Helen Martin: Animal cruelty is not lesser crime

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BY the time you read this I may have received lab results for our dog. But at the time of writing, I am beside myself and praying the result will be benign and not malignant. He is as much a part of the family as anyone else.

When my son comes back from university to raid the fridge and is told not to touch something earmarked for the dog, he grumbles: “That dog’s fed better than I am”, a slight exaggeration which can easily be handled by pointing out that, unlike him, the dog comes for his meals when called and doesn’t expect to eat whatever he fancies at three o’clock in the morning.

As dogs go he probably is quite pampered and certainly loved. Before we knew he would be having bits of himself sent away for analysis, we arranged to have people for dinner. Will I be crying over the asparagus? Chewing tastelessly at orange and almond cake seasoned with tears as I imagine what life might be like without the lovable hound?

Or will I be cracking open the champagne for the humans and a stink-to-high-heaven tripe stick for the dog in celebration of the all-clear?

At least I am not in Doris Russell’s shoes. She’s the owner of the 23-year-old Icelandic pony Hrafn, whose genitals were mutilated and who would have bled to death if he hadn’t been found. As it is he had to undergo emergency surgery which in itself poses dangers for an elderly animal.

Some people may feel the psychopathic, cruel, weirdo human being responsible needs some kind of help. Jail or extermination? Yes. Help, no. Hrafn’s poor old life is worth more.

Society’s relationship with animals is complex. We eat them, but some of us love them. Some hunt them with guns, dogs, traps and knives. Some people cleave to the simple idea that human life is always sacrosanct and comes before animal life which is expendable. Others, like me I admit, take the view that merit comes into the judgement. Kind human or gentle animal? That’s a tough call, probably save the human. Defenceless animal or cruel exploiter? No contest. Off with his genitals – and I don’t mean the pony.

As for the case of the pack of dogs who mauled a 14-year-old to death in Lancashire last week? Well, obviously they had to be put down. But it pains me to say it, because any owner who keeps five dogs in a house with a notice on her door saying “Beware of the dog . . . enter at your own risk” is clearly not the sort of person who should be allowed to keep an assertive goldfish, let alone anything with teeth and a brain. And it seems the height of criminal stupidity that the woman would allow her daughter’s friend – the victim in this case – to enter the house alone clutching a meat pie when it was clear the pack had virtually been trained, or allowed to behave, like guard dogs.

Like small children and the very elderly, animals are dependant. The responsibility lies with those who are meant to look after them. And just like children and the elderly, animals are largely defenceless and vulnerable to abusers.

Recent calls for there to be tougher sentences for those who are cruel to animals are hardly surprising because Scotland’s reputation at the moment isn’t good, as one look at the Scottish SPCA’s website will show.

Bat hit with pool cue... Cat shot with airgun... Emaciated dog found in bin shelter... Falcon poisonings... Cats poisoned... Guinea pigs abandoned... Kittens dumped... Elastic bands tied round cat... Cat found burned... Walking “skeleton” dog found... Snake abandoned... all 
terrible cases resulting in the organisation describing Scotland’s record of animal cruelty as “shameful” with an average of one person every week banned from keeping animals in 2012. It’s not enough of a penalty. Indeed I’d question – though the law obviously doesn’t – how anyone who can’t look after a pet can be expected to care for a child.

Those who still labour under the foolish notion that animal welfare always comes second to that of humans are missing the point. Cruel people are cruel. Neglectful people are neglectful. The links between motivation for the abuse of animals and humans are so strong that agencies exchange relevant information. Anyone capable of torturing a cat can torture a child or an adult and often does.

For the sake of humans as well as animals, Scotland has to get tougher on criminal sadists regardless of how many legs their victims have. Psychiatric evaluation and a long prison sentence is the least that should be handed out if Hrafn’s attacker is ever caught.