J.C. Penney Co. removed some fur-trimmed coats from its racks around Christmas after animal-rights activists objected that the fur came from wild dogs in China.


Last week, the U.S. department-store company put the coats back on the racks — but only after directing employees to use marker pens to blot out the line on the label that identified the trim as raccoon fur.


The fur-collared leather coats were sold under the house brands St. John’s Bay and A.N.A., and by this week they were marked down at a Penney’s in Dallas from the original $349.99 US to $74.99. “We sold a lot of them during Christmas,” said a saleswoman at a Penney store in North Carolina who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared losing her job. “I hope people who bought those coats aren’t animal lovers. But I guess if they’re wearing fur, they’re not.” By putting the coats back on the racks, Penney is charting a different course than rival Macy’s, which last month pulled Sean John jackets after they turned out to contain the same fur. Macy’s has a policy against selling products with dog fur.


Animal-rights groups are using the incident to pressure Penney to drop sales of all real fur, including fox. A few clothiers such as Polo Ralph Lauren and J. Crew Group Inc. have stopped using fur, and designers Kenneth Cole and Calvin Klein have promised to follow.


Penney also plays down any link between Lassie and the animal whose fur is used on some of its garments. That animal is usually called a “raccoon dog” because of its full coat and dark patches around the eyes.

“Asiatic raccoon is the species name,” Brossart said. “It’s on the Federal Trade Commission’s list of fur that is legal to sell in the United States. It’s not a dog.”

Animal-rights advocates counter that although it looks like an oversized, fluffy raccoon and isn’t kept as a pet, it is a canine breed.

“They are definitely a member of the dog family,” said Kristin Leppert, manager of the anti-fur campaign at the Humane Society of the United States. “What’s equally important is that they’re getting killed by the millions in the most atrocious way.” Activists from Swiss Animal Protection posing as a documentary film crew say they went to China and photographed raccoon dogs and foxes being killed at large fur-harvesting operations.

The crew’s disturbing video posted on the Internet shows animals clubbed or slammed on the ground. Some continue writhing, gasping and blinking as they are skinned alive.