Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: Animal Welfare

Killing Dogs – Again

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday January 15 2012.


The present-day Sri Lankan Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena made a statement in Kalutara on January 6, 2012, that he has decided to revive the policy of killing street dogs “in the traditional way”.


If I have any regular readers, they will have noticed that I am not a great fan of tourism. However, if Sri Lanka really does want to attract tourists it would be a good idea to provide hotel rooms that don’t have stained towels, filthy rugs and alien hairs in the bedding. Another good strategy would be to avoid-cutting paying customers’ throats and sexually assaulting foreign women on the beaches. Calling it “Eve-Teasing” really does not make it into a quaint and lovable local custom. The New York Times has dropped Sri Lanka from its list of recommended holiday destinations.

A very painful process

Another quaint local custom foreign tourists probably will not appreciate is filling the streets with dead dogs. Calling mass slaughter of street dogs the “traditional way” makes it sound like one of those quaint old folk ways that tourists will flock to see.

Back in 2002, I was strolling past the Bandarawela Hotel in the tea country, a favourite destination even then for western tourists, and also crowded with visitors from all over Sri Lanka during public holidays.

I thought I noticed two sleeping dogs huddled together, prone on the sidewalk. A few hundred yards on I saw two more prone dogs. Then there was another three and they were covered with flies; the dogs were making no efforts to dislodge the flies. All along Dharmavijaya Mawatha and back along Main Street, dogs lay motionless on the pavement. Crows were pecking the eyeballs of some. Outside a stall on the market selling vadais, a dog was a seething mass of bluebottles, which were also sampling the vadais and moving along to the fish and meat stalls.


This was a consequence of the “traditional way”. The “traditional way” is a very painful process. Dogs undergo immense suffering after the poison is injected, sometimes writhing in agony for hours, jerking with muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth.


Horrifying films

Being of an interfering nature, always interfering with nature, we decided to do something about this situation and tried to organise our own sterilisation programme with a friend who is a veterinarian. She took us to a meeting of vets and medical officers of health at the Uva Provincial council Health HQ. The chief government vet Dr PAL Harischandra and Dr Nilamani Hewageegana, who was then deputy provincial director of Health services for Uva Province, addressed the meeting.

We saw horrifying films of actual rabies victims in their death throes, strapped to hospital beds, screaming and writhing and frothing at the mouth. They crave something to quench their thirst but scream in agony at the sight of water. They cut their own arteries as they frenziedly crash through glass in a vain attempt to escape from the horror.


Every ten minutes, somewhere in the world, someone dies from rabies infection. Of the reported cases, 30-50% are children under 15.

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease but it is still a public health problem in many countries in Asia, even though safe, effective vaccines for both human and veterinary use exist. Most of the 50,000 deaths from rabies reported annually around the world occur in Asia, and most of the victims are children.


Knowledge of these horrendous facts might be a deterrent to someone planning a holiday in Sri Lanka.


Back in 2002, Dr Hewageegana invited us to her home one evening and gave us advice on how we might approach our modest project. We did not have any huge ambitions but hoped we could help in a small way. Dr Hewageegana informed us that she was having discussions with the chairman of the Urban District Council about her Healthy cities project. During the course of those discussions she had received an assurance from him that the slaughter of street dogs in his bailiwick would cease.


Dr Harischandra corresponded with us regularly, gave us helpful advice and invited us to meetings and seminars.


In 2005, scrawny dogs patrolled the wreckage after the tsunami. There were scare stories in the press about thousands of starving and desperate dogs roaming the night, biting people and eating human corpses. The government veterinary service, led by Dr Harischandra courageously resisted calls for mass slaughter of stray dogs and took the opportunity, with the support of tireless local vets, foreign volunteers and the then Minister of Health, Nimal Siripala de Silva, to carry out a programme of mass anti-rabies vaccinations and sterilisation of dogs.


In June 2006, President Rajapaksa’s website proudly carried a letter from Monika Kostner in Germany: “Mr President, let me congratulate you on the path that you have chosen. Please continue pursuing it. I greatly welcome your pledge to bring stringent laws against cruelty to animals. Do not give way to those political forces and vested interests, which are keen to continue the outdated, cruel treatment of animals. After all, they are living and feeling creatures.”


Visakha Tillekeratne, one of the five trustees of the Animal Welfare Trust, responded thus to Minister Sirisena’s statement: “I believe he is being wrongly advised.” Animal welfare groups united to explain that mass slaughter has been shown in many countries to be ineffective. Sterilization is the only solution.


Unfortunately, a good policy established by Nimal Siripala de Silva has been bungled and undermined by greed and corruption. Nevertheless, despite what Minister Sirisena claims, rabies deaths in Sri Lanka have reduced, not increased. The Epidemiology Unit of the Health Ministry said that the number of deaths caused by rabies dropped in Sri Lanka by 50% last year compared to the deaths reported during 2006 to 2010. According to Health Education Bureau statistics, 18 rabies deaths  were reported from the Western Province in 2009, while this figure had dropped to 11 in 2010 as a result of a number of awareness programmes carried out by local government institutions in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.


