My friend Julia was aghast some twenty years ago when she realised my addiction to a programme called Pet Rescue. It was on most afternoons and in those days of videotape, I used to record it to watch when I got home. Both Julia and I worked in a place where daily we witnessed sadness and human beings suffering. I found Pet Rescue cathartic.It lasted a bare thirty minutes, including ad breaks (I think it was on Channel 4) and I would do a lot of weeping as I watched the stories of animal rescue, of abandoned neglected animals restored to health and rehomed in loving environments.
I found it hopeful.
Julia said it was the most low brow thing she had ever seen.
My viewing habits haven’t changed. Pet Rescue is no more, and after Rolf Harris’ horrific fall from grace Animal Hospital is something no one mentions anymore, but there’s still Paul O’Grady’s For the Love of Dogs, The Supervet with the astounding team at FitzPatrick Referrals, Rescue Dog to Super Dog (last one tomorrow night), and tonight Channel 5’s The Dog Rescuers.
Yes, Channel 5. Quite possibly the worst TV channel in the world. If Julia thought Pet Rescue low brow, goodness knows what she makes of Channel 5. She probaby has to lie down for half an hour under a damp tea towel at the very thought. I must ask her the next time we meet.
But low brow or not, I learn a lot from these programmes. I have understood how people are forced to give up pets when they move into accommodation where pets aren’t allowed; that buying pets from pet shops encourages the breeding of cats and dogs for profit and welfare is a low priority; that puppy farming is a major problem. I can nod knowingly when people talk of equines suffering from laminitis. Should I ever have a Shetland Pony (which is unlikely, but you never know) it will not be grazed on rich pasture. I can give a fairly accurate prognosis for a sick animal by listening to the music played while its case is discussed; I’ve learned about dogs suffering separation anxiety; how you must never use an ammonia based product when cleaning up where a cat has sprayed or peed.
I have also learned that pets bring out the best and worst in people. There are cases of appalling cruelty, where I seriously wonder if we are all part of the same species, or if there are those who have somehow evolved with empathy and sympathy missing from their make up. One little dog featured in the progarmme tonight had been stolen by a group of teenagers thought to be high on drugs, He’d been kicked, beaten, his neck and leg broken. He’d been set on fire, left for dead. Amazingly he was found, treated and made a full recovery. His story went viral.
It’s a lovely story. And to see that happy dog back with his openers, eyes button bright, tail wagging, is wonderful. But as I heard the story tonight I couldn’t help but compare his experience with those dogs currently being put through similar tortures during the Yulin Dogmeat Festival. Some of those dogs were also stolen from homes where they were loved. All those dogs, sentient creatures, will experience fear and pain to degrees it is impossible for me to understand. Their eventual deaths will be a release. Imagine learning your loved pet has gone through that hell. I look at MasterB, rescued from the streets of Brighton by the students who then rehomed him with me. In another part of the world his story could have had a very different ending. The idea of my happy, trusting, gentle boy being subjected to such horrors twists my heart.
I know the world is starting to turn its gaze on the Yulin festival, but where I live, in the UK, trade with China is considered too important for my government to raise issues of human and animal abuses with China. (We also continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia with its appaling human rights record.)
Marc Ching is there in Yulin recording, documenting. His own life at risk. I can offer him moral support, financial support, but I think the best bthing I can do is to boycott goods made in China until this ‘festival’ and any others like it are history. If we all did the same, and let China know why, the economic impact would make a swift difference. But of course we shan’t. We don’t see these horrors first hand. It’s easier to turn a blind eye, even to the words Made in China printed on the sole of a shoe, stitched into a garment.
Which is exactly what the Chinese government, and any other government or enterprise that allows the exploitation of animals or people wants us to do. For the sake of our pockets, we lose our innocence and turn our backs on those we might save. But blood is on our hands. And I don’t know how we wash ourselves clean.
Marc Ching is trying. He rescues as many dogs from the slaughterhouses as he can. Astoundingly, these dogs, who have seen us humans at our worst, will trust us; will become loving pets in family homes. Truly, we have much to learn from animals about forgiveness.