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Evergreen Lady 11Y: The Life and Death of Twentieth Century Captive Fur-Bearers in North America

Thu, April 11, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Madison


Evergreen Lady 11Y was the name of a captive fox in New Brunswick, Canada during the 1930s. In 1931 she gave birth to a litter of six pups, one of which died when its leg was chewed off by another animal. Evergreen Lady 11Y and her litter are only a small number of the total captive fox population across North America during the twentieth century and the death of her pup was not unique. During this period fur farming was viewed as a worthwhile economic endeavor for people across the United States and Canada and thousands of people bred, raised and killed foxes, mink, and skunks in captivity as they attempted to profit from their valuable pelts. Using human generated sources such as fur farming manuals, fur farm censuses, and private manuscripts this paper attempts to understand what life was like for captive-raised fur-bearers in the twentieth century from the perspective of these animals. Their lives were drastically different from the lives of their wild counterparts and were fraught with difficulty beginning with the practice of selective breeding and continued until their deaths. Some female foxes on fur farms could not produce milk for their young, a sign of stress, which proved fatal to their pups. Parasites spread easily through populations kept in close proximity. Captive skunks often had their “scent sacs” removed by fur farmers acting as amateur veterinarians. I argue that telling the history of fur farming from the animal’s perspective is not overly sentimental but accurately reflects the difficult lives of these traditionally wild animals and the challenges humans faced as they tried to profit from their bodies.