We thought we were making progress when a dog-lover, Nimal Siripala de Silva, whose wife is an animal welfare activist, was health minister, and the president, many times reiterated his no-kill policy. Thanks to Minister Sirisena, Sri Lanka is again being shamed. An international petition is being organized and is attracting comments like: “Sri Lanka, the world is watching you.”


Champa Fernando of KACPAW speculated: “Is he trying to bring discredit to the president? The No-Kill policy came from the president and this is the only humane way.”


The president had said that mass slaughter was against the Buddhist philosophy of living in harmony.

Minister Sirisena had said some sin , must be committed in order to gather merit.


Health Ministry spokesman WMD Wanniniyaike Iater said that there was no move to kill stray dogs and said that Minister Sirisena’s remarks had been taken out of context. Let us see how long it is before this subject comes up again.


My Dog Tosca

A version of this article appeared in Lakbima News on February 13 2011. For some unaccountable reason they chose to illustrate it with stock photos of fluffy cute puppies rather than use the pictures of the real Tosca which I provided. I restore the real Tosca here.


Some people have pets thrust upon them. I don’t mean in the Richard Gere kind of way (that story about a gerbil was an urban myth apparently). I mean that, although I did not have much experience of pets as a child, now I am surrounded by animals. A misguided aunt gave me a tortoise called Cuthbert whom I was too young to understand or appreciate. It seems that I killed him trying to wake him up not realising he was hibernating. As Dorothy Parker said on hearing of the death of President Calvin Coolidge, “How could they tell?”

We briefly had budgie that my father won in a raffle. It was very cranky, refused to speak or sing and pecked us whenever we went near it. One day we found it at the bottom of the cage, toes curled up. Perhaps its depression was induced by an identity crisis – he was called Paddy, as was my father (whose real name was Jeremiah), my uncle, my cousin and my goodself. I was too young to understand how cruel it is to keep a creature of flight in a cage. As William Blake almost wrote: “A budgerigar in a cage/Puts heaven in a rage”.

I tended to avoid animals after that but in later life they started coming after me. I was once sleeping with the windows open during a hot Wimbledon summer when I woke to find a black cat on my chest. This was Charlotte who had crawled across the roof from next door. After that, she often used to come through the back door and sit on my lap watching TV. Charlotte was particularly fond of football – one could see her head moving from side to side, as she intently followed the flow of the play.

My good lady wife suffered from a similar kind of animal magnetism, initially with cats. Bumble was dominating her household when I first met her but I understand Socks had preceded him as an uninvited guest. Bumble expired but soon Lucy, Uncle Monty and Maurice took up residence. Throughout our married life, we have found that there is some kind of feline equivalent of Facebook which allows the animals to know when a space has become available.

We took three cats with us to Ireland. When they departed in various ways, three Irish cats arrived to replace them. We brought those three with us to Sri Lanka. In Ireland, three disreputable dogs came to the house every day to take us for a walk.

Since coming to Sri Lanka over eight years ago, we have been inundated with dogs through no fault of our own. I had thought about writing something called “Reigning Cats and Dogs” but found that someone had already used that title. We first lived in rented accommodation in Bandarawela. The owners claimed to be animal lovers but threatened to poison a couple of street bitches that hung around the place and ordered their workers to beat them. Those people have since gone to their heavenly reward.

I noticed Tosca on my way to the kade. She had a horrible abscess hanging out of one eye but had a very benign expression. Dogs are not supposed to smile but she seemed to do so, beatifically. She seemed to take to us and, somewhat nervously started approaching our house. One night we noticed her sleeping in a drain near the house and she was not alone. A female companion, who later became known as Daisy, was huddling with her for warmth.



We gradually, in the face of disapproval from the owners and the neighbours, adopted these two as our own, although we could in no way believe that we owned them.

Unfortunately, Tosca, in particular, became prey to the rampaging males of the area and was often subjected to gang-rape. One rather timid fellow we named The Suitor, was doing the business when Hendrick, a disreputable one-eyed old roué who lived on the estate and considered he had prior rights, urinated on him in mid-coitus.

The result of all this attention was a litter of pups. One very small one died soon. Two of them were later found homes and given the names Lucky (a bad choice) and Sando. More of those later. Silky remained with us and is still here today in the home we moved to six years ago.

When the pups were first born, Tosca was perhaps not an ideal mother. One got the feeling that she thought a different kind of life was her due. She remained rather plump after the pregnancy and she reminded me of one of those 1950s blonde pneumatic movie stars like Mamie van Doren or Jayne Mansfield (I’m showing my age here, readers). She would often abandon the pups and come to hide from them with us in the sit-out. The little monsters always managed to find her and squawk and bite and scratch at her abused undercarriage.

