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In the News: Mink Liberation

How can it be a crime, punishable by prison, to free enslaved animals, yet it's perfectly all right to enslave, torture and kill them?

Artwork by Anita Sidler

Jail Bond Set at $10,000 for Student Activist

By Suzy Scholz

The following story appeared in The Oakland Post (Oakland University's school paper) on April 16, 1997.

OU student and animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky was released last Thursday from Chatham County Jail in Ontario, Canada. He posted a $10,000 bond after spending more than a week and a half behind bars.

Yourofsky, along with four other Michigan residents, had been jailed since March 30 for allegedly breaking into the Ebert Fur Farm and releasing 1,500 minks in a protest against the fur industry.

The five accused are now free after posting the bond. This was about $7,500 American dollars. The activists are due back in court for another appearance on April 25. The decision on bond came Wednesday about 5 p.m., after Chatham Justice of the Peace Elaine Babcock heard testimony. However, Yourofsky and the other accused were not released until Thursday because the offices had already closed for the day.

Yourofsky faces a maximum of two years in prison on charges which include mischief and conspiracy for breaking and entering. Co-owner of Ebert Fur Farm, Tom McLellan, estimated monetary losses at $500,000. Additionally, Ebert Fur Farm was raided two weeks prior to this incident, at which time, according to McLellan, 400 minks were released. A group named the Earth Liberation Front took claim to the event shortly later in a letter to the Toronto Sun.

Early news reports had stated that police believed the five were affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front and involved in the prior incident. Yourofsky, however, denies involvement. "I have no affiliation with Earth Liberation Front or any law-breaking human rights or animal rights group. I am simply a true humanitarian who opposes every form of oppression and discrimination," he said in a prepared statement.

Yourofsky has been actively involved in fighting and education about animal rights. He is president of ADAPTT, a non-profit animal advocacy organization which publishes a monthly newsletter.

ADAPTT's mission statement reads, in part, "We are uncompromisingly opposed to the so-called sport of hunting and the wearing of animal skin, mainly fur, but also including leather, wool, silk, down, etc. Plus, ADAPTT supports the eventual phasing out of animals for food consumption."

Yourofsky could not comment on the specifics of the case. However, in a statement to The Post, he said, "I am a true humanitarian who opposes the worldwide, ignominious philosophies of injustice and inequity...It is beyond absurdity and more along the lines of insidiousness that the media, the courts and a large portion of society would label a true humanitarian as a terrorist! A comment of that nature is an institutionalized, discriminatory malapropism."

Jail Made Him Feel Like Caged Mink

By Larry Perl

The following story appeared in The Mirror (Royal Oak, Michigan) on April 24, 1997.

Gary Yourofsky doesn't deny that he broke into a Canadian mink fur farm Easter Sunday and freed thousands of the caged, furry animals. After 10 days in jail, he thinks he knows how the minks must have felt.

Until his family posted a $10,000 cash bond last week, Yourofsky, a 26-year-old animal rights activist and former Royal Oak resident, had languished in a crowded cell in Chatham, Ontario, about 90 minutes from Detroit's border. He and four other suspects from the Detroit suburbs were charged with breaking and entering and mischief.

Newspaper articles depicted them as mink freedom fighters, and as animal rights terrorists.

Yourofsky says Justice of the Peace Elaine Babcock made them post a high bail because she was afraid they wouldn't return to Canada to stand trial, but she gave a Michigan man accused of two counts of sexual assault a $1,000 bond [a few weeks earlier].

He says there were 25 people in his cell, 14 beds, one shower and two toilets.

"I was no more than an animal in the zoo. It wasn't pleasant" and it reinforced "my empathy and understanding of what these animals go through," he says.

He argues philosophically that death in the wild is a better fate than anal electrocution on a mink farm. "I have videos," he says. "I can come over and show you."

Yourofsky's group ADAPTT is based in Royal Oak. He lives in West Bloomfield with his mother, who he says has been totally supportive.

