Category Archives: Animal Welfare

The Truth About Fox Hunting

David Cameron Fox Hunting

Dotted across the globe there are many places where Vulpes vulpes’, commonly known as red foxes, did not exist until about 250 years ago, when they suddenly appeared overnight in large numbers and began to flourish.  Was this the fastest known example of evolution?  Or, if you prefer, a last minute addition by an omnipotent creator?  Of course not.  These foxes were being shipped to various parts of the planet, such as Australia, by British colonialists who simply couldn’t think of another way to pass the time in the brave new world other than to watch animals be ripped to pieces.  Some pests.

Fortunately, though somewhat belatedly, Britain finally lived up to its reputation as the world leader in animal welfare and banned this disgusting and cruel activity in November 2004 via The Hunting Act (2002 in Scotland).  Its legislative aim, as stated, was thus:

“…one of preventing or reducing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals, overlaid by a moral viewpoint that causing suffering to animals for sport is unethical.”

Hear hear to that.  The act passed in parliament by a wide margin, 356-166, and considering that public opinion has never wavered far from the 80% support of the ban as reported by the Ipsos MORI poll in 2013, one could have been forgiven for thinking that would be the end of the matter.  But then one has to remind themselves that we haven’t had a majority Conservative government for 19 years.

David Cameron, now unshackled from the coalition, has made it plain that he wishes to see the Hunting Act repealed.  He is a big fan of fox hunting, has openly admitted to taking part in multiple hunts, and though he was certainly misquoted by the BBC’s Andrew Marr when the hapless journalist claimed in an interview with the Prime Minister that he had once stated it was his favourite sport (interestingly, at the time Cameron did not refute this, so presumably he thought it plausible that he may have said it), he did say the following:

“It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act.”

Then adding:

“I’m a country boy, I support country sports.”

This is where we must pick up the story.  You may first want to read my opening paragraph again, followed by Mr Cameron’s comments above.  Those words ought to make it clear that any suggestion of the necessity of fox hunting for wildlife management is a barely disguised subterfuge that hunt supporters themselves regularly forget to uphold and certainly cannot sustain in knowledgeable company.   In reality, the debate is simply one between human rights to torture and kill animals for fun (the ‘freedom’ David Cameron refers to), versus animal rights not to be tortured and killed for fun.  Thus, it is in effect, on a par with bull fighting.

Let’s do some myth busting.  To begin with, there is no scientific evidence that fox hunting reduces the density of fox populations.  Dozens of studies have been undertaken in this regard, many freely available for you to look up online.  The published findings have always been the same; hunting has no significant impact.  In a rather unfortunate irony for the barbaric minded, it has often been found that fox hunting increases the number of foxes in a given area, for two reasons.  Firstly, when foxes are chased out of their earths, it becomes a vacant lot bound to attract the interest of foxes from surrounding areas.  Secondly, hunt organisers themselves have been known to dig false earths in order to attract more foxes to their patch so that they have something to chase and slaughter on their big day out.

Another myth propagated by fans of this obnoxious blood sport (including by David Cameron in his comments above) that has a particularly foul stench to it, is that this is an issue of town versus country, or even worse, the working class versus the upper class.  But what the blood thirsty do not want you to know is that Ipsos MORI exposed this lie.  They found that precisely the same share of people living in rural England were against hunting as those living in towns and cities (80% need I remind you).  Allied to this, numerous studies have shown that around two thirds of farmers do not believe foxes to be a pest at all, citing the fact that foxes help control the numbers of rabbits and other small animals which they do consider problematic to their interests.  Perhaps then, Ricky Gervais put it best when he said:

“The only way fox hunting would count as vermin control is if the posh twats fell off their horses and broke their necks!”

Before I close, here are a few other things you may not be aware of.  Prior to the ban, hunt organisers used to put down more than 3,000 dogs every year.  Not because they were unwell, but just because they were ever so slightly past their prime and so were of no use anymore.

Regarding the hounds, it’s certainly not irrelevant to notice that they are bred for endurance not speed.  This is because huntsmen do not want it all over too quickly – the thrill of the chase (and thus the prolonged psychological torture of the foxes) is everything.

