Monday, November 20, 2006

Animal Farm

The late Desert Orchid


I've been thinking quite a lot about animals recently and our overall relationship with them.

My thoughts have been prompted by cows in a barn, chimpanzees, a dead race horse, foxes, suicidal rats and "fraudulent" eggs.

First foxes. Where we live in the outer suburbs of London we have a vibrant "community" of foxes. It is possible to see one any evening you want. Sometimes they are so relaxed they sleep on top of the garden shed in daylight. They come to the patio doors at night peering in from their world to ours. Apart from rather unpleasant yelping and occasional climbing on the car with muddy paws they cause us no problems. They are accepted part of suburban London life.

Also on the fox subject, The Independent http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/crime/article1998833.ece is reporting that fox hunting is largely unaffected by the recent ban. There is a combination of factors at work here. Local communities are largely against the law seeing it as the big city interfering in rural ways. Police have more urgent things to do than patrolling fields. The anti-hunt campaigners in a lot of cases seem satisfied with their bit of paper saying it is against the law to hunt foxes with hounds and have moved onto other things. On the ground and in reality these factors conspire to allow hunting to carry on largely unchanged.

I have always felt in two minds about fox hunting. Maybe that is because I grew up in both the country and the town. On the one hand I sympathise with the hunters. They live in the country, they understand rural ways and can do without do-gooding City "liberals" telling them how to live.

On the other hand fox hunting seems savage and anachronistic. It is true it is a tradition but there is no need for bad traditions to continue. Traditions must have some merit if they are to be supported.

All things being equal I would see the end of fox hunting as a good thing. However then along come the urban hypocrites to annoy me so much that I feel like changing sides. "Those toffs" they say while stuffing their face with an electrocuted chicken (obviously since cut up and cooked !) "they really need to start living in the twenty-first century " "Anyway" they conclude as they walk to their Golf to take their dog to the vets to be castrated, "I'm just against animal cruelty". On the way to the vet they stop to buy a cake that contains the eggs from chickens that never see the light of day. It is mind-boggling that they see no contradiction between their words and deeds.

As a society our views on animal cruelty are deeply confused. However while it is a complex picture, I believe we are often wilfully lazy in understanding the facts and most of us can deservedly be called hypocrites.

Last week the death of one horse, a race horse called Desert Orchid (who I remember betting on in a schoolboy-organised bookies in 1990) made national headlines. Race horses are the pinnacle of the animal community and at the top end live out their retirement as treasured national icons to be mourned when they die.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited an open farm in the Lea Valley in Hertfordshire. This is obviously a well run farm as it is open to the public. The cows, bulls and calves at various stages of the "cycle" sat docilely in sheds. They were peaceful animals, even in this well run environment grateful for a handful of fresh grass in contrast to their dull diet of processed food. Yet one could not help feeling a sense of sadness that quite soon some of these animals would be for the "chop". Yet the people who work on a farm and care for the animals seem to be far more sincere than the blind consumers who eat meat but would be horrified to step into an agricultural environment.

For the average urbanite their dealings with "wild animals" are limited to the pest control element. A while back a rat made an unwelcome appearance in our garden. Although isolated, I bought a box of rat poison as a precaution. Yesterday I was in my garage and noticed the box had been torn open and 5 of the 6 sachets of rat poison were missing. A search found 2 open ones behind boxes with poison powder spread all over the floor. Despite not choosing to put down poison some rats had obviously adopted a "self-service" approach. The fate of those eager rats is unknown. I found no bodies so maybe they survived or slunk off to die somewhere else.

Then of course there is the ongoing reference to Chimpanzees and how they are around 99% genetically identical to humans. Yet officially and to all intents and purposes they are no "better" than a rat who you can choose to buy poison for in the supermarket.
If someone throws a stone at a domestic moggy they commit a criminal offence of Animal Cruelty yet if they prepare a poison meal, worthy of the KGB, for a rat, that is pest control. Race horses are to be mourned while chimpanzees are recognised for their intelligence.
The "ethical shopper" assuages their conscience by buying free range eggs but last week we learned that there is widespread "egg fraud" with battery farm eggs being passed off as free range. Clearly this needs sorting out.

All in all our relationship with animals seems a hypocritical mess. I think the country does on balance have much to teach us about animals. Whether they fox hunt or not, they know how to treat animals humanely while still eating them ?! City dwellers usually descend into the sentimental and hypocritical. Tiddles the cat, is treated as a child while he is fed on tuna that was caught on "steel wall" nets in the Pacific Ocean that also kill dolphins which are arguably more intelligent and feeling than the average feline.

The only way to steer clear of this altogether is to become vegetarian and wear plastic shoes. My half-brother did just that following a visit to a slaughter house. He is often viewed as eccentric but I think he is at least sincere.

For the rest of us, including yours truly, who choose to continue eating animals, lets try to be a bit more alert to animal issues. I'm not advocating we all become vegans and that chimpanzees should get the vote (at least no more than already do! ) However, to borrow a phrase from the heady days of New Labour, lets worry about the many and not just the few. Try to be a little less sentimental about the few foxes, cats and race horses and a little more caring about the many cows, chickens, sheep and pigs.

Confused ? I certainly am.

"Four legs good, two legs bad" I think the phrase was.

1 comment:

Drew said...

we certainly are two faced when it comes to the animal kingdom.

This post captures the hypocrisy and confusion of many of us.....