Ex-Beatle's wife says pets are killed for fur in Czech Republic; leather traders dismiss the accusation

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The Czech leather industry is up in arms. The wife of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, Heather Mills McCartney, said last week that there is a thriving cat and dog skins industry and trade in the Czech Republic. Ms Mills went so far as to say that thousands of domestic cats are stolen off the streets for their fur and skinned alive in this country. The response of Czech fur traders has been one of indignation whereas Czech animal campaigners have reacted with caution.

Heather Mills McCartney and other animal campaigners said on Thursday they had evidence that the snaring and skinning of domestic pets for fur was taking place in the Czech Republic to make toys as well as scarves, stoles and blankets. The campaigners also showed a video of emaciated dogs and cats kept in dark, cramped rooms and cages.

The Czech Footwear Association which represents Czech shoemakers and leather manufacturers was appalled by the accusation. Petr Kubat is the association's president.

"The fact the Czech Republic is a post-communist country does not mean we practice such things. There are many other countries in the world where pets are killed for fur as well as culinary purposes. Ms Mills should be concerned about China, Korea or Mongolia but she won't find any such industry in the Czech Republic."

Ms Mills is campaigning for an EU-wide ban on trading in dog and cat fur. She has won the support of several EU lawmakers. Meanwhile, the EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou has said he is committed to finding a solution.

The Czech State Veterinary Authority, which in the past backed a ban on the import of cat and dog fur products from China, says it has no knowledge of such practice in the Czech Republic.

I also spoke to Tomas Popp of the animal rights group Svoboda zvirat (Freedom for Animals) which opposes the killing of all animals for fur and monitors fur breeding farms in the country.

"We have some indication that cat skins are being processed in the Czech Republic. We also know of concrete shops which sell products made from cat fur but we have no information as to whether the cats came from the Czech Republic."

Petr Kubat of the Czech Footwear Association says the last time he saw a dog skin was twenty years ago and it had been bought in Mongolia.