We Brits pride ourselves on being the “world’s greatest animal lovers”, says Ed West on Substack. We were the first country to have an animal welfare charity – 60 years before one for child welfare was founded – and the first to instigate animal protection laws. But this passion has taken a sentimental turn. There was that madness over Geronimo, the TB-infected alpaca, whose execution was delayed for four years because of public outcry. (“Alpaca Lives Matter,” read a placard at one vigil.) Last New Year’s Eve, Scarborough cancelled its fireworks display because it didn’t want to startle a walrus that had turned up and “started masturbating in front of everyone”. Only the other week, the BBC reported that former home secretary Priti Patel had attended a ceremony unveiling a memorial bench to four swans killed in an apparent catapult attack. “Rest in peace, swans.”
It is perhaps appropriate that during the infamous Jeremy Thorpe scandal of the 1970s, it wasn’t the “secret gay affair” or attempted murder that really upset the public, but the fact that the “bungling hitman” accidentally killed a dog. This obsession with animals is a bizarre national trait, especially given we continue to slaughter millions of broiler chickens that are cooped up all their short lives. Posterity will find our habit of eating factory-farmed meat all the more inexplicable given we sentimentalised “our four-legged friends” at the same time.