The abuse of animals at our mercy diminishes our common humanity, and must be stopped.
In Islamic Republic of Iran today, keeping dogs as pets is seen by some as evidence of western cultural invasion. Rewards are given to those who kill stray dogs. Last year, a dog was injected with acid. Its excruciating death, which was filmed and went viral on the internet, prompted people to take to the streets in protest. Recent footage of farmers who delivered the most horrific deaths to dogs, throwing them against the wall and collapsing their skulls with shovels, will likely have the same effect. Barbarism is certainly not unique to Iran. It was reported recently that two malnourished dogs in Mount Gambier were deposited at an animal shelter by throwing them over a wall. One dog suffered a broken back as a result, and was euthanised. But no-one descended on the streets in protest. The abuse of animals at our mercy diminishes our common humanity, and must be stopped. In Australia, it is believed that over 250,000 dogs and cats are euthanised each year. What does this say about a society in which the idea has been institutionalised that animals are a commodity to be traded on the market like any other? If there is no use for the product, or if the consumer has made a poor choice, it is either re-sold or disposed. People are satisfied that the oversupply will eventually be address through market forces, if and when necessary. At the time of writing, debate on the Dog and Cat Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill, which addresses the issue of oversupply, will soon resume in the South Australian parliament. Other states and territories have also taken steps to address this issue. The ACT Government introduced an Animal Sales Code 2013, applicable to pet stores, breeders and sales over the internet. The Queensland Government recently announced a new breeder licencing system. The Victorian Government is about to ban the sale of dogs from pet shops, which is unprecedented and is set introduce further legislation to eliminate puppy farms. Is enough happening in Australia? Given the esteem in which dogs are held in Australia, surely our empathy for companion animals would push the electorate to demand stronger measures? If we are not moved to act in defence of those creatures we see as our best friends, it will be difficult to address equally disturbing issues such as factory farming, which is supported by a large and well-resourced industry.
Puppy farms have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years
“If you are cruel,” Persian poet and philosopher Sa’adi of Shiraz once wrote “remember to reflect a little, and resolve to adopt fidelity and generosity.” To demonstrate his point on cruelty, Sa’adi described a situation in which a good man wandering in the desert found a thirsty, weak, and half-alive dog. He used his turban as a bucket, drew water from the well, and gave the dog water. The prophet, according to Sa’adi, asserted that “God has forgiven the man of all of his sins.” On a recent visit to Tehran, each morning I fed mince to a pack of stray dogs. These beautiful dogs would have fetched a high price in an Australian pet store, but in Iran they roam the streets hungry. One morning, a bemused onlooker told me through an intermediary that God would be good to me. I wished God be good to the dogs as well. In spite of the government’s policies, the people understand that kindness is the will of God. Sa’adi wrote these words in the 13th century. Generosity and fidelity towards dogs is deeply rooted in the thinking and culture of the Iranian people. The current government provides incentives for people to destroy stray dogs is to institutionalise cruelty, lazy policy that condemns many dogs to gruesome deaths. A government devoid of empathy will treat human beings with equal contempt. But lazy public policy born of indifference is not unique to Iran. It is time, perhaps, for us all to reflect a little, as Sa’adi suggested. Allowing 250,000 animals to be euthanised each year is cruel. An attitude of fidelity and generosity would lead to policies which guard humanity against indifference. It is difficult to prove that lack of empathy to animals leads a lack of empathy to human beings, or if in fact the reverse is true – but there is enough evidence to suggest that the two are strongly linked. Fidelity and generosity are, however, ends in themselves. The Dog and Cat Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill would represent a step in the right direction.