A while ago I received a letter from PETA, “People for Ethical Treatment of Animals”, which claims to be the largest animal welfare organisation in the world. I see it more as an animal rights organisation than animal welfare, and there is a real difference. Its primary focus appears to be on political campaigning, rather than on animal welfare as such. Welfare is the kind of work that the RSPCA used to do, and in part still does, with shelters for abandoned animals, and dedicated inspectors actually checking up on cases of animals that may be mis-treated, and taking appropriate action.
The letter was signed by Ingrid E Newkirk, described as the Founder of PETA. She advised me that Switzerland had introduced a law requiring all dog-owners to take a mandatory training course, pass an exam, and obtain a licence before being allowed to keep a dog. She asked me to work towards introducing similar legislation in the EU.
Leaving aside my instinctive resistance to the idea of new EU laws, this is an appalling idea. I think there are about seven million homes in the UK with dogs, and while no doubt some are careless or even cruel, the great majority of British dog owners love and care for their charges, sometimes obsessively. It is right that RSPCA inspectors should follow up the minority of cases where dogs are mistreated. It is quite appalling that the great majority of responsible dog owners should face such prescriptive and intrusive regulation, and be required to submit to demeaning training courses and exams before they can continue to do what the already do perfectly well. This is the Nanny State run mad. Where are we to find enough trainers for seven million dog-owners? Think of the cost, the bureaucracy, the implementation, the enforcement. Only someone completely out-of touch with the way the world works could contemplate it.
What would the real consequences of such legislation be? Heartbreak for poor or elderly owners, already facing difficult economic times, as they were forced to choose between keeping Fido or paying the household bills. Many thousands of dogs no longer wanted, dumped on animal shelters, or on the street, or on the hard shoulders of motorways. A vast new waste of police time fpr enforcement. And probably little effect for the real targets of the measure. The cruel and the feckless would ignore the rule and wait for the enforcement to catch up.
I must say that I responded to Ingrid in rather sarcastic terms, saying that I wondered if the proposal were a spoof, despite it not being April 1st, and I referred to “Pets, or as you quaintly call them, companion animals”. “Companion animals” is a piece of politically-correct jargon that especially sticks in my craw. But I’m afraid that Ingrid was horrified. She responded with an intemperate letter, and not content with that, she circulated the correspondence to at least one regional newspaper in the East Midlands. I was happy to issue a rapid rebuttal.
Her response showed two of the propaganda techniques beloved of these extremists. They are worth describing, as we often see similar techniques used in a range of debates.
First of all, she argued that I had no interest in animal welfare because I dismissed her proposal with some asperity. We often see a similar ploy used in EU debates. If we oppose (say) a measure entitled “Women’s Rights”, the left attack us for not caring about such rights. In fact, we oppose the measure because it’s a bad measure, which in our view does not deliver (or may make matters worse). Another example: we in the Conservative Party want to repeal the European Human Rights Act, at least in part. Not because we fail to respect human rights; but because we believe that the Act frequently fails in its purpose, for example protecting the rights of criminals rather than the rights of victims or of the general public.
The truth is that I have done a great deal of work on animal welfare. I have worked very closely with what was the ILPH, now World Horse Welfare, on the issue of horse transportation and the associated EU legislation. I appeared for ILPH in a TV documentary they made. I have worked also with the Kennel Club. I am a supporter of The Retired Greyhound Trust, and I keep a rescue greyhound. I supported my colleague Struan Stevenson in his excellent campaign against the import of cat and dog fur.
Ingrid’s second ploy is another familiar one. Having obviously Googled my name, she listed a wide range of totally unrelated issues where I had made comments which caused her offence, and she tried (not very well) to damn my position on dog-owner-training by association.
In fact PETA turns out to be a very nasty organisation indeed. They raise money by playing the bleeding-heart card, but on their website they argue vehemently in defence of the “Animal Liberation Front” (ALF), an organisation that uses terrorist methods to attack organisations and activities of which they disapprove. PETA says that these extremists never attack people, only the assets and the equipment of those who (in their warped view) abuse animals. I’m not clear whether they also support the UK extremists who dug up, and held to ransom, the skeleton of Gladys Hammond, an elderly relative of a family raising animals for research, or whether they support the persistent and wicked harassment of companies like Huntington Life Sciences, and even of the staff of companies having fairly remote connections with animal research companies, including their financial advisers and building contractors.
These activities are sheer wickedness. PETA compares the ALF to the French underground. But you cannot compare our democracy to Nazi occupation. In a democracy, animal rights activists can campaign, lobby for new laws, even stand candidates in elections and vote for them. If we accept the PETA argument, then any minority has the right to resort to terrorism. Indeed by that logic, the smaller the minority, the less chance they have of succeeding with public opinion, so the more right they have to terrorise those they disagree with.
I suspect that PETA’s objective in calling for new restrictions on dog ownership is not animal welfare, but ultimately banning pet ownership entirely. This is such a way-out idea that it is scarcely credible. Yet their web-site says that animals are sentient beings with rights, who should not be used for food, for clothing, for animal experiments or any other reason (my emphasis). That “any other purpose” is very general indeed, and clearly hints at their primary objective — no pets at all. If you were thinking of supporting an animal charity, or leaving a legacy, maybe you should avoid PETA, and prefer instead the ILPH or the Retired Greyhound Trust. Animal welfare, not animal rights.
Update:- See the vile material that PETA is sending to children:- http://www.furisdead.com/pdfs/mommykills.pdf