As if the ‘fun’ rather than necessity factor needed to be rammed home any further (not by me, but by the hunters themselves), fox hunting is packed full of pomp and ceremony.  One such ceremonial tradition is the infamous act of ‘blooding’ that involves the smearing of a fox’s blood on the face of a first-time huntsman, usually a young child.  Another requires that a fox’s head and tail be cut off and taken away as trophies.

So you see it really does take a very particular type of person to partake in this kind of activity, the type of person most of us would hope never to have the misfortune to meet.  It is then, at least to me, quite alarming that the most powerful person in Britain is one such person.

Finally, our government has now spent over 700 hours debating this topic.  Who knows what that equates to in terms of our taxes, but please can every one of you use your voice to ensure that it is not discussed for one minute more by signing this petition:

https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-keep-the-ban-on-fox-hunting-2

UPDATE!

This week (week commencing 08/06/15) the charity The League Against Cruel Sports released the shocking results of their recent undercover investigation into the Middleton Hunt, near Malton, North Yorkshire.  They discovered, among other things, that this barbaric group have been stealing young cubs from the wild to ensure there are plenty of foxes to chase come hunting season.  Needless to say, I roundly applaud The League Against Cruel Sports for their fantastic and brave work during this operation.  The 6 minute video of their findings can be viewed below.  I should warn you that it is quite upsetting.

Video Link

 

“The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”

– Oscar Wilde on fox hunting from ‘A Woman Of No Consequence’


Pet Welfare For The Modern Age

Below are a few statistics that ought to shock you.  ‘A few’ because the context here is that the UK government has no department dedicated to tracking the welfare of domestic animals, and as we will see, there are no laws governing the behaviour of humans towards other animals before the fact that are effective, or could even hope to be effective.  With regards to animal welfare then, no one has a remit to safeguard it – and worst still, no one is looking.  So all that we have are the records of animal welfare charities, and Police or Hospital statistics for when things go really bad.  These numbers are therefore simply a primer for our imaginations on just how terrible the situation might be:

 

–  Every year Battersea Dogs Home euthanises 2,000 healthy dogs

–  Every year the RSPCA euthanises over 500 healthy dogs

–  Every year 10,000 healthy dogs die in relation to greyhound racing (most under the age of 3)

–  The RSPCA alone rescues a total of 120,000 animals annually from some form of abandonment or cruelty

–  Every year over 5,000 people are admitted to hospital in the UK after being attacked by a dog, many of them children and many requiring facial plastic surgery.  And this figure does not include those treated in  A&E

–  Every year, on average, 5 people are killed by dogs in the UK

 

Of course, whilst still representing the most depressing research I have ever had to undertake, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are approximately 20 million cats and dogs in the UK alone, never mind rabbits, gerbils, etc.  How many are being treated appropriately?  No one has any idea.

One would imagine that tackling such remarkable levels of carnage and cruelty would be very high on our Governments agenda, but the reality is that there is no agenda concerning animal welfare.  The misguided belief is that the combination of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act and the 2006 Animal Welfare Act are all that is required.  These laws can be summarised as the banning of Pit Bulls and Japanese Fighting dogs, and the acknowledgement that pet owners have a duty of care which must be met.

The problem however is that these laws are reactive as opposed to proactive measures, and in any case they can rarely be enforced because they are either so ambiguous or the offences considered so minor (by the Police), that very often nothing of substance can be done.

Likewise, regarding potentially dangerous dogs, the law is simply no deterrent when we take into account the lure of having these dogs for some malevolent people – “as good as carrying a knife” is the oft quoted reasoning.  Cross breeding makes the identification of a particular dog as ‘illegal’ almost impossible even for experts, meaning that the Police are increasingly reluctant to get involved. In the rare instances that they do, the punishments are minimal, with warnings, small fines or seizing of the dog in question as the norm.  Most commonly though, (the still insufficient) action is only taken after an attack has occurred because only then does the law become clear enough to apply – but by this time both the person attacked and the dog have already become victims of our society’s lack of concern.

The good news is that the solution is painfully easy.  As soon as we acknowledge that animals have a conscious awareness of their moment to moment happiness and are not just innate toys, then it is easy to see that our approach to animal welfare has actually not really got started.  We are effectively still in the dark ages on this subject and have not moved with the prevailing moral zeitgeist or the current scientific understanding of the life of mammals.  Accepting this is true is the crucial first step.

Animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. can currently be purchased off the shelf like a tin of beans – in fact there are more laws protecting the sale of baked beans than there are for the purchase of animals.  A person with a long criminal record of violence, who lives in a fourth floor flat with two young children, can at present buy a large dog without any scrutiny.  Also, anyone can breed and sell animals.  This is quite obviously a situation ripe for disaster.  Observing that this is the status quo is the next step.

From here everything is self-explanatory.  Clearly we simply need to introduce strict laws and procedures surrounding the sale and purchase of animals.  One should have to attend a training course for the particular animal they wish to care for, have their criminal history analysed, their household income evaluated (as it is if you want to rent a flat – if you are on welfare can you really afford another mouth to feed?) and their home assessed for the appropriateness of the environment that the animal will be living in.  If a potential buyer (or seller / breeder) passes these ‘health’ checks, only then is a licence issued and registered.  Annual check-ups must be carried out (or at least some random check-ups) and micro-chipping made compulsory for all animals where it is necessary and possible.  This last point would have the added bonus of saving animal welfare charities substantial funds because currently most will pay for micro-chipping if someone cannot afford it, so essential is it to the welfare of an animal (I always wonder how people think they can afford an animal if they cannot afford the £10 it costs to micro-chip).  Needless to say, dog racing must be banned immediately, as should horse racing, which I dealt with here: http://believethetruth.co.uk/why-horse-racing-is-cruel/.

One might imagine that this will all cost too much, but I think that a licence fee and the off-setting of costs against those saved by hospitals and the Police would more than cover it.  And in any case, what would it matter if the waiting list for a licence was many months due to creaky bureaucracy?  It’s not a hospital surgery waiting list – these people really can hold out.  The priority should be to guarantee that an animal is going to a good home.

People who mistreat animals or use them as status symbols (like some people do with big dogs) do not really love or care about animals.  They are not therefore likely to be prepared to go through the above process that I recommend if it was in place (and would be unlikely to be issued a licence if they did).  If a database existed (like it does for your driving licence) then a Police officer could quickly check if someone was licenced to have an animal.  This would enable speedier identification of issues and so prompt earlier intervention, as there would be tangible laws in place to guide and empower the authorities.

When we consider the fact that most domestic animals live only until they are about 10 years old, the situation regarding animal welfare in the UK could be completely turned on its head inside a decade.


Why Horse Racing is Cruel

During the week of the Grand National I listened to countless phone-ins on the radio, where those in favour of horse racing ‘ganged up’ on people who can see that the ‘sport’ is so obviously cruel.  The tone from the racing fans reminded me of many a religious fanatic I’ve seen in online debates over the years. Unashamedly stating untruths as truths, only listening to each other, talking in clichés, answering moral questions by changing the subject, shouting a lot, claiming they must be respected for their views, claiming they are the victims as opposed to the perpetrators (a further insult to the suffering of the animals involved) and citing the belief that the ‘sport’ can only be reliably regulated from within (a familiar enough claim by those who have something to hide).

So let’s get this straight; horse racing is cruel. There is no question about this, no debate to be had and no opposing opinion worth listening to.  This is not irrational, strident anti-equestrianism; it’s just a healthy respect for the facts of the matter.  We don’t have to respect every opinion that is out there.  If someone said that they thought the holocaust didn’t occur few would feel compelled to respect that person’s view.  We should feel exactly the same with regards to torturing animals for entertainment purposes.

We know that horses have a conscious concern for their moment to moment experience of the world. They are motivated to be happy, to be healthy and to reproduce.  Furthermore, their mental well-being is perfectly aligned to the extent to which they are achieving these desires. This is the litmus test for human responsibility.  Horses are intelligent animals that can suffer and so fall squarely within the realm of our moral and ethical concerns.  We have an obligation to do the very best we can for them.

It is impossible to square the above paragraph with the activities that occur within the world of horse racing. Frustratingly, I actually think many people, even some involved in the ‘sport’, know it.  Again we can draw an analogy with those who struggle to give up their faith – they simply have too much to lose.  Financial greed or a lack of moral courage (often both) prevents people from speaking out.

