Denver -- Patty, Becky and Susan looked absolutely fabulous in their new fur coats. Well, the coats were not exactly new. Truth told, they were a little tatty. Some had small tears. Susan's was missing a button or two. All three coats had bands of paint sprayed on one arm to discourage resale
Not that the women seemed to mind, modeling them on a chilly day when fur felt a lot warmer against the wind than anything else in their closets, which is not much at all.
"It's beautiful," said Patty, pulling the fluffy collar of her white fox coat up around her neck. "I'm going to be ringing a bell for the Salvation Army starting next week. I'm sure I'm going to get a lot of compliments."
All three women - Patricia Barnes, 48; Becky Bruce, 52; and Susan Pew, 42 - live at Samaritan House, a shelter in downtown Denver run by Catholic Charities. The fur coats came early this week as donations from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals , which has collected thousands of used fur coats in recent years and given them to homeless people. This week was Denver's turn, after similar giveaways in New York, Atlantic City, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago and other cities.
"It's a way to make a positive thing out of a negative," said Lisa Franzetta, a spokeswoman for the animal rights group. "The animals cannot be given their lives back, and we've been flooded with donations from people who no longer want to be associated with the suffering of animals."
For more than a decade, animal welfare protesters have made life uncomfortable for the fur-wearing public, screaming at those in mink, fox and ermine with equal gusto. Occasionally, protesters have made their point by hurling paint. As recently as Thursday night, four members of PETA crashed a Victoria's Secret lingerie fashion show in New York as Gisele Bundchen, who also models for the mink coat company Blackglama, walked the runway. They held up signs that said "Gisele: Fur Scum," before security guards led them away.
Despite improving sales of fur products - $1.53 billion last year, compared with $1.1 billion in 1991, according to the Fur Information Council of America - Ms. Franzetta said her group was making an impact, turning fur lovers to other forms of clothing.
"What used to be a status symbol for the well-heeled is now a symbol of social liability," she said. She then acknowledged the irony of it all, that giveaways are putting the not-so-well-heeled in the same position, even if they are warmer. Ms. Franzetta said PETA also sent fur coats to refugees in Afghanistan last year.
The new owners of old fur here did not seem much concerned over any issues of animal welfare. Ms. Barnes said she had a brother who liked to hunt. Ms. Bruce stroked her full-length raccoon coat and said: "I never had a fur coat before. People are saying I look good."
Ms. Pew was somewhat less enthusiastic, saying rips in the lining made her fur less appealing. "But the coat has to go somewhere," she said. "It's like the meat in front of you - the animal's already dead."
PETA plans to continue the giveaways as long as fur wearers continue to become racked with guilt. But donations could taper off, said Keith Kaplan, a spokesman for the Fur Information Council.
"Six or seven years ago there was sort of a reference to political correctness, not wearing fur," Mr. Kaplan said. "But it's not considered politically correct to dictate what other people should eat or wear, especially after 9/11. People don't want to be told, and they don't respect those tactics anymore."