My bunny-hugging antagonist’s embarrassed silence on the BBC radio phone-in told me all I needed to know.
Yes, it really is now a criminal offense in Britain to abuse an ant, a worm, a slug, cockroach, a scorpion, a stick insect or whatever creature you care to name. The moment you decide to keep it as a pet you are obliged by our Animal Welfare Act to take full account of its welfare needs -- or face a $30,000 fine or a twelve-month prison sentence.
And if you think cockroach rights sound crazy, wait till you hear how the law applies to the way you keep your dog or your cat. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) -- one of the numerous, busybody branches of our socialist New Labour administration -- recently issued guidelines to pet owners clarifying the law.
You risk prosecution if:
-- You fail to groom your long-haired dog or cat once a day.
-- You feed your dog from the table.
-- You use your hands or feet when playing with your cat (as this may
encourage aggressive behavior).
-- You fail to provide every cat in your household with its own litter
tray (even if the cat has access to a garden).
-- You try to make your cat vegetarian by denying it meat.
None of these provisions is in itself a criminal offense, a DEFRA spokesman has explained helpfully. But failure to comply with several of them “may be used in evidence to support a prosecution for animal cruelty.”
Well, that’s me done for then. In the last few years, I have contravened every one of these pet care laws (apart from the last one: encouraging feline vegetarianism -- indeed, encouraging any form of vegetarianism -- really should, I believe, be punishable by imprisonment and torture at the very least), especially the one regarding cat litter trays.
Our ageing cat, Beetle, doesn’t have a litter tray at all. Why? Well, for one, thing he’s a cat, and, from what I’ve observed of the feline species, they’re quite intelligent enough to do their business outside and don't need the option of indoor facilities. And, for another, I’m the human. I pay the mortgage. I buy the cat food. We’re the master species (or at least we used to be). So it seems to me only fair that I should be the one who gets to decide whether or not to keep a tray of gravel in my kitchen smelling faintly of cat poop.