Lambs, puppies and red herrings

Letter published in the Daily Telegraph 11 August 1998, reproduced here with the express permission of Prof. Allen

SIR-I must respond to the letter from my friend David Morton on the docking of puppies and the castration of young farm livestock without anaesthetic.

Farm animals are man's creation for man's use and, like must of us, they must earn their existence. Having received food, warmth and general care from birth, they justify themselves by succumbing painlessly and in blissful ignorance to a premature death to grace our dinner tables.

Companion animals must endure for longer. Dogs and cats must, for the most part, submit to their owners constant petting and manic chatter until a ripe old age.' Horses must suffer the indignity of their human minder bouncing around on their back until age-related degeneration sets in. Yet, curiously, all three species seem to revel in such bonding.

Professor Morton decries as barbaric the age-old practice of snipping off the unwanted tail of some breeds of puppies, or the quick and effective removal of the testicles from young lambs and piglets. Both actions can be regarded as the expression of human foible, but such foibles we must be permitted to have. provided they do not involve frank cruelty.

Docking a very young puppy, or removing a testicle from a young lamb by means of a single cut and a sharp tug, is no doubt intensely painful, but only for a second or two. How much kinder and more practical this momentary intense pain than the fear and longer-lasting discomfort occasioned by the need to restrain and jab the animal to administer the anaesthetic that Professor Morton would have us all use.

Instead of scattering red herrings. I would prefer him to join in the condemnation and prevention of the truly gross acts of animal cruelty. For example, the ewe carrying twins that is left to fend for itself on a Welsh mountain in mid - winter while infected with parasites and footrot.' the gipsy pony staked out on a road-side verge in winter while suffering debilitating and painful liver damage from the ragwort it has been forced to eat the previous autumn.

And worst of all. perhaps, the 14-year-old poodle that has spent its entire life in a plush, sixth-floor flat and must now submit to radiotherapy and chemotherapy, after the removal of its mammary cancers. because its "loving" owner cannot bear to be without it. One could go on.

Prof. TWINK ALLEN Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge