Grey Squirrel - photo by Simon (Flickr)
In the UK we have the very effective Animal Welfare Act 2006. This is a beautifully drafted, precise but wide ranging act. If all the nations of the world simply copied it and placed it in their statute books, the world would be an immeasurably better place. Hundreds of millions of animals would be saved from suffering, abuse and death at the hands of humankind.
Now, a lot of people will disagree with me. Of course they will because they like to hurt animals. I don't know the figures but the percentage of people on this planet who are either apathetic about hurting animals, reckless or maliciously active in hurting and abusing them is high. The world is horribly divided on how to treat other animals (we are animals too lets not forget).
One such example was the drowning of a grey squirrel by a 58 year old man in Burton on Trent. As I understand it many people in the UK don't like grey squirrels. Many people kill them and they do it secretly. They get away with it despite the fact that it is almost certainly a crime punishable by a maximum of 51 weeks imprisonment and a £20,000 fine.
A neighbour of mind was trapping them and killing them because they damaged the trees. I have never seen a tree damaged by a grey squirrel but I am sure someone will correct me. Another neighbour of mine stopped him but it was a struggle.
It now transpires that what he was doing was probably a crime. The Burton on Trent man caught a grey squirrel in a trap and drowned it. He was protecting his bird feeder he said.
The RSPCA brought a test case and won. It was probably overdue. Many people are angry because they see the grey squirrel as a pest; a non-native species that damages trees and kills birds and which has pushed out the red squirrel and so on.
That is irrelevant. Animal welfare is not about whether we like or dislike an animal. It is not about making judgments about the behavior of an animal. It is about animal cruelty and abuse, pure and simple. And this person was cruel to this squirrel because he killed it in a way that caused suffering despite his argument that the squirrel died almost instantly. Rubbish - an animal does not drown instantly.
I was prompted to jot down this post by Eliza, who this morning, 24th July 2010, wrote a comprehensive article on animal welfare law in Ohio, USA. It is all about treating our fellow animals with respect and decency and it does not matter what type of animal it is. They are all equal under this excellent law in England and Wales. Not all our laws are as good.
If we learn to treat our animals well it can only create a better society for all creatures including us. If the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was law in the USA, 99% of the US veterinarians would become criminals overnight as would the cat owners who asked the vet to declaw their cat! The jails would fill up and there would be hundreds of millions of dollars in fines! Ohio would get the law it needs too.
That is a vision that makes me smile.