- Harrison Berry
- Shawn Vendome (left) and Kearney Robinson (right) slugged away at stuffed sheep dolls inside a snow globe installed in front of The Mode in downtown Boise.
The demonstration Dec. 7, part of an anti-wool campaign from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was aimed at holiday shoppers who might be considering purchasing wool products for themselves or loved ones during the holiday season.
"We're encouraging people to stay away from wool products," said PETA Campaign Specialist Matthew Bruce.
In 2014, PETA conducted an investigation into 14 American and 19 Australian wool farms, recording a wide range of alleged animal abuses at those facilities, including starvation, physical abuse and "mulling"—a procedure in which workers slice the skin from sheep's rumps near the anus without painkillers.
Such practices, Bruce said, are endemic at large wool farms, where sheep are castrated without anesthetics, live in crowded conditions and are regularly subject to beatings.
"At every farm we found when sheep don't cooperate, they'll use violence to make them behave," Bruce said.
Responding to the investigation, Australian wool growers said ranches in that country "genuinely care for health and welfare of their animals, so such alleged behavior is very concerning."
In the U.S., an official with the American Wool Council told NBC, "Rough handling of animals that might result in the injury of a sheep is an unacceptable maneuver during the shearing process or anytime when sheep are handled."
Following another PETA investigation in 2014, clothing company Patagonia cut ties with an Argentine wool growing firm over alleged animal abuse, but pushed back against calls to stop selling wool products.
"We reject the notion that cruelty is essential to wool production, despite what PETA claims," the company wrote in a statement at the time. "Patagonia will continue to make products from wool because of its unique performance attributes."
Nonetheless, PETA representatives like Bruce say sheep suffer throughout the wool industry. Workers are paid by the volume of wool, not hours worked, so they shear sheep rapidly—sometimes inflicting wounds. During times of the year when cold weather is on the horizon, sheep can also be threatened with exposure to the elements.
"It's a lot heavier than you'd think," Bruce said. "Most people think it's just a haircut."