I once was a resource teacher in a DEIS school. One morning I stood at the front door with the vice-principal as one after the other, he turned students from the door. Being new I resisted giving into my innate response ‘what are you doing?’ to a perceived wrong-doing. Instead I opted for a calm interjection to his orders. ‘Isn’t it a good thing that they made it to school – even if they don’t have black shoes on?’ His response was, ‘If we don’t get this part right, they won’t get anything else right in here!’
What has this anecdotal story got to do with animal welfare? I often over-emphasise this theory, and I probably over-share this story of my teaching days. But he was right: if the boys thought they could flout the school uniform rules, they would probably not adhere to the others within the school building. So, if animal welfare isn’t a priority for you, maybe you need to rethink its importance. Just like the black shoes parable-ish story, if this country can’t get a grip on the escalating chronic animal cruelty, we will see a parallel escalation in other crimes. It is a fact, if we intervene in the behaviours of those who harm animals, we are intervening in ‘other-harm’. And that ‘other’ might just be you or someone you love dearly.
The recent exposure of gross misconduct in Ashton Pound where staff members administered lethal drugs which led to excruciating suffering of dogs kept there was a terrible shocking exposure. So far we just know of two, how many went before them? Imagine their last days/hours on concrete pound slabs endured in agony. At one point, when did this become normative practice and who started the ‘ball rolling’ in this pound? Who prescribed this medication and who gave permission for unqualified people to administer it? These dogs were once someone’s dogs – let down by so many. This is not the first time a pound has taken endings into their own hands. It is heartening to see such an out-cry and Garda investigations. But lots of questions need to be answered. We probably need to start with what some consider normative practice?
There are so many layers to the story of animal welfare in this country. It’s like drawing straws when you start to discuss them. Most you draw are short and grim. From puppy farms-council and vet collusion,blatant disregard for basic needs, to dogs living in small cages and horse boxes-in their own waste, to horses tethered to poles in urban areas subjected to daily beatings, to small ponies pulling carts with grown men, to foals dumped for being the wrong sex/colour, to those who refuse to neuter their pets and deal with unwanted litters by dumping and drowning, to the organised cruelty that is greyhound racing…. the list goes on.
Yes, the layers are many but layers become digestible if those in authority played even a tiny part in intervening and enforcing the law. An example of this are the Guards in Clonmel who recently seized another small pony struggling to pull three men. Yes, that’s their job as authorised officers, but it’s quite sad that it generates much relief and happiness from animal lovers: because it is rare to see. A collie in Clare – his two years in this world spent living in a horse box,living on milk alone, only ended when one guard seized the dog-this was after one rescue decided to go public about this poor boy’s nightmarish plight. It should not take a social media story for an intervention to happen. It often does!
Back to the divide of those who care, kinda care, and don’t care about animals. Well, if you are an authorised officer named in the animal welfare legislation, you don’t really get to choose whether you care or not. You have to. When it comes to the rest of us, I do believe there are a lot of people who are not able to cope with cruelty to animals; they often throw out the line ‘please don’t tell me as I’m not able!’ and then there are those amongst us that genuinely feel that animals are more able for suffering and it is part and parcel of their lives amongst us. And that is the point where animal welfare begins to unravel and the fight to uphold the legislation gets weakened: that internal dialogue and rigid mindset of ‘sure, it’s just a dog/cat/horse/rabbit/cow….’ Yes, you’re probably right, as much as you are ‘just a person’ but I’d like to think that if you were starved, beaten, locked away from the world, someone would rescue you! That is the crux of the problem I feel-that ‘just’ word! We have to bury it deep and dig even deeper for a substitute-a truthful one.
Dismissing animal welfare will lead to ‘just another crime’ and yes, ‘just another death’ of both animals and people. Allowing one sets the perfect environment for the other. Are you OK with that? I didn’t think so.
(Pictured is Bella, a four year old mare, who is one of many who died due to neglect this year.)