The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Our dumb citizens

by Margaret Duggan

A dustman in Lewisham, in the act of tipping the contents of a bin in the back of his lorry, saw a live kitten about to disappear under the steel teeth of the machinery which compresses the rubbish. He grabbed it just in time and took it to Mrs Joan Watson. The kitten was small and pathetic, and she hated to think what might have happened to its brothers and sisters. As so often in the past, she made room for it among her own collection of pets.

It was Mrs. Watson who recently wrote the official letter to the General Synod's Board for Social Responsibility telling them of the resolution passed at a recent conference of the Christian Consultative Council for the Welfare of Animals. The Council had discussed the Faith in the City report and regretted that, in their account of the sufferings of humans in deprived inner-city areas, the authors had made no mention of the suffering of animals in the same areas. The Council's resolution called for a supplementary report on the subject.

The CCCWA has no shortage of evidence that people can be so frustrated and brutalised by their environment that they turn to inflict the cruelty on others that they feel has been inflicted on themselves. Their victims are usually the weak and defenceless; and this can mean torturing animals as well as battering babies and abusing small children. The facts show that the two often go together. One sort of cruelty and neglect leads to the other.

Mrs. Watson speaks with feeling of the cases she has known in her area. At least two dogs have been thrown out of high-rise flats: one in the middle of a row between husband and wife, the other in a fit of temper by a maladjusted teenager. Both dogs were dead of multiple injuries by the time the RSPCA inspector reached them.

Animals also suffer from drug-abuse - in humans. Two cats were found nailed to doors by addicts who were high at the time.

The recent publicity about organised dog-fights gave the impression that this horrible pastime took place out of town. Mrs. Watson has had plenty of evidence that this is also a "sport" of the inner cities, usually held in derelict buildings. Cats and kittens are used as bait to train the dogs, and their torn and dismembered bodies have frequently been found.

RSPCA inspectors say that reported cases of cruelty have recently increased by thirty-three per cent, only some of which can be accounted for by people being more ready to telephone with their suspicions. They believe that it simply follows the pattern of other violence in society, much of it exacerbated by deprivation.

Some of the cases of animal cruelty are quite clearly the result of people finding that they can no longer cope with a pet. The kitten in the dustbin was probably a case in point. Unwanted litters of kittens are commonly put live into the rubbish chutes of blocks of flats. Many dogs, cats and birds are left to starve in empty flats when their human owners move on to other accommodation. The Battersea Dogs' Home always takes in a record number of abandoned puppies that have been given as presents at Christmas-time, or dogs that have been set loose when their owners have gone on holiday.

Cruelty and callousness towards animals is always a sign of something seriously wrong with the humans concerned, because compassion, sympathy and concern cannot be compartmentalised. Cruelty breeds cruelty. The bully was nearly always bullied himself. The violent parent was almost always the child of violent parents. Children who are themselves abused will turn on a creature smaller than themselves to inflict cruelty in their turn - like the small boy who set fire to a cat.

But it would be wrong to think of the terrible things done to animals simply in terms of symptoms of human suffering. The animals themselves should be a matter of concern to all Christians; for they, too, are sensate beings, creatures of the same Creator as ourselves, and we have every reason to think that they feel pain as we do.

For the time being there can be no question of a special supplement to Faith in the City on animals in urban priority areas; there simply is no available money for the commission to continue its work and produce a further report. But the Board for Social Responsibility has promised to pass the matter to its Environmental Issues Reference Panel, which is to produce a major report on environmental ethics. That, for the moment, is all that the Christian Consultative Council for the Welfare of Animals can hope for; that - and a growth in the number of Christians who recognise in animals the distant cousins of the human family.

From the Church Times dated 4 April 1986.

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