Tuesday, January 22, 2008

furred and feathered friends

I like cats. I hate it when somebody is cruel to them. So I was upset to hear about a neglected cat from my friend around Christmastime.

My friend's neighbours don't give a flying fig for themselves and care even less for their cat. Neither my friend Celsia not I had space for another cat, so we got on the phone, to find that the cat rescue houses and animal rescue centres were full to bursting, and the RSPCA had so many cruelty and neglect cases on its plate that investigation soon was not an option.

So Celsia and her son managed to grab the cat and take it to the vet at their own expense, in the hope that somehow they could get some treatment to ease its suffering, and perhaps even a kind soul to take it in. The vet took the poor thing's basic obs - heartbeat 200-plus - and saw that it had a thyroid condition which had advanced beyond treatment, and put it out of its misery.

What is it about the Brittanicae, that we care so much about animals? Well, for a start, feral children aren't nearly as cuddly - certainly. But we perhaps deserve our reputation for being more solicitous about animals than our own kind.

Take Jamie Oliver for example, the media-savvy chef who figureheaded a governmental offensive to strongarm children into eating more healthily that had parents protesting by passing good old fish'n'chips through school railings. He is currently helping his friend Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall use a purpose-built battery-farm to try to turn the British public against battery chickens.

I don't like the battery method of farming. But I know Minora and Minima need protein to grow; thankfully I'm not a single parent, but I can understand the single Mum who refused to bow to the celebrity fashion for weeping when a camera appears and stated that she couldn't afford to feed her family if she had to buy free-range chicken. Likewise, Maxima couldn't be a stay-at-home Mum if we had to pay for products like those promoted by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The joker in the pack is the prices that supermarkets will pay farmers for chickens, which is so low that the producers are losing money on the stock they sell to the sellers, ie they are subsidising their customers to buy their wares. There is absolutely no basis for the supposition that this egregious practice will finish if chickens are reared in barns or runs as opposed to battery-farms, all that would happen would be that we'd import more chickens from Europe. And if we are tempted to think the welfare of livestock in Great Britain is bad...

The British livestock industry welfare watchdog, Assured Food Standards, investigated Fearnley-Whittingstall's farm: it failed the inspection. He also failed the component of the inspection that judged whether animals were killed humanely. David Clarke, AFS Chief Executive, stated "no self-respecting chicken farmer" would run the unit. Far be it from me to suggest that he deliberately made conditions worse to drive his point home...

We're not monsters. Animal welfare matters, of course it does, so it's natural that the RSPCA should want to make the most of the Oliver-Whittingstall momentum. But you can't expect people who don't respect themselves to respect our feathered friends. Or, indeed, our furry ones, as Celsia's tale evinces. Instead of disingenuously bribing single mothers, some of whom will not be of voting age for some time and many of whom will already be too poorly fed for their babies to be born in the best of health, it is time for the government to step back and allow people to taste the dignity that comes from work and is not fixed to the size of the wagepacket. The dignity that builds respect that builds up those we love. The dignity that breeds concern for the land around us and all the creatures that inhabit it.

Magus, the family cat, wants out. I'd better let him go, even though it's windy outside - this is, after all, a draughty old fen - and I'd probably be happier if he were in here with me. I like cats.

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