What hope if we can't care for simple sheep?

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The Independent Online
ANGELA LAMBERT on these pages last week asked: 'Why, in a world with catastrophes like Rwanda, should people get steamed up about sheep?' Her question implied that people who care about the plight of animals don't care about Rwanda.

However, the fact is we care more because we have learnt to respect, indeed revere, life, its complications, wonders and, more importantly, its preservation.

These concerns should not be reserved for people but offered to all living and feeling things; and because this is not the case, we are sitting around the deathbed of our universe.

Let's get things straight about the human race. We are the cruellest, most dangerous animal of all. We vandalise and abuse our habitat. The brilliance and unique qualities born to us are masked by greed. The maxim has become: 'If we can't make money out of it, kill it' - and so, bit by huge bit, we are stripping the planet of the very things that sustain and embellish it. This, by the way, includes sheep, which Ms Lambert describes as 'serviceable, foolish creatures' - read edible, trusting creatures.

We are reminded about the travesty of dying babies in Rwanda, people with skulls split open, and mothers searching for lost infants. Has Ms Lambert visited a slaughterhouse? It is all there in the brightest colours and, back at the farm, the mother cow moans far into the night for her newly born calf, taken from her to be put in a small crate, force-fed and, at the age of six months, cruelly killed - yes, cruelly killed.

Don't let syrupy tales of humane slaughterhouses blind you. They are the most shameful, dark corners of our society and, unlike Rwanda, have been and will be with us for ever, to the tune of 130 million animals a week in this country alone. And what is it all for? Man's belly.

There is also the issue of the 'continental mind' and its supposed belief that animals are there to serve man. This is true - and this is why in Spain they have bullfights; this is why they throw goats from high steeples for fun. In Spain, they kill sheep with screwdrivers - and, oh, I forgot - they gouge the eyes out of horses so that they will be less trouble when being led to the final man.

In Belgium, as the horse steps out of its container, a man and boy await with sledgehammers. In Britain, desensitised lorry drivers sit in lay-bys eating sandwiches while hungry, thirsty animals, some with broken legs, wait in the back for the nightmare to continue.

If this does not move you, then perhaps you should visit a laboratory and, if you can get through the aseptic Fort Knox of these obscene places, try gazing down at the cat with electrodes in its head. Stroke the young dog that has been given an injection to induce a stroke; and, if you can bear it, look into the eyes of the primates, huddling and hugging each other in the corner of a metal cage just before lethal poisons are pumped into them. And all this for us - our longevity, our ruthless reign.

It is not just sheep that some people are beginning to feel for. It is something deep and uncomfortable in their gut. The curious knowledge - in spite of the lack of it - that something is amiss. Constant glimpses on television and in newspapers of man's need to destroy are implanted in the mind. This destruction comes nearer and nearer to home shores. Finally, there will be nothing left to destroy except man himself.

So the sight of a quiet, good-intentioned creature brings out an inherent compassion. Feeling good is not a reward offered to those of us who speak up for animals - indeed, we are branded as cranks, crackpots and radicals. And yet it is for the gastronomic comfort of carnivores that thousands of people are paid enormous amounts of money to be cruel. They walk among us with not a whisper of their trade.

So, these are some of the reasons people should care about sheep - because only when you care about all can you really care about any. Remember, the lambs in the slatted trucks are not for us cranks.

The author is a writer and founder-member of Animal Line (0342 810 596).