Luckily, we knew a good vet who was able to perform surgery at our home to remove the abscess from the eye and to sterilise her. A lot of veterinary attention was needed. On one occasion, she seemed very ill and was hiding in the bushes. The vet thought she might have been poisoned. We took her to the Veterinary Faculty at Peradeniya where she was admitted for observation. Tosca loved motor travel. In fact, she demanded to get in whenever we went shopping. Children looked in and told their parents there was a beautiful dog in the car. She serenely took such compliments as her due. If she saw another dog passing by she would bark at it imperiously.

The journey to Peradeniya was not too difficult, but Tosca clearly did not think the accommodation was up to her standards. When we went to collect her after six days she was very huffy and walked briskly to a white car and demanded to be let in. Unfortunately, it was someone else’s car.

When we moved to our own house, Tosca, Daisy, Hendrick and Silky came with us. The intricate social dynamics of this ménage, particularly the antics of Tosca and Daisy in their lesbian love nest, must be the subject for another article (or scholarly thesis or porn movie).


Tosca continued to enjoy her status as motor-mutt with the plus of long walks through the tea estate and mud-baths, the dirtier the better. She is no longer with us. Like most street dogs, she once had a home with humans who abandoned her. She endured with dignity. She survived a long time after being diagnosed with mouth cancer. I am not ashamed of appearing sentimental when I say that I hope we added something to her life.


In the New York Review of Books, Catherine Schine reviewed an animated movie version of JR Ackerley’s wonderful memoir My Dog Tulip.

“What strained and anxious lives dogs must lead, so emotionally involved in the world of men, whose affections they strive endlessly to secure, whose authority they are expected unquestionably to obey, and whose mind they never can do more than imperfectly reach and comprehend. Stupidly loved, stupidly hated, acquired without thought, reared and ruled without understanding, passed on or ‘put to sleep’ without care, did they, I wondered, these descendants of the creatures who, thousands of years ago in the primeval forests, laid siege to the heart of man, took him under their protection, tried to tame him, and failed—did they suffer from headaches?’

Animal Welfare Bill

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on July 2 2014


Some years ago, Sri Lankan newspapers interviewed an English animal welfare activist. They allowed her to voice her view that as a nation Sri Lanka is particularly cruel to animals because of the number of and condition of street dogs. The Sunday Leader quoted her: ‘”We were overcome by the quiet despair, misery and silent suffering of thousands of strays, pets, wildlife and livestock alike.” The journalist writing the piece did not put forward any counter arguments or ask any incisive questions. This seemed to me an example of a kind of masochism prevalent among some Sri Lankans. There is a kind of pride in claiming that Sri Lankan politicians are the most corrupt. Now it seems a matter of pride that Sri Lanka is the cruellest nation on earth to animals.

I wrote in these pages on May 21 about a particularly horrific example of cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka. The widespread disgust that that case caused indicated that cruelty was not the norm in this country. Driving around Sri Lanka, I have noticed that one rarely sees dead animals on the roads. Even the most maniacal bus drivers seem to avoid running over dogs, however wayward the behaviour of the dogs – or snakes, or lizards. In England, the roads are carpeted with squashed hedgehogs. In Ireland, the major roads are littered with the corpses of foxes. Drivers do not try to avoid them and possibly deliberately aim to kill them.

It seems that, in reality, the UK is not the animal-loving nation that it was thought to be or that it thinks itself to be. I was once involved in a case where a man in Sussex reacted to his neighbours’ complaints about his dog by cutting off the dog’s testicles and nailing them to the neighbours’ front door. In 2012, 4,168 people in England and Wales were convicted of cruelty to animals. There are some horrific stories in the annual report of the RSPCA:

We are not talking about negligence here. This is vicious torture and sadistic violence. Operation Gazpacho, conducted by the RSPCA, revealed a sickening increase in organised dogfights in the UK. In 2008, following a BBC documentary on the horrific genetic disabilities of pedigree dogs, the RSPCA withdrew its support from Crufts Dog Show.

The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals has been signed and ratified by 18 European countries, but not by the UK. Among the many interest groups opposed to the Convention is the Council of Docked Breeds. The organisation’s name is a misnomer as its members are not dogs with their tails cut off but humans who cut tails off dogs. They are against the Convention because “many of our most loved breeds would be placed at risk, and some could disappear altogether.” The Convention may be OK for Johnny Foreigner but Britain does not need it. “While animal welfare in some Council of Europe member states certainly requires improvement, we in this country have a comprehensive body of legislation which ensures extremely high standards of welfare among companion animals. We also have a host of Governmental and non Governmental bodies to see that the law is properly enforced.”

Many aspects of animal welfare in Sri Lanka need improvement. Perhaps the most important thing is for the media to help create a culture of responsible pet ownership.

