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Feather's Miscellany: Cruelty To Animals

“It’s all a question of balance and humaneness; and where the animal world is concerned a question of compassion, too – and I count ourselves as part of the animal world. We’re supposed to be the most intelligent of creatures, but as I grow older I have my doubts as wars and terrorism ravage the world,’’ declares John Waddington-Feather, going on to introduce us to a most remarkable vicar of Howarth.

I hate cruelty in any form and believe deeply it is wrong to inflict unnecessary pain and terror on any living creature. But the way things are in the world, sometimes it’s necessary to kill animals, especially where farming is concerned. If farmers and foresters didn’t control pests like foxes, grey squirrels, pigeons and their ilk, their woods, stock and crops would be ruined. We exterminate rats and mice in our homes not only because they do damage but they also spread disease.

When I look at my mauled lawns and the surrounding badly damaged hedgerows; or, more seriously, when a farmer sees his herd of cows going down with T.B. , there’s a strong case for culling badgers. Old Badger in “The Wind in the Willows” and in my own Quill Hedgehog children’s novels is quite a different character in the real world, where ‘townies’ tend to look more romantically at the countryside than those who live and work in it.

Of course, we’ve brought it upon ourselves. The more land we cultivate, the more livestock we breed, the more food we produce for wildlife as well as ourselves. On a global level, the decimation of the rain forests in the tropics is leading to the increase of noxious gases which were previously absorbed by the trees; so in that area we are foolishly endangering our own species as well as others.

It’s all a question of balance and humaneness; and where the animal world is concerned a question of compassion, too – and I count ourselves as part of the animal world. We’re supposed to be the most intelligent of creatures, but as I grow older I have my doubts as wars and terrorism ravage the world.

A generation or two before mine, it was common in my neck of the woods to find dog-fighting and cock-fighting taking place. It was illegal, of course, but it may still go on in secret for all I know. These cruel sports took place on the isolated moors above the industrial towns and cities on top of the Pennines.

Cruel though they were these fights produced grim humour of sorts. In the latter part of the 18th century the Revd William Grimshaw, rector of Haworth some years before Patrick Brontë, was a man of stern faith and strong will. He had to be to minister in such an outlandish place as Haworth was then! He was a strong man physically and mentally, and it was said he horse-whipped men to church who were idling in the street or pub on the Sabbath. So frustrated he was with some of his parishioners, he once led a donkey into church and placed it in the pulpit, telling the congregation that the donkey was all that was fit to preach to them, as his own words fell on deaf ears.

He railed against cock-fighting and the sin of gambling, which was prevalent at that time. So angry did he become he pronounced a curse on the cock-fighters who was gathered on the Sabbath some miles away on Haworth moor. Scarcely had he pronounced the curse than there was an almighty thunderstorm and cloudburst which sent a deluge of water pouring down into the hollow where the cock-fighters were. Then the peat bog above burst and several of the men were drowned. So shocked was Grimshaw at the efficacy of his curse he never did it again.

Humour of a grimmer sort rose from these fights. A tale that became popular was about a bully who owned a prize fighting-dog, a huge crossbred Rottweiler, which had seen off every other rival and earned its owner quite a bit of cash in gambling dues. Let’s call the owner Ted Sweeney.

One day he was drinking at the Bull Inn in Haworth when another customer walked in with what looked like large brown dog. He was a quiet chap who took his pint into a corner table and sat there on his own drinking. When he saw the dog, Ted immediately walked over to the newcomer and brashly challenged him to a dog-fight in the back-yard.

The newcomer, a casual visitor to Haworth, was a gentle soul and said he wasn’t a dog-fighting man. But the loud-mouth Ted Sweeney pestered him so much and laid a heavy wager on the outcome that at length the stranger agreed, so they took their two animals outside and the pub emptied to watch.

The fight lasted only a minute and left Ted Sweeney and the onlookers aghast, for when Sweeney released his dog snarling from its lead, it made straight for the animal opposite, which stood waiting for the Rottweiler bearing down on it and as it leapt in the air to attack, the other caught it in mid-air by its throat and broke its neck with a powerful shake of its head.

Ruefully shaking his head in disbelief, Sweeney came across to pay up. “What sort of dog is that you ‘ave?” he asked dumbfounded.

“Oh, well,” replied the stranger diffidently, ordering his pet to his side where it sat obediently. “You see it’s like this, I have a brother who works in Africa and he brought my pet back as a cub. Then he went back to his job in Africa and I’m looking after it for him till he returns. You’re normally very quiet, aren’t you, Leo? until you’re set on by another dog.” Then the stranger looked up and continued, “As he’s grown up he’s started growing a long black mane on his neck, which I keep clipping off because it looks so unsightly. I’m very sorry about your dog,” he concluded apologetically: then he walked off with his huge pet padding obediently beside him.

John Waddington-Feather ©

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