Another defendant in the case, Patricia Dodson, 48, is a resident of Royal Oak. Yourofsky says Dodson is active in the organization Humanitarians for Animal Rights Education (HARE). The other three are Yourofsky's uncle, Alan Hoffman of Roseville; Farmington Hills resident Robyn Weiner, 25; and Hilma Ruby, a 59-year-old resident of Rochester Hills.

Yourofsky is a full-time journalism student at Oakland University and the host of a weekly radio talk show on WPON 1460 AM.

He says he started ADAPTT so he could write a newsletter and be independent from other animal rights groups. He says he is not affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front or any other "law-breaking human rights or animal rights groups." He says, "I am simply a true humanitarian who opposes every form of oppression and discrimination."

When Yourofsky returned home from jail last week, he learned that one of his three dogs had died of a stroke. He had already lost his beloved Bourbon a few months earlier, and he came home to find that Brandy had passed away, too. Rex is the only one of Yourofsky's dogs still alive.

"I feel like Job in the bible. Everything has been taken. I lost my dog. I lost my freedom," he said.

Yourofsky said two of the five defendants gave police in Chatham confessions, but he wasn't one of them. Friday, they'll head back to Ontario, where a judge will set a trial date. Yourofsky is reluctant to talk about the case while it's pending. However, he thinks the mink farm owner exaggerated how many minks died from exposure to the cold after their release.

Yourofsky also challenges many people's assumption that releasing the animals led them to freeze to death because they were raised in captivity and were too tame to survive in the wild. "It's absolute rubbish," he says. "Minks are wild animals."

Activist Fights for Rights of Animals

By Mike Martindale

The following article appeared in The Oakland Press (Michigan) on May 16, 1997.

In the sci-fi film 12 Monkeys, animal rights activists break into a zoo and free lions, elephants and other exotic animals from their cages.

Small wonder that the 1995 thriller is a favorite of Gary Yourofsky, one of five Michigan residents now facing charges of sneaking onto a Canadian mink farm last month and releasing 1,500 minks.

"That (12 Monkeys) is a great film, I really enjoyed it," said Yourofsky, who contends animal rights are the next civil rights issue to be advanced by society.

"Animal rights is the logical next step," Yourofsky said in one of the first interviews he's granted since his arrest. "Just like women's rights, the rights of blacks and other minorities," the 26-year-old Oakland University journalism student said. "It's just a matter of time before we all realize what we are doing to animals is wrong."

Authorities say the West Bloomfield man and others cut through wire fences at Ebert's Mink Farm in Chatham, Ontario, on Easter Sunday and opened the cages of minks being raised for the fur industry. The farm's owner, Tom McLellan, pegged the losses at the farm, about 60 miles East of Windsor, at around $500,000.

Yourofsky declined to discuss the specifics of crimes he and four others are charged with—burglary, mischief over $5,000 and possession of burglary tools—but says the claims are "highly exaggerated."

Also charged are Alan A. Hoffman, 47, of Roseville; Patricia M. Dodson, 48, of Royal Oak; Hilma Ruby, 59, of Rochester Hills; and Robyn R. Weiner, 25, of Farmington Hills.

All five are free on bond and set to appear today before Chatham Justice of the Peace Elaine Babcock for a pretrial hearing. No trial date has been set.

The case is considered serious and perhaps a benchmark for the nervous, multi-billion-dollar fur industry. It also may set a standard for handling of fur protesters, whose activities are on the rise on both sides of the border.

Chatham Prosecuting Attorney Paul Bailey referred to the defendants as "eco-terrorists" and McLellan, owner of the farm where the damage occurred, said he felt like he had been a victim of an American "invasion."

The charges are punishable by up to 14 years in prison. At one point last month it was questionable if the five Michiganders would even be allowed to post bond. "They've tried to make us out as extremists and part of some international terrorism organization who would never return to court," Yourofsky said.

"They let us sit in jail for 10 long days last month trying to prove we were part of some group ELF (Earth Liberation Front), which I've never even heard of."

