The following is the story of just one of the many mink farm raids that have taken place in North America in the past year and a half.
Late one night, I sat on a small patch of grass under the stars, listening to the dried leaves rustle in the wind. A few moments had passed when I saw the headlights of a small vehicle turn the corner and head towards me. After loading my gear into the trunk, I climbed into the front seat and exchanged anxious smiles with the driver. She gave my hand a quick squeeze before steering the car (rented in an untraceable manner) back onto the road. We were on our way.
As we drove, the sun came up. Stopping only to eat and refuel the car, we continued driving all day. A few hours after the sun disappeared, we met up with another man, well known to us and trusted wholeheartedly. Together we headed to a dark clearing near a small lake, and sat and discussed our plans.
Afterwards, taking special care to be sure we didn't have unwelcome company, we hit the road and headed for our final destination. Using detailed maps, we made many, many turns off the main road. We found the address we were looking for and quickly found some thick brush where we hid the car from sight.
We had brought with us a radio scanner which had already been programmed to monitor all the local and state law enforcement frequencies. One of my comrades double-checked that it was working and the controls were set appropriately, secured it in her jacket pocket and inserted the small earphone in her left ear, leaving the other ear unobstructed. Throughout the reconnaissance and the raid, she would listen carefully in case the farmer or a neighbour reported any suspicious activity or in case an undetected alarm caused an officer to be dispatched to the farm.
We also made sure that no one was carrying any loose articles, wearing jewellery or anything else that could inadvertently be left behind. The last thing we did was hide the door key near the car so no one person would be carrying it (if that person should run into trouble, the others would have no mode of transportation). Our pockets were empty except for the scanner, flashlight and gloves. We were ready to go.
Our team knew how important it was to be familiar with the area, so we scouted around on foot for about an hour. Of course, while on or near roads, anytime we saw or heard a car in the distance we hit the ground or bush and made ourselves invisible. We located a creek which ran through the area nearby and out to open, wilder spaces. We also made note of the darkest areas for hiding and which side of the country road was least lit. We set up an emergency rendezvous point in case we were separated.
When the wind was just right, it carried the stench of the fur farm to us -- an overwhelming assault on our senses. When I inhaled I could taste the blood and filth, I could hear the cries of pain, I could see the suffering and I could feel the terror of this place. It was (and is) pure evil.
We cut across several large fields to get to the back fence of the mink farm. When walking in open spaces, we haunched over and let our arms hang down so that, if anyone was watching, we wouldn't look human. As we travelled we often had to pull strands of barbed wire apart and squeeze through to get past perimeter fences. We made friends with the many cows and other animals we passed on our way towards the farm.
After checking for alarms, trip wires and video cameras, we easily climbed the back fence and entered the concentration camp. Still watching carefully for alarms, etc., we hurried through the many sheds. Our presence brought the many thousands of mink to attention. They became very excited, rustling around in their tiny cages and "talking" to each other with short, high-pitched squeaks. With our small flashlights, we could see their curious little faces and inquisitive eyes -- truly beautiful creatures! I imagined the fate that would have awaited them if we had not come to intervene: their necks snapped or their lungs filled with gas after a few more months of enduring the psychological and physical torture of being imprisoned in this hell.
We took note of the cages: four rows in each shed. Filthy, corroded cages which provided no bedding for mink that normally nest in the wild. Simple latches held most cages shut, but some (the breeders) had a piece of heavy gauge wire twisted around the wires of the cage, securing the doors.
Our reconnaissance told us what we needed to know and we retreated to the back of the field that ran behind this farm. We sat under an old willow tree for a few hours, watching the compound to see if anyone was aware of our intrusion. On this evening we would leave the critters behind, but we would return. We hiked through the fields and creeks, back to the vehicle, and drove for about an hour. We then camped for the remainder of the morning.
At mid morning we rose and began to further discuss a plan of action, detailing tools we would need and delegating duties. We had brought with us a radio scanner, dark disposable clothing, flashlights, wire cutters, gloves, spray paint and ski masks. We would need to purchase packaged envelopes, paper and stamps (to send a communique after the action) as well as back up batteries. We fuelled up the car and drove by our target once (and only once) during the daylight to further familiarize ourselves with the surroundings.