Former colleagues of the professor who mutilated three shelter dogs for no purpose were confident that the law would take its course. The former colleague now in Australia said: “If he is as flagrantly in breach of these laws as claimed, then his detractors in Sri Lanka have a clear legal avenue for punishing him.” The colleague eventually realised that he was mistaken. “I didn’t believe it at first, but it does seem to be the case that there are no laws in Sri Lanka about animal welfare.”A former colleague in the UK, said: “Any such action in the UK would be dealt with under criminal law with serious consequences for those involved; moreover, such actions damage the reputation of legitimate scientists and bring discredit to the profession.”

The Veterinary Surgeons and Practitioners Act No 46 of 1956 established the Veterinary Council of Sri Lanka in order to regulate the conduct of veterinary practitioners in Sri Lanka. The Act states, ‘”The Council may order the name of any Veterinary Surgeon or Veterinary Practitioner to be expunged from the register if he –after an inquiry by the Council, is found guilty of infamous conduct.” The Council apparently found the two veterinarians guilty of “unethical and inhumane veterinary practices” but chose not to issue a public statement or to punish the two miscreants in any meaningful way. The unlicensed mutilation of three healthy dogs would count as ‘infamous conduct’ to most veterinary governing bodies. Professional codes of conduct and ethics committees are all very well but what is needed is a strong law that is enforced.

Rules and regulations are important because even if you cannot change the attitude of everyone, you can change behaviour. The Sri Lankan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 is ineffective mainly because its sanctions have never been updated. The maximum fine is only Rs100. The authorities have tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving heinous cruelty to animals. There is no reported case of an offender being given a sentence of imprisonment for causing cruelty to an animal. There is no lead agency to enforce the law and the police are too busy and have inadequate powers.

As long ago as December 2007, I wrote: “another encouraging development is that an Animal Welfare Bill has been gazetted as a Private Member’s Bill by Ven. Athureliye Ratana Thero, MP. This Bill could enable Sri Lanka to provide a model for other Asian countries to incorporate in their legislation modern standards for the way humans co-exist with other sentient beings.” One of the objectives of the bill is to raise community awareness about animal welfare and to foster kindness, compassion, and responsible behaviour towards animals.

The Law Commission of Sri Lanka prepared the new legislation was by after extensive consultations with the public and examination of other jurisdictions. It adopts a proactive approach to animal welfare, covering all animals, which are no longer to be regarded as the chattels of humans, with obligations and prohibitions emanating from recognition of a duty of care. A new National Animal Welfare Authority will administer the legislation, develop policies, and strengthen and expand the existing enforcement machinery.

On May 21 2014, I wrote: “An Animal Welfare Bill also based on the Law Commission draft has been finalised by the authorities and will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers on 29th May. Let us pray!”

Our prayers did not work. Cabinet consideration was postponed yet again. I do not know why, but it may be that communal differences are getting in the way. Many foreign observers perceived a disjunction between Buddhist principles of compassion and the way Sri Lankans treat animals in reality. The bill was promoted by a Buddhist cleric who has gone into politics. One of the drafters is a lawyer whose commitment to Buddhism leads him to oppose Hindu animal sacrifices and Muslim slaughtering. I heard dark rumours about a Tamil politician being the cause of this latest delay in moving the Animal Welfare Bill forward. Writing in the pages of Ceylon Today on March 11 2013, Ashoo Amarasinghe brought religion into it and accused Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem of dragging his feet because he is a Muslim. “Part (VI) Clause 22 of the Animal Welfare Bill that seeks to ‘prevent the infliction upon such animal of unnecessary fear or pain,’ runs contrary to the halal method of animal slaughter owing to your religious belief?”


It is very sad that, in these days of tribal tensions, compassion for animals can be a political issue and a potential cause of communal strife.

Flogging Dead Horse

There have been disturbing news stories about horse meat being found in processed food products stocked by supermarket chains in Ireland and the UK. Tests indicated that Findus frozen beef lasagne contained up to 100%  horse meat.

Some have sought to treat the matter lightly, pointing out that horse meat can be the favoured delicacy of some European gourmets. Brits with conservative culinary habits may be condescending about the kind of comestibles Johnny Foreigner is happy to consume.

Peruvians have been eating  guinea pigs for millennia. I tried it twice myself while in Cuzco. The first time was in a rather swish restaurant called Ciccolina, whose waiters wore black suits and white gloves. I swear that I did not know what cuy was until after I had swallowed it. The restaurant is known for tiny portions and this was just a minute cube of meat, rather like liver, which went down in one swallow. The second occasion was at lunch in a more downmarket restaurant where the creature was served whole, splayed out on the plate allowing no room for doubt that it was a guinea pig. Although, I knew that it was rodent rather than porcine, it did taste like pork crackling. I am afraid the creature died in vain because I could not eat much of it. I did not like the way it was looking at me.

Incidentally, another speciality of the Ciccolina is alpaca steak.

I have eaten peccary in Nepal. The porcine creature accompanied us on our Himalayan  trek and became a friend. I named it Gregory Peccary. The porters slaughtered it and roasted it in a hole in the ground.

Our farmer neighbour’s daughter in Ireland had a pet lamb which she was very fond of. That did not stop her eating it.

I have eaten alligator tail in New Orleans. I tried  jellied eels, which are considered a treat in South London. It was not quite as disgusting as I had feared but I would not repeat the experience. My local Tesco in Lewisham  sold ostrich and kangaroo burgers. Koreans eat dogs. I have heard that in Sri Lanka the stray dog population reduces dramatically whenever Chinese road construction crews are in an area.  Chinese drink mice wine (that is not a typo for rice wine, I mean wine with a mouse in it).  West Africans eat monkeys. The French eat frog legs and snails. I have tried both – frog tasted like fishy chicken (as did alligator) the snail tasted like – well – SNAIL. I often purchased wood pigeon from Stockport market on a Saturday afternoon and had it for Saturday dinner. It was very bloody and had close-packed meat like liver.

The red squirrel is sadly rare in the British Isles because it has been ousted by the Canadian grey squirrel. Victorian naturalist, Frank Buckland imported grey squirrels to eat. Apparently, even today,  they can be purchased  for a couple of pounds and taste like nutty chicken. Buckland wanted to diversify the British diet and was a pioneer of zoophagy. He himself regularly ate  mice in batter, horse tongue, squirrel pie and stewed mole. Don’t try mole at home – Buckland said it tasted like poo.  I do not know how Buckland knew what poo tasted like, but there is a word for people who eat shit so some must do. The word is coprophagia. London Zoo used to  contact Buckland  when an animal died, in case he wanted to eat it. In 1859 he founded the Acclimatization Society. At the society’s inaugural dinner in 1862 the menu included roast kangaroo, boiled sea slug and grilled parrot. Such was Buckland’s renown that it was said when he walked past: “Elderly maidens called their cats indoors.”

Buckland was convinced that eating  rats would  help relieve the hunger of the poor, and  ease the infestations that plagued every city in the world. His father, the Very Rev. William Buckland, dean of Westminster, served  his dinner guests with dog, panther, crocodile and hedgehog, and  canapés of toasted field-mice. Buckland pére  claimed  to have eaten the desiccated heart of Louis XIV (“I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before”).

Frank did get discouraged: “in my humble opinion, hippophagy has not the slightest chance of success in this country,” he wrote after a disastrous dinner in which every dish, from the soup to the jelly, had been prepared from the carcass of a cab horse.

A baby has been bitten by a fox in Bromley. When I lived in Lewisham I used to hear horrible screeching cries in the night. Apparently, this was the sound of foxes mating (or vixens being raped). Strolling up to Blackheath Village one would regularly see packs of foxes strolling about and turning over garbage bins. In broad daylight there were about ten of them sunning themselves on the lawn next door.

London Mayor Boris Johnson says the Bromley incident was “a wake-up call”. Simon Jenkins in the London Evening Standard comments that it certainly was for the baby. “In the arcane world of London pest control, there seems to be an ideological hierarchy that sets one species above another. A fox or a squirrel is an honoured guest, a wasp or a rat an exterminable menace.” (Incidentally,  a friend of mine ate bees’  abdomens when he was living in Japan. Apparently, they tasted like – bee’s abdomens.)

Jenkins recommends hunting urban foxes and feeding them to the poor: “Foxes are starting to eat children, and I really don’t care if they do it ‘only rarely’. Calling for strategic reviews is wimpish appeasement. Let’s get killing and eating.”

Many Europeans love horse meat. However,  the consumer has a right to know what he or she is eating. If the label says beef you have a right to beef. The problem with horse meat is that it may not have been raised for human consumption. Horses are treated with veterinary drugs which should not be allowed into the human food chain. Phenylbutazone is used as an anti-inflammatory for horses but is toxic to humans — it can cause a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia.

It is more than a little alarming that, according to  Professor Alan Reilly, Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI),  that Tesco withdrew Findus  products from Irish shelves but did not notify the FSAI .

The multi-millionaire beef supplier known as  ‘Dirty Larry’ is behind a company that supplied British supermarkets with contaminated food. In Ireland, Larry  Goodman name is synonymous with financial malpractice after he dragged the country’s beef industry through the dirt in the 1990s by breaking sanctions and doing business with  Saddam Hussein. A  judicial tribunal in Ireland exposed the corrupt relationship between Goodman and Ireland’s then prime minister,  Charles Haughey.

As I write, the story continues to develop. Some of my American friends have made disparaging comments about British food in general. However, this is an ecumenical scandal. It looks as though meat from Romanian donkeys, processed in France, packaged in Ireland has been  sold in German-owned supermarkets in Britain and Ireland. Hugh Carnegy in the Financial Times says that investigations have revealed a “tortuous supply chain spanning several countries”. A French company named in the scandal said that their meat had come from a “Cypriot trader, which had subcontracted the order to a trader in the Netherlands. The latter was a supplier from an abattoir and butcher located in Romania.”

