats in its anti-fur demonstrations. The organization delivers some donated fur coats to homeless shelters in the winter or to animal shelters for use as bedding.