The rest of the afternoon/evening was spent taking apart all our equipment, and wiping it down inside and out. We went over every detail of the plan in our heads and prepared ourselves mentally for whatever we might encounter, including any consequences we might face.
It began to rain. We double checked our inventory of equipment, and then set out. We made our way back to the concentration camp, again making sure we were not followed. Just like the night before, we checked and secured the scanner, emptied our pockets and hid the key to the vehicle. Again, we followed the road part way, diving to the ground with the coming of headlights, and then crept through the dark, still fields, towards the many mink awaiting their freedom.
We opened the cages. After opening roughly a dozen cages in the dark, I paused for a brief moment to shine my flashlight across them and caught sight of a shiny, sleek figure, hopping out of her hell-hole. The mink scurried across the ground and out of the barn. While I wanted to focus and appreciate each and every animal as they found their way to freedom, I knew I couldn't do so at the expense of those who would be left behind. I had to spend every moment on the farm opening cages to allow as many as possible a fighting chance at a natural life.
I continued my work, frantically unlatching and cutting wires. While I worked, several mink ran across the top of the cages while others scurried about my feet, squeaking with joy. Before long, these feisty critters were all over the place, running this way and that, playing and fighting with each other. Now and then I would briefly stop my work to separate two of the little guys and shoo them towards the outer fences, where they would find their freedom. RUN LITTLE GUYS, RUN!
Suddenly I heard -- or thought I heard -- a slamming noise. "The mink have woken the farmers," I thought. "Here he comes." I looked to the end of the barn towards the farmer's house. Struggling to adjust my focus for such a distance in the darkness, I made out a light colored, upright figure. Were my eyes playing tricks on me, or was someone standing there? I grew very uneasy and almost nauseous, as I imagined 'Farmer John,' angry as a wasp evicted from her nest (but much more dangerous), standing in the doorway, holding a rifle. I prepared myself for the worst and tried again in vain to focus on the end of the shed.
Better safe than sorry, I reminded myself and quickly left the shed. I looked for my partners, and, not finding them, my anxiety increased. I moved across the adjacent field and hid in some thick, dark bushes, and watched the farm for about 20 minutes. I saw nothing out of the ordinary and no lights were turned on, so I eventually crept back and cautiously re-entered the compound. I ducked into the sheds where my friends were working, to be certain that all was well. I found them working away undeterred. I went back to my shed and continued opening the cages.
The work was exhausting and I could feel my bones ache with the monotony of the routine. But I kept going -- I could never live with myself if I didn't open as many cages as was humanly possible. I lost count at 500.
I finished my shed and checked on the others to see if they needed help. Finding their sheds empty, I moved on to the next one, and we finished that one off together. Sadly, we came to our pre-designated cut-off time. Though there were many more sheds full of prisoners, we had to leave -- the farmers would wake soon and the rise of the sun would provide no cover for ours and the minks' escape.
We marked some of the now empty sheds with spray-paint and then retreated. As we fled, we chased many mink to the holes cut in the fence. Once on the other side, we stopped for a moment to watch the many dark figures gliding and scampering through the fields towards the creek which would lead them to their new prospective homes.
Using the moon as our guide, we found our way back to our hidden vehicle. We briefly shared our experiences as we walked -- one of our team had been bitten while attempting to open a cage. All of us had found several mink, dead and decaying in their cages.
We piled our soaked, sore, and muddied bodies into the car. We made frustrated faces at each other -- we were excited but knew we could not talk in the car. We drove silently back down the dark roads to our campsite, where we sorted out our things, throwing all clothes and shoes into the campfire and placing tools into bags to be discarded safely and immediately.
We talked a little more about our experiences, including what we could do better next time. We made plans to meet again, and shared warm hugs before embarking on our long journey home. During the following day's drive, we heard news reports of the raid on the radio. We smiled proudly with the satisfaction that many that many mink had a chance at freedom that day, that the fur trade had just become a little less profitable, and that 'Farmer John' just might go out of business.