Horse-drawn carts were a common form of transport for centuries in Romania, but hundreds of thousands of the animals are feared to have been sent to the abattoir after a change in road rules. A law, which was passed six years ago but only enforced recently, banned carts drawn by donkeys. It is alleged that criminal gangs prey on poor farmers by offering cash for both wild and work horses farmers cannot afford to keep. They pay 50 to 100 Romanian Lei – as little as £10 to £20. Abattoirs will pay up to 27 times that for a horse. A warm-blooded mare weighing 1,000lb can sell for around £270. A vet who has intimate knowledge of the business, revealed the abattoirs often turn a blind eye to the illegal trade.

Poland exports around 25,000 horses for slaughter each year. Russian gangs and criminals operating in  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also suspected of involvement.

A finger of suspicion also points at Ireland, a nation famously horse-crazy and densely populated with equines. In 2007, the country produced 12,633 thoroughbred foals –  more than the combined total of France and the UK. Because of the downturn,  horses are being slaughtered in increasing  numbers – 2,000 in 2008, 25,000 last year. Irish authorities seized 2,364 abandoned horses in 2010, treble the number five years earlier.

It is possible that Romanian abattoirs have put CJD (Mad Cow Disease) into the food chain. One recalls the vile UK minister John Selwyn Gummer force feeding a burger to his infant daughter to prove British “beef” was “safe”.

Known pathogens cause an estimated 9.4 million food borne illnesses annually in the USA. The foods  most often implicated were beef (13%), dairy (12%), fish (12%), and poultry (11%).

Britain has been complaining about weak European food inspection while cutting the budget for EU food-safety checks.

My zoophagous days are far behind me and I now aspire to the condition of the vegan. When a peacock strayed into my garden recently, I arranged for it to be humanely escorted to a safe haven rather than my kitchen.

A Puppy Is Not Just for Christmas

Sentient beings are disposed of in the same way that a supermarket chain might reject misshaped fruit.

The English Delusion

The English like to think of themselves as animal lovers. Some English people look down on other nations for their behaviour to animals. A couple of years ago,  an English animal welfare activist was interviewed by Sri Lankan newspapers who allowed her to voice her view that as a nation Sri Lanka is  particularly cruel to animals because of the number of and condition of street dogs.

The Sunday Leader quoted her: ‘”We were overcome by the quiet despair, misery and silent suffering of thousands of strays, pets, wildlife and livestock alike.”

There is work for her at home in England.

Here we are, well into September  and soon the Christmas shopping season will be in full swing in the British Isles. The Christian festival of Christmas in the UK is the traditional season for abandoning pet dogs.

The National Canine Defence League, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, says older, bigger dogs are the main victims. The league’s spokeswoman, Louisa Bracking said: “These dogs are being kicked out to make room for newer, younger models.”

North Clwyd Animal Rescue, in Trelogan, Flintshire, Wales say their sanctuary becomes “full to bursting” with unwanted pets thrown out between Christmas and the New Year. The centre finds new homes for 850 animals a year. There are similar reports from Devon and other areas of the UK.

Dog dumping has got earlier every year since the early 2000s and now starts well before Christmas. Barking (no pun intended) and Dagenham Council covers a borough in Essex which is thought to have the highest dog ownership in the UK. Data collection company Experian released a survey showing one in ten households in Barking and Dagenham owned a dog. The council says the number of dogs being abandoned is soaring because of the financial crisis.

According to Kirsty O’Sullivan, a volunteer with animal welfare groups, Scruffy Angels and Animal Action: “I don’t believe it’s the credit crunch. I think they’re using it as an excuse.” ‘Essex man’ and ‘Essex girls’ are stereotypical figures of fun in England. Perhaps in America, rednecks might be a rough equivalent. A pit bull terrier would be the dog of choice for this stereotype. O’Sullivan highlights the number of Staffordshire pit bull terriers that are being abandoned. Adverts for puppies have been placed all over the borough. Because they are a very popular breed and can be sold for between £250 and £750, many Barking residents have decided to breed them.

Litters are typically between six and ten puppies. “But people need to realise the work that goes into looking after them. Once they’ve gone past the cute puppy stage is when they dump them.”

The English Reality

It seems that, in reality, the UK is not the animal-loving nation that it was thought to be or that it thinks itself to be. The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals has been signed and ratified by 18 European countries, but not by the UK.

There was an investigation in the Independent newspaper into cruelty in rearing pigs and another one on the horrific conditions endured by battery hens.

115 horses and donkeys, some severely emaciated, had to be rescued and removed from Spindle Farm at Hyde Heath in Amersham, Buckinghamshire during a huge operation in January 2008. Hooves and body parts of horses that had been left to die were scattered around among rotting corpses and a mound of bones and skulls was discovered. Convictions for cruelty to horses rose 33% in 2006, and a further 13% in 2007. This indicates that Spindle Farm was not an isolated incident.

