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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried