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California activists in West Hollywood seek first fur-free city

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • Animal welfare activists want their initiative to become a central issue in city council elections
  • The city already has a track record of protecting animals
  • Ban would be first in nation

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Activists and a city council candidate announced a campaign Tuesday to make the progressive, trendy city of West Hollywood, California -- home to the Sunset Strip -- the first fur-free city in the United States.

Organizers say they feel they stand a good chance of persuading the City Council to enact the nation's first such ban because the city has a track record in animal welfare protection. One candidate in the March council elections already backs the advocates' proposal.

The city has already banned the declawing of cats, prohibited pet stores from doing business with puppy mills and changed ordinances to call a pet owner a "guardian," organizers said. In 1989, the city was proclaimed a "cruelty-free zone for animals" when it passed a resolution banning cosmetic testing on animals and steel-jaw leghold traps, organizers added.

"West Hollywood is one of the most progressive, forward-thinking cities," said Ed Buck, 57, an organizer of Fur Free WeHo, the group pushing the ban.

"This campaign is not just about banning fur but promoting West Hollywood as the capital of fur-free fashion," especially in its boutique district that includes a Stella McCartney store, which already shuns furs, Buck said. A retired insurance information broker, he helped get the ordinance passed that bans the sale of puppy mill animals in pet stores, he said.

Independent animal welfare groups say the initiative would make West Hollywood the first fur-free community in the United States and possibly the world.

"If West Hollywood were to approve this legislation, it would be the first city in the United States to do so," said Bill Dyer, southern California regional director of In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection group.

"I'm not aware of any location, certainly in the U.S. but probably any location anywhere that has banned the commerce of animal fur, though there was a very strong push in the entire country of Israel," said Pierre Grzybowski of the Humane Society of the United States. He's the manager of the group's fur-free campaign, which investigates real fur being sold as fake fur and encourages big retailers to stop selling fur.

"I really do think it would be the first time that the sale and trade in animal fur would be prohibited anywhere in the world," Grzybowski said.

He added that fur farms have been banned in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but those bans deal with production, not commerce.

In West Hollywood, the animal welfare activists are scheduled to hold a kickoff rally Saturday. Speakers are to include city council candidate John D'Amico, who is running for one of three open seats in the March 8 council elections.

D'Amico, a hospital construction project manager and a former West Hollywood planning commissioner, has made the fur-free ban proposal a central feature of his campaign, Buck said.

"West Hollywood has the opportunity to once again be a leader for animal welfare by becoming the first fur-free city in the nation," D'Amico said in a statement. "We have pledged to be a place that is free of cruelty to animals and we can no longer support the barbaric fur trade by selling the products of that cruelty in our city."

Activism against furs has been energized by an Internet video that showed raccoon dogs being skinned alive for their furs in China in 2005, Grzybowski said.