Magazine article The Spectator

Our Attitude to Animal Suffering Is Barking

Magazine article The Spectator

Our Attitude to Animal Suffering Is Barking

Article excerpt

Our attitude to animals and their suffering is bonkers


We love animals more than we love people. Of course we do. Following the recent fire at a Manchester dogs' home, people donated £1 million and blocked the M6 with their cars as they arrived in their multitudes to adopt the displaced animals. It would have been heartwarming, it really would, if we hadn't also demanded the death of the teenaged boy named on Twitter as the suspect in the arson attack. All over the internet apparently normal people, including 'friends' of mine on Facebook, called for a 15-year-old boy to be burned alive.

I feel sick about the dogs too. I'm an animal lover. I adore my dog and my horses possibly more than anything else in the world. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to them. But perhaps that in itself gives me an insight into why we respond to the death of 50 dogs in a way that precludes all mercy for the screwed-up teenaged arsonist responsible for their demise. Why do we apparently value some animal life (the 'some' is crucial) as equal to or even superior to human life?

Here is my thesis, for what it's worth: having a relationship with an animal is easy compared to having one with a person. To love a dog is a walk in the park. The dog will love you unconditionally and for the most part won't answer back. Meaningful human relationships are difficult and arguably, in the age of social networking, increasingly elusive. More people opt for a spaniel or a horse over a husband or a wife. No wonder the Pope feels he must warn young people against buying a lapdog instead of knuckling down to marriage and parenthood.

But the fact that we can understand the reason for the Manchester dogs' home furore does not make it any less scary. When reasonable people demand the death of a teenager in recompense for the death of 50 dogs, something is amiss. And when they compound the confusion by going home that evening to eat a dead animal, society ought to ask itself some awkward questions.

We need to know why it never occurred to the people who blocked the M6 to queue up outside their local abattoir to offer help to all those poor sheep, pigs and cows who are just as sentient and capable of pain and distress as dogs. Why do we care about the mutts of Manchester and not the countless animals that have their throats slashed every year in the halal method? In short, our attitude to animal suffering has become bonkers. …

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