Woofie is saved and so joins the great British pantheon of animals as heroes - News - The Independent

Woofie is saved and so joins the great British pantheon of animals as heroes

EVERY DOG has its day, and yesterday was Woofie's. The cross- collie bitch sentenced to death for allegedly biting a postman won an 11th-hour reprieve at a court case attended by the world's most famous dog-lover, the film star Brigitte Bardot.

Bardot flew to Edinburgh by private jet to lend her personal support to the campaign to save Woofie, the latest object of Britain's fanatical love affair with the animal kingdom.

For the past couple of weeks, this unprepossessing-looking canine has been a symbol of the arbitrary injustice of the legal system. She faced death by lethal injection after being convicted under the Dangerous Dogs Act in Peterhead Sheriff Court - although her teeth never made contact with the postman's leg.

The double act of condemned bitch and ageing sex kitten guaranteed a frenzied media scrum in the draughty courtroom at Edinburgh High Court, where Woofie's owners, Terry and Anne Swankie, had lodged an appeal.

As her fate hung in the balance, television crews from France, Spain and Norway prowled around.

Woofie was not in court, but her learned counsel, Gordon Jackson QC, read out a list of glowing character references to the two appeal judges. A Peterhead veterinary surgeon described the shaggy-haired dog as "one of my better patients", while an animal-behaviour expert, Roger Mugford, said she was "a good-natured family pet".

The only suggestion that Woofie was not all sweetness and light came from one expert who testified that she seemed to have a thing about men in uniform.

The case was brought when the postman, Andrew Ainsley, lodged a complaint after a tense confrontation with Woofie. The Swankies were fined pounds 200 for breach of the Dangerous Dogs Act and an order was made for the offender to be destroyed.

The judges, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Cameron, took just two minutes to make up their minds to quash the order.

As the public gallery erupted into a cacophony of applause, Bardot, who had been sitting beside the Swankies, pronounced herself "very happy" about the outcome. "It's a stupid law," declared the film star, who wore dried flowers in her greying hair.

The excitement was all too much for Bardot, who failed to turn up at Woofie's side at a triumphal press conference. "Miss Bardot has had to go bed. She is fatigued by everything that has gone on today," said Trevor Cooper, the Swankies' lawyer, who clutched a weighty tome entitled "The Dog Law Handbook." Had Woofie been put down, she would have made legal history - the first dog to be destroyed without actually biting anyone.

As Mr Jackson told the court earlier that day, "a degree of madness" had attached itself to the case. Hysteria, perhaps, would be a better description - one with a long pedigree. For Woofie is not the first animal to become an incongruous icon of the emotional British, and certainly she will not be the last. As sure as fur flies when two tomcats cross paths in the dead of night, we British love our animal heroes. If there had not already been abundant evidence, the case of the Tamworth Two would have provided conclusive proof.

These, in the unlikely event that their names are not burnt into the collective consciousness, were the daredevil pigs who scaled a perimeter fence at an abattoir in Wiltshire last January in a desperate bid for freedom.

Never mind European Monetary Union, or reform of the welfare state. The nation was transfixed by the fate of these absconding swine, who managed to remain on the run for a whole week.

Tracked down after a furious race between tabloid newspapers, the two - dubbed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig - gave a long interview to the Daily Mail. For this is another feature of the madness to which Mr Jackson referred. We do not merely lavish affection on our four-legged friends. We personify them, endow them with human qualities. It's called anthropomorpism.

Like old ladies who fight off muggers, they are all plucky, these animals that capture our hearts. Take Blackie, who showed such courage in adversity. Blackie was the donkey destined for the cruellest of fates, to be ridden through the streets until he collapsed as part of a fiesta held in a Spanish mountain village.

To the rescue in 1987 rode, or rather flew, Vicki Moore, the veteran animal rights campaigner, who pleaded with the heartless villagers to spare Blackie. The Daily Star then spirited the hapless creature home, where he lived out the rest of his days in a donkey sanctuary in Devon.

There are countless other examples through the ages. Shergar, the kidnapped racehorse, still not located all these years later.

Humphrey, the Downing Street cat who was evicted in murky circumstances, although reports that Cherie Blair disliked him were hastily quashed. Life grinds to a halt while the fate of these creatures hangs in the balance.

Bardot is not the only celebrity to be moved by the plight of ill-treated animals. The late Linda McCartney made a career out of it. Cindy Crawford, the supermodel, weighed in on numerous campaigns. And Carla Lane, the television scriptwriter, admitted recently that she was almost penniless because the millions that she earned from writing hit series such as The Liver Birds had been spent on running her animal sanctuary.

It is not an exclusively British form of hysteria. The campaign to rescue Keiko, the whale who starred in Free Willy, was international. Keiko was freed from captivity and released into the wild off Iceland earlier this year. But nowhere else do passions run quite so high; in no other country are animals elevated to such absurd status.

As the journalist Paul Johnson put it a few months ago: "Recently, at a party, I asked 10 of the guests, 'Do you think animals are nicer than people?' Nine said 'yes'. The tenth replied, 'What a silly question, of course they are.'"

There are plenty of theories about it, and it is worth noting that our animal heroes have many features in common. Quite often they are hairy, which we find endearing. They have pleading eyes, which are difficult to resist. They are defenceless, so they need our protection. And, to put it plainly, they are stupid. That's what makes us a superior form of life.

But let's be clear about the terms of reference of our animal idolatry. There is no great empathy with fish, for instance, which means that many people fiercely oppose hunting but could not give a fig about the cruelty of angling. Reptiles, molluscs and insects leave us cold.

To be a national hero, you need to be a mammal, preferably cute-looking with long hair. Huggability is all.

The Donkey

Blackie: He was saved from a ritual death at a village near Madrid in 1987 by the 'Daily Star', after a battle between British newspapers

The Whale

Keiko: The killer whale star of the movie 'Free Willy' was flown some 4,000 miles from his Oregon aquarium and returned to the Iceland sea

The Dog

Dempsey: The pitbull terrier was saved from a destruction order after Ms Bardot successfully leapt to his defence two years ago

The Pigs

The Tamworth Two: The swine caused a media frenzy when they gave their minders the slip and escaped from an abattoir in Wiltshire in January

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week