Sunday, December 28, 2008

Member of British Royal Family Accused of Beating Dog

This sad and disappointing story comes from the London Times Online.

Did he or didn’t he? Earl of Wessex accused of dog beating
December 29, 2008
by Valentine Low

As festive traditions go, it is as integral a part of the Christmas holiday as turkey leftovers and high street sales - the hapless member of the Royal Family pilloried by the animal rights brigade for some transgression of fur or feather.

This year it was the turn of the Earl of Wessex, who was accused yesterday of setting a “sickening example” for apparently hitting a dog with a stick while shooting at Sandringham.

The rumpus had all the usual elements of the annual Royal-Family-as-heartless-barbarians fixture. There was the photographic evidence (in this case, Prince Edward standing over two dogs as they fought over a dead pheasant, stick raised as if to beat one of them); there was the element of doubt, without which these affairs would not have the staying power (here, the question of whether the Prince actually hit the dog); and, of course, the outraged remarks by the usual suspects.

Step forward Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, who said: “It is an offence to cause an animal unnecessary suffering. Hitting a dog is a pathetic, cowardly and vicious act - it would appear he has had a royal tantrum.” Barry Hugill, spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports, added: “He has set a truly sickening example.”

Only one thing was missing, however: the queue of field sports enthusiasts rushing forward to defend the Prince. While none was ever going to condemn him, several suggested that hitting a dog with a stick was an action of last resort.

Assuming, that is, that the Prince did hit the dog. One onlooker who witnessed the incident said: “What I saw looked to me as if he hit the dog at least three times. But because it was such a long way away I cannot say he definitely did. He swung at the dog, then swung at it again, chasing it round the field. He was really angry.”

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “He broke up the fight with the dogs and pictures show him waving his stick around. We cannot confirm, however, whether he struck the dog.”

According to one field sports aficionado, it is a crucial difference. Jona-than Young, editor of The Field magazine, said: “There are occasions when you need to physically chastise a dog. But you would try to avoid using a stick if you could. Mostly with a well-trained gun dog if you growl at them and there is a threat of physical action, that is usually enough to do the trick.”

The countryside writer Duff Hart-Davis said that striking a dog with a stick was counter-productive, but not cruel. “You can alienate a dog quite easily. You can make it lose confidence in you if you are too rough with it.”

However, the Hampshire farmer Hugh Oliver-Bellasis, another well-known figure in the field sports world, said that using a stick was better than running the risk of being bitten. “I had an incident at the Royal Show where I had to separate two dogs and it was really quite difficult. If I had had a stick to hand I would have solved the problem a good deal more easily. Now and again with dogs one has to tap them with a stick to make sure they do what you want.”

The as yet unresolved question, though, is what the Prince’s mother would have made of it all. The Queen is a robust countrywoman, after all, but not known for raising a stick to her corgis, even under provocation.

As a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said in the Prince’s defence: “The Royal Family are great dog lovers . . . they don’t want to hurt dogs.”

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