To briefly touch the shores of some of the issues, the problems begin with the breeding process. Such is the money involved, the purity of blood lines of horses are like gold dust. They are subjected to extreme patterns of inbreeding (which often occurs offshore and out of sight) that cause devastating conditions such as bleeding lungs, gastric ulcers, brittle bones and numerous viral diseases. Consequently, only a small percentage of those bred will be healthy enough to have a chance of making the grade – the rest are killed. The cruelty, suffering and loss of life that goes in to getting that one good horse is a catastrophic moral failure. Just imagine being a part of that process.  Deliberately breeding in such a way that is guaranteed to result in most horses being born crippled or disease riddled – and thus disposed of (who knows how).  And what for?  So the most sinister and moronic in our society can enjoy a day at the races.

The horses’ predicament, hardly improves once they reach the stables of their eventual owners.  They are regularly, forcibly run to exhaustion. Some die of exhaustion before they even get to race, some acquire injuries due to over training, and others develop health problems carried over from the breeding process. On race days, we see the horses pushed to their limit under the coercion of a man kicking and whipping them.  Should they fall and injure themselves, which is fairly common and becoming increasingly so, again largely due to the weakening of horses bones related to inbreeding, then the horses are shot because they are no longer of economic worth.  Shockingly, 151 horses a year die on British race tracks.  We should pause to think of what might go on behind the scenes if this is how the horses are treated in public.

If a horse is lucky enough to survive this sick form of Russian roulette, they are rewarded with a lethal injection the moment they are too old to continue racing.

The latter seems to be the only thing that racing fans admit to and openly say is wrong – and it’s easy to see why.  It doesn’t call into question the actual sport itself, legislation will not affect the ability to win races or take bets, and it is a token gesture towards showing some concern for a horse’s well-being to allay the concerns of those whose concerns are easily allayed.  For the rest of us who can see through this false pretence, it only further highlights the lack of character of those involved and no legislative after thought can show otherwise.

The retorts to the above from the world of racing are so hollow that they would barely deserve attention if it wasn’t for the slightly aggravating fact that they seem to be so readily believed by so many. Here are some that I have personally been on the receiving end of:

“The horses love being ridden and jumping over things – it’s what they are built for.”

This is an example of the ‘changing the subject’ technique I spoke of earlier. I’m more than prepared to accept that should the appropriate trust relationship be built, a horse may well enjoy having a rider on its back, having a trot about, perhaps even exerting itself once in a while.  What I require a lot more convincing of however, is that they enjoy being forced to jump ridiculously high fences and being shot should they fail to do so. I think it is highly unlikely they would choose this for themselves. Does it not occur to anyone that the whip is necessary for a reason?  Clearly the horse doesn’t want to be doing what it’s doing to such an extent that kicking them just isn’t enough.

“The owners and trainers love their horses and take amazing care of them.”

This is just a canned line for the non-thinking. It is an example of knowingly lying.  It has no basis in fact and no relation to the meanings of the words ‘love’ and ‘care’ as we commonly understand them. The truth is they love being involved in something that makes them so much money and what they care about is that their horses are healthy enough to earn them their next payday.  They may well love the thrill of riding, but subjectively this is not the same thing as loving the horse.  No one treats anyone they truly love the way horses are treated in the world of horse racing.

“The few unfortunate deaths are blown out of proportion when put into the context of a great and popular sport.”

This is like saying a date with Ted Bundy is great apart from all the killing and stuff.  In any case, 151 deaths per year on race days alone (so not including during training) is not just ‘a few.’  Needless to say, there is no number of deaths that would make it all ok.

The truth is that horse racing will be viewed in the not too distant future in the same manner as everyone currently views bear baiting or dog fighting.  The frustrating part is the period of time that elapses between societies really knowing that something is wrong, and actually legislating against it.  But as with something like the outlawing of the slave trade, once the leap is made it takes almost no time at all for everyone to agree.  This will be the case with horse racing.  There will come a time very soon when we all will wonder how intelligent people who lived in a time of truly remarkable scientific and technological advancement could purvey such cruelty upon these beautiful animals.

What I would like is for the delay in most of us realising it is wrong (again, I think we are largely at this stage) and actually doing something about it, to be as minimal as possible.  For this to happen, everyone has to stop allowing this ‘sport’ a pass in conversation.  When someone mentions it, perhaps as a suggestion for a day out, please explain to them why it is cruel.  We must make supporting this awful activity as socially unacceptable as homophobia or racism.