Investigators said ELF bragged on the Internet that it broke into the mink farm in March. Other animal rights groups—Yourofsky said there are hundreds—promote disruption and destruction of fur farms and fur dealers in violation of law.

Though Yourofsky noted that Canadian authorities were not unkind ("we got vegetarian meals every day") he has no desire to spend another day behind bars. Still, he stressed, his jailing has not destroyed his passion for animal rights.

"If anything, spending 10 days in a jail—I was a human animal in a cage—has strengthened my feelings," he said. "I don't want to spend another day locked up, but I'm prepared to go to prison if I have to."

Yourofsky and the others have been critical of hunters, furriers and others who profit from animals—including circuses and rodeos—or use of them for the inhumane testing of products. But before Easter Sunday, they also were known as otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Yourofsky is president of ADAPTT, a nonprofit animal rights group based in Royal Oak. He also has a weekly radio program on WPON 1460 AM.

Weiner is a social worker, Dodson and Ruby were associated with Humanitarians for Animal Rights Education (HARE) and Yourofsky's uncle, Hoffman, is a truck driver.

During incarceration, Weiner and Hoffman both reportedly made statements to Ontario Provincial Police implicating themselves in the incident.

Meanwhile, Yourofsky struggles with a logic he says he can't understand. "How can it be a crime, punishable by prison, to free enslaved animals, yet it's perfectly all right to enslave, torture and kill them."

Champion or Criminal? Royal Oak Animal Activist Faces Trial in Canadian Mink Release

By Kim North Shine

The following article appeared in The Detroit Free Press on December 7, 1998.

Gary Yourofsky has locked himself to fur coat racks, chained himself beneath cars to block the circus and stood unarmed deriding a gun-toting pigeon hunter—all in the name of animals. But don't call him an animal lover. "It's not about loving animals. It's about fighting injustice," the Royal Oak resident says. "My whole goal is for humans to have as little contact as possible with animals."

His fight against what he believes is animal abuse by businesses such as circuses, research labs and furriers has made him enemies and he's been arrested four times. Yourofsky, 28, could be facing his toughest penalty yet, in Canada, when he goes on trial in Chatham, Ontario, March 1. The possible punishment: 12 to 18 months in prison. In the US he only has been sentenced to fines for his misdemeanor convictions.

He is accused of freeing thousands of caged mink from a Canadian fur farm in a middle-of-the-night break-in in April 1997. He and four other metro Detroiters were charged in the raid, which the Ontario farm owner said cost him $260,000.

Some of Yourofsky's cohorts reached pleas in return for their testimony, with the Ontario crown attorney, who has promised a prosecution that will tell US animal rights activists to stay out of Canada. But Yourofsky refuses to bargain. "To cooperate with an unjust system would be saying their position is right and mine is wrong, when the truth remains that animals are treated viciously and vilely," he said.

Some of his adversaries say he treats them viciously. Tom McLellan, owner of the raided Ebert's Fur Farm, said the world should be afraid of people who want to shut down legitimate businesses. "It's one thing to protest," he said. "But it's a whole other thing to destroy people's business and lives." McLellan lost 1,542 mink the night of the raid, 1,500 of them pregnant. At trial, McLellan expects the courtroom to be filled with outraged townspeople pushing for jail time. "If we don't, it'll set a precedent that we don't take this crime seriously," he said.

Arthur Bricker, owner of Bricker-Tunis Furs in West Bloomfield Township, whose store has been picketed and pelted with red paint, says Yourofsky "is dangerous and he distorts the truth. Prison is where he belongs."

But half hoping for a prison term, Yourofsky, an Oakland University journalism graduate, sees it as an opportunity to become an international champion of animals, changing people's minds about eating, wearing, hunting and entertaining with animals. The substitute school teacher neither eats nor wears anything derived from an animal. His dog Rex eats vegetarian dog food. And Yourofsky misses family holiday meals because he won't sit at a table with dead animals on it. He devotes nearly all of his energy to abolishing animal-supplied businesses.

