Archive for May, 2012

Two recent incidents give me a good reason to write about China.

The first was a request to support a campaign against Chinese fur farms. That brought back a few old memories. In 1995, I left my position as Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports. I was not the only one, as a number of staff members also walked out. Over the next few weeks almost half the committee departed. Clearly, our views on animal welfare did not fit with those who had now grasped the reins of that organisation.

What had not occurred, though those remaining at the LACS did their level best to claim otherwise, was a change of heart concerning animal welfare. It may be that the thinking at LACS does not permit it, but animal welfare does not start and end with the issue of hunting with dogs.

It was shortly after I left the LACS that I received a call from a public relations firm acting on behalf of the International Fur Trade Federation. They’d heard about my departure and thought that I might be an interesting speaker at a forthcoming conference to be held in Brussels on how to combat the anti-fur movement. I would be paid – and paid very handsomely – to talk about how the fur trade might respond. What they overlooked was the fact that while I knew something about animal rights groups, I also knew about the fur trade and I definitely do not agree with it or wish to support it in any way. The offer was refused.

My reasons for seeing hunting with dogs in a different light to that of some of my former LACS colleagues were purely to do with not wanting to create a worse situation for wildlife (something that has indeed happened since the passing of the Hunting Act). Since that time, the welfare benefits of using scenting hounds have become even clearer to me. I am not an animal rightist, but I believe strongly in animal welfare and I can see no justification for incarcerating millions of animals, in conditions that could not possible allow for their natural behaviours, for the reasons of profit, glamour and ego. Nor can it be right to trap even more animals for the same purpose, often using brutal methods long outlawed in this country, though not in all Western countries, as a scan of American and Canadian websites will testify. The mentality of the trappers featured is beyond me and proves that barbarity exists even in countries that would claim to be civilised and have robust animal welfare legislation.

Fur farming was banned in this country under the Labour government – and rightly so, in my view. Those who argued against the closure of these farms put forward the defence that there is no difference between the farming of fur-bearing animals and the farming of animals for food. That argument fails on a number of levels, not least in the conditions in which the animals are kept and in any case such an argument does not impress a vegetarian. Yet if those farms were bad, they were nothing as compared to the manner in which dogs and other animals are bred or caught, held, transported, brutalised and killed in China and certain other Asian countries, where no animal welfare laws exist.

The Chinese fur industry is perhaps now the fastest growing in the world and yet if anyone took just a few moments to watch some of the horrendous scenes of animal cruelty and slaughter, they would surely never buy fur again. Animals that are not even considered worthy of a quick death to end their pain are often skinned alive, their unrecognisable bloody bodies left to slowly expire. No one with an ounce of compassion could ever support such an industry. Fur from China is known to be on sale across the world, including the UK, usually unlabelled and in all sorts of goods.

A racoon dog still alive after being skinned

The simple message has to be ‘Do not buy fur’, whether it is a coat, fur trim or meaningless trinket.

China does not currently have any animal welfare laws, but there is one under consideration and if this next story is anything to go by, there are grounds for optimism.

Xiao Yong and his friends were taking part in a marathon cycle ride from Chendu in central China to Lhasa, a journey of some 1000 miles. A few days out, a small white female mongrel crossed their path. Mr Xiao threw her a piece of chicken and the little dog started to follow them, staying with them for the rest of the 20 day trip. Together they climbed 12 mountains, with Xiao Sa, as she is now named, running up to almost 40 miles a day. 

Xiao Sa has now been adopted by Mr Xiao and become something of a sensation in China. Even the veterinary hospital that checked her over waived their fee. Originally thinking that little Xiao Sa was simply after food, her new owner said, “I can now see a bond between us from the way she looks at me.”

Xiao Sa on her epic journey

A simple act of compassion towards a small stray dog may have done more to change attitudes in China than we will ever know. Other incidents point to a growing public disgust at blatant cruelty towards animals, in particular the eating of dogs and cats.

In March 2011, ten Chinese law professors appealed to the national government to protect animals from cruelty and legislation has now been drafted.  Chang Jiwen, the law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who heading the drafting team, acknowledged the growing support for animal welfare saying, “China has begun to be aware of the importance of animal welfare because it touches on the economy, trade, religion, and ethics,” he said when asked about the prospects of the proposal becoming law. “The future is bright, but the path ahead will be tortuous.”

That route is certainly far greater than little Xiao Sa’s epic journey.

Xiao Sa and her new friends



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A better society

It’s estimated that from 1997 up to the passing of the Hunting Act in 2004, the three main anti-hunting organisations (the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and IFAW) spent almost £30 million on various anti-hunting bills, including the measure that eventually became law.

This figure does not include the costs to the public purse incurred through the Burns Inquiry, the Portcullis House Hearings and the on-going financial burden on the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts.

When the Hunting Act was passed the following statements were made by these organisations:

“…the RSPCA heralds this ban on hunting with dogs as marking a watershed in the development of a more civilised society for people and animals.”


The ban on hunting with dogs will radically change the landscape of animal welfare in the UK…”


The hunting ban is a massive leap forwards to the creation of a decent and humane society.”

League Against Cruel Sports

And yet…

  • In July 2005, the RSPCA announces a 78% rise in animal cruelty cases
  • In July 2006, the RSPCA says that conviction cases had risen by 20%
  • In April 2007, the RSPCA reveals that its workload had increased by 50%
  • In April 2008, the RSPCA states that cases of abandoned pets rose by 25%
  • In May 2011, the RSPCA says that cases of alleged cruelty rose by 10%
  • In April 2012, the RSPCA states that cases of cruelty have risen by 23.5%

Without a single penny being spent on any form of research or survey into the effect the Hunting Act has had on wildlife, the anti-hunting groups continue to doggedly argue that somehow this law has been a milestone for animal welfare. The enormous amount of money that has been spent, and continues to be spent, appears to be an irrelevancy.

I am not one of those people who think that large amounts of money spent on animal welfare is a waste – quite the reverse. As can been seen from the statistics above, animal welfare in these hard economic times seems to be deteriorating, rather than getting better, so it makes it all the more important that funds raised are directed to genuine causes.

The RSPCA recently said that it is facing a funding crisis, with rising costs and legacies dropping. So it is all the more bewildering that the charity can still find money to prosecute members of the Heythrop Hunt for allegedly hunting a fox with hounds – a process that is selective and non-wounding, unlike the other methods of control left legal.

So much for that better society.

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