In September 2003, 26 RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) officers rescued 269 animals from a single house in Lancashire. The rescue of 244 dogs, 16 parrots, seven cats, a rabbit and a chinchilla, from the house in Silverdale, near Carnforth, was the biggest single seizure in the charity’s history. The haul of dogs included shih-tzus, dachshunds, Lhasa apsos, bearded collies, corgis, chihuahuas, poodles, pekinese and Yorkshire terriers.

In November 2008, Phil Bishop, a TV executive who directed Top of the Pops and Game for a Laugh during a decades-long career, shot his neighbours’ dog, Foggy, a Bedlington terrier, in the heart with a single shot from an air rifle after becoming annoyed at its early-morning barking.

I was once involved in a case where a man in Sussex reacted to his neighbours’ complaints about his dog by cutting off the dog’s testicles and nailing them to the neighbours’ front door.

There were 137,245 RSPCA investigations for cruelty to cats and dogs in 2007. There have been so many examples of cruelty to animals in general in the UK that I had better restrict myself to dealing with cases involving dogs.

The RSPCA has reported a 24% increase in the number of people convicted for animal cruelty. Convictions for cruelty to dogs were up by more than a third. There was a 42% rise in the number of custodial sentences. We are not talking about negligence here. This is vicious torture and sadistic violence.

Dog Fighting in the UK

Operation Gazpacho conducted by the RSPCA revealed a sickening increase in organised dog fights in the UK. Dog fighting has always been there, but its nature seems to have changed. According to Becky Hawkes of the RSPCA: “It used to be an activity for people who were very into dog fighting, who prided themselves on having the most macho dog, coming from a strong lineage of champions, you know, the champion of champions. There was a hard core of about 100 people involved in this country, it was very underground, and it tended to be people involved in other criminal activities as well. Now we’re seeing more hard kids on street corners, using their hard-looking dog to intimidate people. This is predominantly in urban areas, among young people. There seems to be an increase on that level, where maybe rival gangs are having their dogs fight. It’s less structured, certainly.”

Chief Inspector Mike Butcher of the RSPCA, who directed Operation Gazpacho, said that in the past, “The fights would be in a regulation-sized pit with fixed rules and a referee, and would be stopped when one of the dogs had clearly won … betting didn’t really play a major part in these fights, it was more about the prestige.” Today, the fights have become more commercial and even bloodier, with young men and their tough-looking dogs meeting each other in parks.

“The emphasis [now] appears to be more on betting and fighting the dogs to the death,” said Mr Butcher. Dogs’ jaws are strengthened and trained on car tires and wooden sticks in preparation for fights. The injuries sustained to the head, neck and front limbs of the animals are therefore serious, and can include crushed and broken bones and torn muscles. It is also common for dogs to die from heart attacks prompted by severe pain or distress, sometimes hours after a fight.

Further gory details can be found at

Dogs as Consumer Accessories

It’s not just the criminal underbelly of British society that is inflicting cruelty on dogs.

Happy Dogs is a UK charity which re-homes abandoned dogs. Founder Lyn Williams estimates that there are seven million dogs in the UK.

Some people buy cute little dogs as fashion accessories and get bored with them. Some people think of themselves as ‘dog lovers’ so they believe they must have a huge hound, even though they live in a small apartment in the middle of a big city and are out at work all day and socialising in the evenings, leaving the dog locked up at home alone.

A British Sunday newspaper reported that staff at the Leigh Animal Sanctuary near Wigan in Lancashire killed healthy greyhounds after their careers on the racetrack were finished.

An expatriate living in Turkey writes about fellow Brits adopting Turkish stray dogs and then putting them back on the streets because they don’t want to pay travel and quarantine costs to take them along when they return to the UK. “This of course, also applies to those who bring their animals from the UK, then abandon them here on the streets, which has also been done many times in the last few years.”

Pedigree Mutants

The same English activist mentioned above was horrified to see German Shepherd pups for sale in Sri Lanka when there were dogs roaming the streets. She seemed to think Sri Lankans were unique in liking pedigree dogs.

“The attitude of a majority of locals who prefer to turn a blind eye to the suffering of an innocent stray and instead pay thousands for  a purebred that they take care of like their own children has also contributed towards the suffering of these animals.”

Mark Evans of the RSPCA described Crufts dog show as a “parade of mutants… Breeding deformed and disabled animals is morally unjustifiable and has to stop.” Sentient beings are disposed of in the same way that a supermarket chain might reject misshaped fruit.

To coincide with the start of Crufts 2006, the world’s biggest pedigree dog show, Advocates for Animals released a scientific report examining the health problems caused by pedigree dog breeding. The report condemned irresponsible and unethical practices in dog breeding, including close inbreeding and developments in cloning.

In 2008, following a BBC documentary on the genetic disabilities of pure-bred dogs, the RSPCA and the Pedigree pet food company withdrew their support from Crufts. The BBC has been covering the show for 40 years but may not do so again.

Mark Evans chief veterinary advisor to the RSPCA described dog shows as “parades of mutants”.