"I'm in schools educating kids about animal enslavement, and I'm getting arrested. It all has to be done," he said.

His peaceful approach has won acceptance from mainstream animal professionals, including Detroit Zoo Director Ron Kagan. He has endorsed Yourofsky's proposal to ban circuses with animal acts, which Kagan said are cruel and even dangerous to spectators. For now, Yourofsky, who is a Michigan contact for several national animal rights groups, will keep moving the animal rights machine from his apartment.

The centerpiece of his operation is a 42-hole cardboard postman's box that he calls animal rights central. There are boxes for cloning, religion, zoos and aquariums. There's one for lethal research on live animals, which he most detests. There are boxes for rodeos, bears, chimps, fur/leather, Oprah Winfrey/beef, hunting and product testing. Across the room are videos for converting nonbelievers. "If I could show everyone this seven-minute video, I would change the world," he said.

A sociology class at Sterling Heights High School recently watched. The horrific pictures show foxes and chinchilla being anally electrocuted. Cows and goats are slashed across the throat, dying slowly in pooled blood.

Yourofsky likes to compare himself to the century's great social fighters, including Martin Luther King Jr. He can quote them from memory—for instance, Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." He predicts he'll lead the movement in Michigan, if not the Midwest, within a few years.

"Gary has a big ego, but I could see him playing a big role," said Scott Harris, president of the Michigan Federation of Humane Societies. "You need people in any social movement who will bring the issue to the forefront. Gary is doing that, and he's done it in a short time."

Two years ago Yourofsky made the drastic conversion to rid his life of animal products. Three years earlier he went vegetarian when his bond with his dog convinced him to show strict compassion for all animals. That's when he came up with an abolition list of businesses that rely on animals.

Through his nonprofit animal education organization called ADAPTT, he has a cadre of supporters who will carry out his plan of attack with militancy—civil disobedience, animal liberations and protests—and with public school programs, public service announcements and legislative changes.

Animal Activist Swears Off Eating

By Kim North Shine

The following article appeared in The Detroit Free Press on April 28, 1999.

Animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky vowed a hunger strike Tuesday after he was sentenced to six months in a Canadian prison for releasing 1,500 mink from an Ontario fur farm in 1997.

The 28-year-old Royal Oak resident was also ordered by Ontario Superior Court Justice Anthony Cusinato to pay $34,298.06 in restitution to Ebert's Fur Farm in Blenheim, Ontario, which was damaged by Yourofsky and four other metro Detroiters in a predawn break-in.

After the sentencing in Chatham, Ontario, Yourofsky read a statement to the audience of mostly local farmers: "For every mink that ever languished in a tiny cage and was savagely murdered at Ebert's Fur Farm, I will go hungry. And for the 40 million other animals worldwide that have the skin ripped off their backs in a disgusting display of barbarity in the name of vanity, I will go hungry."

His hunger strike could make Yourofsky, a substitute schoolteacher and director of a program that teaches students about animal suffering, a worldwide martyr for the animal rights movement.

Activists nationwide won't eat for a week in support of Yourofsky, said Hanna Gibson of ADAPTT.

Tom McLellan, the second-generation owner of Ebert's Fur Farm, said he was angered by Yourofsky's lack of remorse. "He could care less what happened to us," said McLellan, whose family has closed one its fur farms from the property damage, loss of animals, and much-needed breeding cards that were stolen.

Yourofsky was convicted of breaking and entering to commit theft. Two other suspects finished 90-day sentences, and two were sentenced to community service in exchange for testimony.

Alan Hoffman, Yourofsky's uncle from Roseville, might have provided the most damaging testimony in Yourofsky's four-day trial, when he described the bumbled raid and getaway.

But animal rights groups will likely hail Yourofsky as a champion along with animal research lab arsonist Barry Horne of London, England, who ended a 68-day hunger strike in December. And as the animal rights movement swirls around its latest cause celebre, McLellan and other fur farmers will be on watch. "At least for now, we can sleep through the night," he said.

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