My bunny-hugging antagonist’s embarrassed silence on the BBC radio phone-in told me all I needed to know.
Yes, it really is now a criminal offense in Britain to abuse an ant, a worm, a slug, cockroach, a scorpion, a stick insect or whatever creature you care to name. The moment you decide to keep it as a pet you are obliged by our Animal Welfare Act to take full account of its welfare needs — or face a $30,000 fine or a twelve-month prison sentence.
And if you think cockroach rights sound crazy, wait till you hear how the law applies to the way you keep your dog or your cat. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) — one of the numerous, busybody branches of our socialist New Labour administration — recently issued guidelines to pet owners clarifying the law.
You risk prosecution if:
— You fail to groom your long-haired dog or cat once a day.
— You feed your dog from the table.
— You use your hands or feet when playing with your cat (as this may
encourage aggressive behavior).
— You fail to provide every cat in your household with its own litter
tray (even if the cat has access to a garden).
— You try to make your cat vegetarian by denying it meat.
None of these provisions is in itself a criminal offense, a DEFRA spokesman has explained helpfully. But failure to comply with several of them “may be used in evidence to support a prosecution for animal cruelty.”
Well, that’s me done for then. In the last few years, I have contravened every one of these pet care laws (apart from the last one: encouraging feline vegetarianism — indeed, encouraging any form of vegetarianism — really should, I believe, be punishable by imprisonment and torture at the very least), especially the one regarding cat litter trays.
Our ageing cat, Beetle, doesn’t have a litter tray at all. Why? Well, for one, thing he’s a cat, and, from what I’ve observed of the feline species, they’re quite intelligent enough to do their business outside and don’t need the option of indoor facilities. And, for another, I’m the human. I pay the mortgage. I buy the cat food. We’re the master species (or at least we used to be). So it seems to me only fair that I should be the one who gets to decide whether or not to keep a tray of gravel in my kitchen smelling faintly of cat poop.
But the bunny-huggers disagree. Not only do they disagree, but they now have the full force of the UK law behind them. And — in the form of our chief animal welfare charity the Royal Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals (RSPCA) — they even have an army of uniformed enforcers ready to knock on your door at the merest whiff of an infringement.
It was a run-in with the RSPCA which got me into that BBC radio phone-in in the first place. I’d written a magazine article about an unfortunate incident involving two hamsters we’d bought from the pet shop, one to keep for our family, one as a replacement for the school hamster which had accidentally been killed while we were looking after it.
Unfortunately, while one of the two hamsters was docile and friendly, the other one was an evil biter which kept drawing blood. First we tried asking the pet store to take it back, but they wouldn’t. Then we tried palming Devil Hamster off on the school, but they said: “We can’t have this one! He keeps biting our children.” So finally, as the man of the household (and thus the chief vermin exterminator), I was given the job of getting rid of it. Which I did, in a typically cowardly way, by releasing it into our local park.
A few days later, I received a letter from the RSPCA informing me that there had been a complaint and that I had been guilty of a criminal act which rendered me liable for a fine or imprisonment. On this occasion they were minded not to prosecute. But next time…
I was surprised and not a little disturbed. Since when did the sort of animal welfare charities one used to associate with cute little kittens with bandaged paws suddenly have the right to go round threatening free citizens? Since the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, I learned. This came into force in 2007 but — as with so many of the laws New Labour has introduced, at the rate of one imprisonable offense every FOUR days during its twelve years in power — it has sat on the statute books almost unnoticed.
Only in the last month, with DEFRA’s new guidelines (and the publicity given to my “I am a hamster murderer” story) has the British public become fully aware of its manifest absurdities.
Why, for example, is it still perfectly legal for me to poison the colony of mice in my skirting boards, but an imprisonable offence to cause them any harm the moment I capture them and make them my pets?
How low in the biological chain do you have to go before an animal becomes ineligible for protection? Suppose I kept a pet amoeba: could I be imprisoned for being cruel to one of those? Sadly, the law does not specify.
Meanwhile, it — currently at least — remains perfectly legal in Britain for sportsmen to shoot game birds like pheasants and grouse; to stalk stag; and even to hunt foxes on horseback (provided someone is holding a falcon or other bird of prey and the fox is not killed by the hounds but driven towards a gun).
Such are the messy compromises and idiocies which result when a government gets into bed with the lunatics of the animal rights lobby. Such are the pleasures, I fear, that await you in the U.S. when your new president and his rag-bag of socialist hangers-on and politically correct bleeding hearts start getting properly into their stride.
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