Dr. William Schall, a genetic specialist at Michigan State University estimates that there are more than 300 separate genetic disorders that subject dogs to enormous pain. German shepherds and golden retrievers frequently suffer from hereditary hip and elbow dysplasia; pekinese and basset hounds from inherited eye diseases; pugs and cavalier King Charles spaniels from heart and respiratory disease; West Highland white terriers, cocker spaniels from skin diseases; dachshunds, chihuahuas from inherited skeletal problems; rottweilers, great Danes from bone tumours; dobermans and border collies from hereditary deafness. Labrador retrievers are prone to dwarfing. At least 70% of collies suffer from genetic eye trouble, and 10% eventually go blind. Dalmatians are often deaf. Newfoundlands can drop dead from cardiac arrests. English bulldogs have such enormous heads that pups often have to be delivered by caesarean section. Irish setters, according to veterinarian Michael Fox, a vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., “are so dumb they can’t find their way to the end of the leash.”

Five million purebred dogs in America are afflicted with a serious genetic problem.

The best way to produce a puppy with a specific look is to mate two dogs with the same look. As with any species, though, the closest resemblances are found among the closest relatives. Breeders often resort to the mating of brothers and sisters or fathers and daughters.

“If we did that in humans,” says Mark Derr, who wrote a scathing indictment of America’s dog culture for the March 1990 Atlantic Monthly, “we’d call it incest.”

The chairman of the Kennel Club, which organises Crufts, was filmed by the BBC voicing his approval of incestuous inbreeding, as long as it took place between mother and son. Oedipus?

A prize-winning Cavalier King Charles spaniel was shown writhing in agony because it suffered from syringomyelia, a painful condition that results from the animal’s skull being too small for its brain. A pekinese, bred to possess a perfectly flat face, and winner of Best in Show in 2003, was found to have had surgery — a soft palate resection — to enable it to breathe.

David Balding is professor of statistical genetics at Imperial College London and co-author of a report on inbreeding. “Because you’re mating animals with similar genes,” says Balding, “you’re getting a big loss of genetic diversity and that has bad consequences in terms of your ability to resist disease. Breeding has gone too far. It was something that started getting organised and became systematic in the 19th century, and it didn’t do much harm for a long time. But now we have reached the point where the harm is starting to show more and more. We are now doing genetic damage to the dog.”

Mark Evans, of the RSPCA said: “Breeding deformed and disabled animals is morally unjustifiable and has to stop.”

Britain’s leading canine charity, the Dogs Trust, pulled out of Crufts show. Clarissa Baldwin, its chief executive, told the London Times that her organisation had called for an end to the killing of puppies that do not meet dog show breed standards. “We are horrified by the culling of dogs,” she said. “That has to stop. The culling of the Rhodesian ridgebacks that don’t have the ridge, the Dalmatians whose spots are in the wrong place.”

Puppy Farms

I would not characterise the Irish as especially cruel to animals but it is a fact that factory farming of puppies has been a profitable industry. The Dog Act is  intended for pet owners, not commercial operations.  Cheap, poor quality purebred dogs are mass-produced by the hundreds in cages, bitches bred and bred successively until they drop. Dogs in dreadful conditions, often ill and unkempt and filthy in their own faeces, held in wire crates or makeshift kennels in cold, damp farm outbuildings, some held inside in dark, windowless rooms. They are sold through brokers to pet buyers, at premium prices but always just below what reputable breeders charge, in Britain and North America, and to a lesser extent, Europe. Profits can be huge. “Ireland is synonymous with puppy farming. It is the most vile despicable trade in misery,” says one reputable dog breeder in Northern Ireland.

Ireland also has the highest per capita rate of stray dog euthanasia in the EU, with 23,000 dogs put down annually.

Irish dogs are also used to stock US puppy mills because, unlike dogs that come from reputable breeders, they carry no breeding restrictions (a “neuter” clause). US sources feel some reputable Irish breeders are unknowingly selling dogs to mills and brokers in the US, believing they are for American families.

Says one US breeder:”Here in Minnesota area Irish dogs have such a bad rep that if buyers find out your foundation stuff came from Ireland they class it with trash.” Another reports her friend’s sickly, Irish “champion-bred” dogs bought from a puppy farm broker had worthless, forged Irish Kennel Club papers. Such dogs are frequently offered on US websites by known brokers who claim “Irish relatives” send them the dogs. The trade is hugely damaging to the many reputable professional Irish dog breeders.

Puppy farming is also prevalent in Australia. One puppy farmer there wrote to me to express his outrage at being victimised: “similar to what happened to Jews in the beginning of Hitler’s rein [sic] of terror.

Peter Singer and JM Coetzee have compared the treatment of animals with the way Nazis dealt with Jews. It is very odd to see a puppy farmer comparing himself to the Nazi’s victims.

The pictures her are of a dog we found playing with the traffic in Bandarawela. She attached herself to my trouser leg and came home with us. We called her Honeybup. She is happy but keeps us awake at night barking at phantom grease yakas.

Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

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