A giant snow globe at the City Creek Mall on Thursday afternoon would have seemed a fitting holiday decoration—if not for the bloody sheep replicas inside.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals inflated the plastic bubble as part of that group’s campaign against wool. Two demonstrators inside pummeled fake sheep, punching the sheared animals, bashed their bodies against the globe walls and then tossed them to the floor.
It was situated on South Temple across from Temple Square where pedestrians could witness the snow globe in all its graphic awfulness.
Matt Bruce, Los Angeles-based campaign specialist for PETA, said wool is an antiquated material that is produced at the expense of sheep well-being. He said the demonstration was a means of illustrating members of the public on the inner workings of an industry they likely don’t think much about.
“PETA’s snow globe illustrates the cruelty inherent in the wool industry,” he says. The organization says it investigated 19 shearing sheds in Australia and 14 in the U.S. and documented hundreds of instances of cruelty.
“Every single one of those farms, we saw people punching sheep in the face, slamming them on the ground, twisting their ears, twisting their limbs,” he says. “Even beating upon the sheep with a hammer.” Injuring the animals amounts to abuse, Bruce says, and PETA is considering legal avenues. In the meantime, it hopes to sway buying habits.
But more than try to implement more humane practices, PETA is trying to shut down the wool industry altogether. Bruce says people would be better off buying clothes made with synthetic material. Then he enumerated the gruesome fate of the sheep on a shearing farm.
Shearers are incentivized by the quantity of wool, he says, oftentimes paid by volume and not by the hour.
The result, PETA notes, is that sheep are sheared too early in the year, thus exposing their bodies to freezing temperatures. The sheep also are nicked by the shearing blades—in at least one instance a male sheep’s genitalia was cut off. And the animals, according to PETA, are weak from a lack of food—a tactic meant to keep them docile.
“There really is no humane way to do this and be able to buy these products in the store,” Bruce says. “When it really comes down to it, sheep produce wool for their own bodies and not for us.”
But will the Salt Lake City demonstration be effective? It’s hard to say. In its first 20 minutes, passersby seemed to quickly divert their eyes rather than read the “Wool Hurts” message. One man snapped a quick picture of a plush unicorn in front of the demonstration before quickly walking away. For him, the globe was merely a unique backdrop for a zany Instagram photo. The most vocal spectator was an elderly woman, who castigated the organization's leader, asking him what gave PETA the right to set up such an unsightly scene.
Bruce says in the three-town tour, which started in Reno, Nev. then traveled to Boise, Idaho, he hadn’t heard any negative feedback before stopping in Salt Lake.
“This is freedom of speech protected by the U.S. Constitution,” he replied to the woman as she briskly walked away.
Tonia Fuller, executive director of the Utah Wool Growers Association, says those in the sheep industry have an economic motive to keep sheep healthy and safe.
“Sheep farmers care about their sheep, and it is in their best interest to keep their sheep healthy, happy, and unstressed,” she says in an email. “Shearing is a like getting a haircut. Not shearing sheep is very inhumane.”
Citing a September 2015 NPR story, she says an Australian sheep that had wandered from its flock and into the wild was rescued recently. Its wool weighed it down making it an easy target for predators.
“Besides being partially blinded by the wool flopping into his eyes, his hooves were damaged from carrying the weight of all that extra wool,” Fuller said. “He also had skin burns from urine trapped in his fleece.”