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Wrong sort of animal passions

It probably passed many of you by, but World Animal Week -- which aims to make the world a safer and more compassionate place for animals -- ended yesterday. It was sadly ironic, therefore, that this coincided with a number of horrific acts of cruelty perpetrated on defenceless animals, both internationally and at home.

With its month-long barrage of bangers, fireworks and bonfires, October is a month that most pet-owners have come to dread. A horrific case of cruelty occurred in Finglas recently when a young terrier had to be put down after thugs put a firework in its mouth.

According to Orla Aungier of Dublin SPCA, all of the defenceless animal's teeth and its entire bottom jaw were blown off in a senseless and wanton act of abuse.

"We are shocked and appalled," she says, "and it highlights the danger of fireworks being so easily available even though they are illegal."

I have three dogs and three 14-week-old puppies, and while out walking them all off the lead in a local field recently, I suddenly came upon a group of drunken youths presiding over a dangerous-looking bonfire. As they eyed me and the menagerie with sullen suspicion, I tried to still the panic rising in my chest as I attempted to divert my tiny, friendly, bouncy little puppies away from danger.

Sadly, I didn't trust the humans loitering beside the fire, knowing that every year a number of poor animals are deliberately burned to death by sick and disturbed people.

My gentle collie Suzie shied away from the group too and, alas, her distrust was borne of bitter experience. Having responded with tail-wagging delight when a teenage boy called her over recently, she then got a kick in the chest so vicious that she was knocked to the ground, as he and his gang roared laughing and ran off.

Last week, many of you will have been horrified at the TV footage of Ukrainian lion tamer Oleksie Pinko being attacked and mauled at a circus show in Lviv. I have zero sympathy for Mr Pinko or anyone like him who persists in "taming" beautiful, wild creatures for entertainment purposes, using whips, chains and sticks.

We enjoy the spectacles they perform for us, but alas it's very easy for us to ignore the reality of what actually happens to these living, breathing, feeling creatures.

On a press trip to Thailand last year, we were "treated" to the amazing sight of a baby elephant painting a picture of a flower, while its mahout appeared to be giving it direction by tugging gently at its ear. My fears were justified when I learnt later about the spike concealed in his palm to pierce the elephant's delicate ear, which made it quickly compliant and obedient.

I can never understand how anyone can justify visiting any part of Spain that holds bullfighting events, knowing that these poor creatures are stabbed, tortured and blinded in the name of sport. We all gasped in horror at the footage of the bull leaping into the crowd in Tafalla in Spain in August, which left 40 people injured, but nobody cared about the fear experienced by the poor animal.

Our callous disregard for animals is evident when you look at all of the starving and neglected horses around the country. Part of the problem stems from the Government's failure to close down markets like Smithfield, where horses can be bought by people who are unable to care for them for as little as €20. You may have seen pictures of the poor horse found in Dunsink in Finglas last week with a huge hole in its side and its ruptured spleen hanging out, which someone had attempted to contain with duct tape. Trying to rescue even some of these unfortunate creatures puts the limited resources of the animal welfare groups under extreme stress.

As the Government seems to largely ignore these issues, our only hope is Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley, who addressed an "animal welfare dinner" on his forthcoming Animal Health and Welfare bill earlier last week.

Having already banned stag hunting, Mr Gormley has, of course, become a hate figure for the likes of property developer Michael Bailey of the Ward Union Hunt, who lamented that Mr Gormley was ripping the heart out of Ireland's rural community, and was trying to create a city/rural divide.

I'm sick of this tired old defence of the indefensible, also trotted out by TD Mattie McGrath, who lost the Fianna Fail whip for voting against the stag hunting ban. What these people fail to realise is that far from being an urban/rural issue, it's actually a division along the lines of those who derive pleasure from activities related to hunting, coursing and shooting, and those who think that inflicting pain and suffering on a living, feeling creature is barbarous.

A major opinion poll carried out by Millward Brown, revealed that 68 per cent of those surveyed said foxhunting was cruel, and 64 per cent wanted an outright ban.

Whether World Animal Week made the world a safer and more compassionate place for animals is debatable. On the evidence of recent events in our own country, I wouldn't bet on it.

For more on animal welfare please see www.dspca.ie

Sunday Independent