Ian O'Doherty: We like to think we're animal lovers, but our cruel behaviour shows us up
It was the kind of situation that every child would relish. You are walking along, minding your own business and there it is -- a badly injured horse in extreme distress.
So, presumably, you immediately run to the nearest adult, alert the closest neighbour, save the horse and save the day.
What could be better for a kid than doing that? You've saved the life of an animal and proved to people around you that you're a good guy -- hell, you might even be able to blag an extra trip to the cinema from your parents in reward for your civic, humane behaviour.
Instead, however, what happened in Finglas this week is a rather more horrifying snap shot of the society we live in -- some kids came across an injured horse and had a great idea. Rescuing the injured animal was obviously a boring way to spend their free time so they covered the stricken creature in straw and tried to set it on fire.
Mercifully, some passers-by scared off the little bastards and while the horse was subsequently put down, at least that was done humanely and it didn't have to suffer the agony of death by immolation.
At the time of writing, these shits haven't been apprehended.
But one can only hope that they're caught, not by the authorities, who would probably recommend a course of therapy and anger management for them, but by some animal lovers who know that the only appropriate treatment for the kind of scum who would do this to a horse is a good bloody hiding.
We Irish like to consider ourselves a nation of animal lovers but that is simply not the case.
Last year, 106 abandoned horses had to be rescued in the greater Dublin area alone, with more than half of them ultimately being put down and prosecutions for animal cruelty and neglect were few and far between.
It's a disgusting statistic, but you only have to drive through particular areas of west and north Dublin to see horses roaming freely, badly tended to and weak and emaciated.
In the best case scenario, these horses are at least looked after by their young owners to the best of their ability. But in many other instances, they aren't even seen as living, sentient creatures; they're viewed, rather, as disposable playthings to be discarded, or worse, to be tortured, whenever the mood takes.
You can tell a lot about someone by the way they treat animals. And the way we treat animals says a lot of bad things about us.
The horse this week, the horse that was scared into running onto the canal and drowning the week before, the donkey that was discovered before Christmas tightly wrapped in barbed wire -- these are just some vivid examples of sadistic, perverse behaviour that indicates some serious psychological deformities on the part of the perpetrators.
It's not just equestrian abuse of course. I know people who volunteer in dog rescue shelters and this is the worst time of the year for them.
Incredibly, people still insist on getting pets for Christmas. Once the initial excitement and novelty has worn off and the reality of trying to house-train a puppy with a small and frequent bladder begins to lose its charm, the animals are, if they are lucky, shipped off to a rescue centre and dumped outside.
In fact, the shelter where I got one of my dogs, Sam, has even asked me not to publish their address, because they are plagued by people simply driving up the gate, throwing the dog out of the car -- sometimes while the car is still moving -- and then driving off. And, even more incredibly, a dog was dumped outside the place on Christmas Day, which is surely a record for someone losing interest in their present.
People from the country often sniff at city dwellers' attitude towards animals.
After all, in rural areas, animals are tools to be utilised. Dubliners, on the other hand, are characterised as being soft touches, prone to anthropomorphising their pet and basically being rather silly about them.
Yet in my experience, animals are often treated better in the country than they are in the city.
After all, for every moron who has taken one leaf too many from Paris Hilton's book and decided that it would 'cute' to walk around with a dog in their bag there is someone who is guilty of far graver offences.
Dog fighting in urban areas, for example, is now a major problem and it's on the increase. But when someone gets busted for it, they're more likely to face a fine than they are to face jail time. The relative lack of punishment, plus the comparatively large sums of money on offer make it a lucrative trade for sickos.
What I've always found baffling about dog fighting is why do it when there are humans willing to go bare-knuckle boxing to the death?
After all, at least the men -- and, incredibly, now women are getting involved in bare-knuckle bouts, which I suppose is a strange example of equality -- have made a free choice to knock the shite out of each other, the dogs have no such luxury. And, contrary to the prejudice faced by dogs such as pitbulls and rottweilers, these animals often don't want to fight, so what do the organisers do? They kidnap smaller dogs and cut them -- known as 'blooding' -- and get the scent into the fighting dogs' adrenal glands, leading to the fight.
So, what can we do about it?
Personally, I've a standing order with Dogs Trust, a rescue centre which helps house dogs which otherwise have been put down, but everyone can do their bit, even if it is only small. And if you do have a pet, give it an extra treat tonight and thank your lucky stars that it will never end up like a horse in Finglas.