Cruel Subculture
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From The Malta Independent July 12, 2001

The burnt dog burns consciences

The best comment one can make on the story of the tortured dog is a quotation from Gandhi: The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

We found this in an e-mail sent in by one of the many foreign readers who continually besiege us on the bird hunting issue.

There. For many of us here, the two issues dog torturing and bird hunting are completely separate. But for people living in a different culture out in the world, and indeed on the completely objective level, the two issues are but two facets of the same issue.

Let us shift the focus of the issue a bit.

Most of the reaction everywhere, including letters from abroad, has concentrated on the boy and his immediate history. That needs to be investigated, though the current focus could seriously cause perpetual damage to the boy, who could be brought to perceive everyone as his enemy and his antagonist.

But the boy would hardly have invented such "pastimes" unless he somehow was exposed to them.

This is the level we must target: there is a subculture, a whole subculture in Malta, especially in the rural areas, where animal blood sports, if that is the description, are rampant. Whether it is dog fighting, cock fighting this goes on all the time.

People are involved grown ups and boys the police never seem to get to know about it, nobody is arraigned and we still delude ourselves into believing that as a nation we are becoming more animal loving by the day.

It is only in this context that a boy starts to perceive animals as being there for cruelty, for the sadistic pleasure of seeing blood spurt, as being legal game.

But this subculture, in turn, is resting on a wider stratum: what is hunting but cruelty to animals done in a less immediate manner at a distance, high in the air? The daily killing of so many birds in season and out of season, the even crueller imprisonment of birds in small cages left in the sun to attract other birds, the indiscriminate shooting that erupts any time a bird comes over the hill is that not cruel sport too?

All the people who, justifiably, are viscerally reacting to the Siggiewi outrage, must put the whole episode in its proper context: such behaviour is possible only within the context of a country which is not trying to mark its progress by a better treatment of animals; only within the context of a country where for all its religious feasts, there is next to no honouring of God's animals and the beauties of creation; only within the context of a country where the laws say one thing and what goes on in real life is blithely carried out in the different direction.

Blame not the boy. Blame not his family. Blame this whole subculture, which is so alive and present in most of our towns and villages.

It is a wonderful coincidence that this black episode happened just before parliament began to debate a bill regarding animal welfare, so that this episode can serve as the backdrop to the whole discussion, as indeed it is doing. It is a pity that some very worthwhile laws proposed in the Private Members Bill presented by Dr Sant last year were not included in the present bill, such as outlawing the cutting off of animals' ears, the total banning of animal fights (including the onlookers as being as guilty as the organisers) and permitting any member of the public to institute criminal charges against people for the maltreatment of animals.

Beyond that, of course, we need more education, more education.

The Church should not remember animals only on St Anthony's feast: why not have special masses for children with their pets? Schools too should be encouraged to have their pet days, and the children must be actively encouraged to handle animals to handle them well and to love them.


Eurobirder/Proact-Malta David Conlin 2001