Two weeks ago a unique focus was put on animal cruelty as yet another wealthy American shot dead yet another animal in Africa as a trophy of man’s natural right to destroy all he can.
Poor Cecil the lion was in reality just another victim in our – yes, all of us – complicity in the destruction of other beings for a thrill of power and control. It would seem we as a species must always, without fail, exert our dominance, often simply because we can.
It’s important to note that dear Cecil was a famous and protected lion. Why is this important? Well, without that adage very few in the outraged western world would even have heard of Cecil and even less would have cared that he had been shot dead and paraded around as a toy.
But it is not solely Cecil’s protected nature which stains us with the mark of hypocrisy. In a week that saw us rage against Cecil’s death, thousands flocked to Galway for the family friendly Galway Races. It’s fun and aside from the odd drunken tumble and brawl, and a rare jokey falling during a race, no one gets hurt, right?
But how many people really know or care what horse races are? Horse racing is merely gambling with another’s life. From this, hundreds of thousands each year in Ireland alone derive immense pleasure.
For several years I worked at the Galway Races and saw one of the most ugly sides to humanity. I watched from a distance as the crowds swarmed in each day, consumed unhealthy amounts of alcohol and gambled away their wages on the lives of race horses.
I watched as the horses came crashing over a jump and I would pray each time that none would fall, not because I had money on one to win, but I knew the likely outcome if one fell. This then increased with the number of horses running in a race. For the larger races once one horse falls while jumping, two or three more get caught up and take a tumble too.
The procedure was, and remains, simple. If a horse falls and is too injured for the owner’s or the vet’s liking, a man arrives in a car. The man gets out of the car as others hold the panicked and terrified injured horse still. The man pulls out a small gun and “pop”. Within seconds the horse is on the ground shaking, with blood spilling from its face.
As this all happens, workers like myself hold up a blue screen in front of the scene. The screen isn’t to minimise the reach of the blood spatter or to protect the horse’s dignity. No, the screen is there to protect the crowds, the gamblers who played a significant role in the horse’s injury and subsequent death. Why should those responsible for the death be forced to watch the sentence carried out? That view is for the labourers, those without the suits, sunglasses, hats and stilettos.
As a child, I also had no idea this is what happened. I too enjoyed the races. Then I learned the hard way what the reality of horse racing is. Often the lucky ones are those horses who are shot in the head. Others have fallen as they come over a jump and snapped their neck on the ground below. At one point a horse hit a jump so forcefully during a race that he snapped his leg and spent the next five minutes limping around the track in agony as the lower part of his leg held on to his body by only some muscle and skin.
Of course horse racing is fun though. It benefits the economy in many ways, it’s profitable and makes many wealthy people even wealthier. Others gamble away their savings in the hope they’ll one day pick the outside winner and join the ranks of Ireland’s wealthy. And we should never forget that it is part of our heritage, culture and traditions. Though, like slavery in the US and Britain, economic benefits, tradition and culture are rarely justifiable reasons for cruelty and inhumanity.
Two weeks ago much of the western world was up in arms about the wealthy American dentist who savagely killed a lion, by the name of Cecil, and then displayed his trophy. That same week Galway hosted its annual exercise in animal cruelty and no one said a word. How many of those so outraged by Cecil’s death also took a trip along to the races and gambled on an animal’s life?
Perhaps the American dentist who so brutally tore down Cecil isn’t that different from us “civilised” beings. The dentist held a gun, we hold a bookies slip. The difference is in the cleanliness of our hands after the deed is done.