The issue of cruelty to animals is ever present in the modern world, as we progress from the dark ages – where it was deemed perfectly acceptable to slaughter cute cuddly animals to a God of your choosing – we become much more humane and prefer to keep them as pets. As a result of this, we tend to become outraged by cases where people treat our fellow creatures like dirt. A student of York was recently summoned to court for thinking it would be absolutely hilarious to cook whilst drunk, the main ingredient being a hamster. The student involved, James White, was accused of frying the hamster, and the poor creature was discovered the next morning curled up in a frying pan. Although it is unclear whether the animal was cooked alive – White claims that he is unsure whether he killed the hamster – it is without a doubt that his actions were disgusting, drunk or not. The judge sentenced Mr. White to 120 hours community service and fined him £1,000; as well as a ban on keeping animals. Upon sentencing, the judge stated “had that sadistic conduct [cooking the hamster alive] been established I would be dealing with you in a far more serious way than I am”. To many people, including myself, the act of frying someone’s pet is abhorrent and should be severely punished, but it also raises the question of, where do we draw the line with animals?
By that I mean, say the poor hamster had already perished by the time White found it and decided to fry it, is that still disgusting and cruel? Bearing in mind we regularly slaughter animals and fry their remains to make delicious bacon sandwiches. It’s a sensitive issue, as demonstrated by the recent horror over horse meat being used in value ‘beef’ burgers. Animals have always been treated as less valuable than humans, often being the subjects of medical and cosmetic testing. Though there have been complaints about the mistreatment of animals in medical testing, using our furry friends has helped to develop important vaccinations and treatments for the likes of diabetes and other fatal illnesses. In fact, although animals are subjected to many unpleasant things in the name of medical research, they have also benefitted; for example, two fatal illnesses in cats have since been discovered and vaccines created. However, one could argue that whilst animals are vital in medical research, using them for the benefits of creating cosmetics is vain and un-necessary; resulting in the EU recently enforcing a ban on the sale of cosmetics which were developed through animal testing, after much campaigning and celebrity support from the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Sienna Miller.
Another bone of contention for the animal lovers of Britain comes from the Grand National, first run in 1839 and held at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. Animal rights activists have long campaigned to have it modified or banned, as the horse deaths in the Grand National are higher than your average steeplechase – reports suggesting there around six deaths per 439 horses between 2000 and 2010. Aintree officials have taken note, and worked with welfare organisations to improve the course and veterinary facilities, including a surgery constructed in the stable yard in order to treat injured horses more rapidly. Whilst these changes are somewhat comforting, there are still calls for the race to be abolished completely, as some argue the horses ‘do not want to race’ and that it is cruel to hold such an event as a form of entertainment. These arguments are certainly valid, and some of the jockeys could learn to be gentler with their whip; but these competing horses are bred to race. Horses enjoy physical exercise and take great pleasure in being ridden. In fact, if not ridden enough horses become unhappy and restless. Furthermore, if we banned horse racing, would use would we have for horses? They’re hardly a household pet, and there is outrage when we try to put horse flesh in our food; therefore by banning horse racing there wouldn’t really be any specific role for horses, other than being occasionally strutted round a field for children learning to ride.
Overall, animal rights will remain an issue as long as there are humans to mistreat them, and it seems unlikely that a satisfying solution for all will be discovered any time soon. Whilst animals can be our greatest friend in the home as domesticated pets, animals are also our main source of nourishment and allow us to safely find cures for diseases without endangering human life.