Alastair Robertson: The obligations of humans to animals

IT is not fashionable, and probably unwise, to applaud the wit and wisdom of Princess Michael of Kent, but I think the gel may have a point. It is this: animals don’t have rights.
Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald MacleodAlastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod

But… and it’s a big but… humans have obligations towards animals, and if I read her right, birds too. And fish and deer and in fact all game and vermin. Princess Pushy, as she is known for her self-promotional abilities, was, as it happens, promoting a new book at a literary festival last month when she shared her thoughts about animal rights and human obligations.

I have so far been unable to make the connection between the subject of the book she was promoting, Charles VII of France’s mistress Agnès Sorel – of whom there is a rather fruity painting Madonna lactans by Jean Fouquet – and animal rights. Nonetheless, she managed to get them into her talk on Agnès, a woman who doesn’t seem to have had many rights even for the 15th century other than bearing three daughters and being poisoned for interfering; which is no rights at all.

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What the princess said in her forthright fashion was this: “Animals don’t have rights. They don’t have bank accounts. They don’t vote. We have obligations, we have obligations to animals but to say they have rights – they don’t have rights. You only have rights if you pay your taxes. You earn your rights.”

This is, as I say, all a bit brusque and you can spot the odd hole in the argument. And needless to say People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals don’t agree, pointing out, rather feebly I thought, that children don’t vote or pay taxes either, so does that mean they don’t have rights ?

But when it comes to shooting and fishing I still think she’s on to something. As birds and animals have absolutely no understanding of their side of the bargain, then it is up to those of us who do, to kill in the cleanest, quickest and dare I say most ruthless way possible. Hemmingway was big on this, the clean kill, but then he was also into bull-fighting which is another thing altogether. By extension we must also have an obligation to ensure that all those processes which go with shooting, fishing or stalking, from trapping and snaring to rearing and picking up, are conducted as painstakingly as possible. The last, I suspect, is the area in which we fail most often; not taking those extra few minutes to make that one last search for a lost bird or beast.

I’m not sure anyone can claim to have a clear conscience on that one. The temptation to give up because others are waiting to move on can be overbearing. Perhaps we don’t, or shouldn’t, need a princess to remind us. But there you go. She did.