These fanatics are chasing after the wrong hare

If greyhound racing is banned, they will turn to horse-racing, then dog-showing, zoos, pets
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Like the weather itself, the moral climate has become scary and unpredictable of late. Gales of outrage swirl about our little world. The tide of cynicism, experts agree, is rising year upon year while the effects of global moaning are all around us.

Like the weather itself, the moral climate has become scary and unpredictable of late. Gales of outrage swirl about our little world. The tide of cynicism, experts agree, is rising year upon year while the effects of global moaning are all around us.

As politics, business, entertainment and advertising somehow become more compromised and enmeshed with one another, there is an unmistakable hankering for certainty, simplicity and innocence. Some find it in religious faith. Others see it in the lives of children. An increasingly large group finds a template for all that is good and uncorrupted in wildlife, and become animal rights activists.

So it seems quite possible that a fair number of good-hearted, kind people will turn out one Sunday at the beginning of May for an event called Remembering Rusty. Opening at a rubbish tip in Wales with what the organisers call "a solemn remembrance ceremony", it will continue with an education day at a nearby park.

Rusty, who during his short life was also known as Charlie, Mystique and Last Hope, was a greyhound. Once a useful sprinter, he injured himself, lost his form and, after a bad performance at Warwick, was handed over to a groundsman called Andrew Gough who was given £10 to dispose of him. Gough gave bad value for money, shooting the dog with a captive-bolt pistol but failing to kill him. The dying greyhound, with both ears cut off to remove its identifying tattoos, was found on a tip. As Jonathan Brown revealed in this week's Independent, the life and death of Rusty have become the focus of a campaign to ban the sport of greyhound racing.

It is too easy to mock those who will be standing, heads bowed, to commemorate a dog whose fate is probably no worse than that of thousands, perhaps millions, of other animals who were brought into the world for human diversion and who, once they had served their purpose, were abandoned, neglected, starved or, if they were lucky, killed. Frankly, if Rusty's final resting place is worth a vigil, then there is hardly a rubbish dump in Britain where a solemn remembrance ceremony could not justifiably take place.

Of all those searching for lost innocence, animals rights campaigners can often seem the nuttiest. As far as the more hardcore members of the Animal Liberation Front are concerned, the act of drinking milk produced by a cow imprisoned upon a farm in unacceptable. The ALF's avowed aim to "highlight the always immoral and often illegal use and abuse of our brothers and sisters of other species" may seem modest enough but, by giving animals moral equivalence to man, it excuses the various assaults and outrages committed against humans by those its website describes as "compassionate commandos".

For those who exploit animals, the extremism of their opponents is a godsend. The Remembering Rusty campaign, which has done good work in shedding light on one of dog-racing's murkier secrets, loses all credibility when Greyhound Action, the group behind it, complains that while a "worthless individual" like the groundsman Gough received a six-month sentence, one of their number, who attacked the head of Huntingdon Life Sciences, was sent down for three years.

But the awkward fact is that, behind the hysteria, rage and sentimentality of campaigners, many of their arguments are justified. The life of a second-rate racehorse can be a tough one; that of a dog, used in a sport which has none of the prestige and visibility of horse-racing, is likely to be dire. There is no place for tactics, athleticism and courage in greyhound-racing; the dogs are nothing more than media for a gamble; to both punters and to commentators, they are numbers rather than names.

I can well believe that the fate of a dog half-killed, mutilated and dumped, is not unusual in the sport of greyhound-racing. Racehorses, if they are very lucky, can be allowed to serve humans as a hack or hunter, but greyhounds trained to race are good for not much else, and are difficult to place as pets.

It is the animal rights groups' fundamentalist approach that counts against them. If greyhound-racing is banned, they will turn to horse-racing, then show-jumping, dog-showing, zoos, donkey rides, farms, pets. The ALF slogan "Till all are free" is an uncompromising reflection of its vision of the world as a lovely Eden in which brothers and sisters from other species hop and frolic free and unused.

It is bonkers, of course. Take away their connection and usefulness to humanity, then few animals - cows, horse, guinea pigs, greyhounds - would be bred in the first place. They would be liberated only in the sense that they remained unborn.

There are serious issues of animal welfare which any civilised society should address: factory farming, the transport of cattle and horses across thousands of miles to abattoirs, the treatment of greyhounds by gormless idiots like Gough. The mad utopian agenda of liberationists, however sincere though they may be, merely serves to distract the attention both of the public and of bodies like the British Greyhound Racing Board from real problems of cruelty.