Would politicians vote for a ban on snares if their dog was unfortunate enough to get caught in one?
This question crossed my mind whilst reading a new scientific report on the welfare impacts for animals caught in snares. The Impact of Snares on Animal Welfare report was produced by leading respected academics from Cambridge University.
Snares are primitive wire noose traps set in he countryside by shooting estate gamekeepers and farmers to catch so-called ‘pests’ such as foxes and rabbits. However, by their very nature, snares are inherently unselective and indiscriminate and any animal is at risk. They commonly catch non-target animals, including protected species such as otters, badgers and even Scottish wildcats. OneKind also has a shocking catalogue of reports of people’s pet cats and dogs which were caught in snares.
Looking after a dog myself, I can only imagine how distressing and upsetting it must be for your beloved dog to be caught, injured or even killed by a snare. This brings me to a point raised by the Cambridge University researchers, that it is “likely that the genetic similarity that exists between the dog and the fox leads to a similar capacity to experience fear, pain and exhaustion, and to suffer.” This may seem obvious but is worthy of note.
The researchers continued that “there is no evidence that a wild animal trapped in a snare suffers any less than a domestic animal trapped in a snare. A wild animal may, in fact, suffer more: it will be more aware of the risk of predator attack, and experience extreme fear when it is approached by a human and is unable to escape. In contrast, the domestic animal will be habituated to humans, less aware of the risks of predator attack and therefore less fearful.”
So why do people not find the thought of a fox caught in a snare as distressing and wrong as a dog in a snare? Obviously we feel greater empathy with the domesticated animals we choose to keep as pets and get to know personally. We seldom get the chance to know a wild animal as an individual. And then so many wild animals are stigmatised as ‘pests’ or ‘vermin’ and, sadly, the consideration given to an animal’s welfare is usually related to its place in what we see as our world.
The Cambridge researchers noted that: “A rabbit may be viewed differently according to whether it is a family pet, a laboratory animal, an animal kept for meat production, or a wild animal that is labelled as a pest. There is no evidence, however, that a rabbit has a greater or lesser capacity to experience pain and suffering depending on how it is used by humans; its biological functioning remains the same."
They continued: "In the controlled conditions of slaughterhouses the period of pain and distress of animals at slaughter is often less than 60 seconds, and ongoing research aims to further shorten this time. The killing of laboratory animals is tightly regulated and monitored, with constant efforts to improve humaneness. Every effort is made to ensure that the euthanasia of pet animals is rapid and pain-free. In contrast, three minutes is considered an acceptable time (often of extreme pain and suffering) for wild animals to take to die in killing traps, and the period permitted between visits to check for animals caught in snares can be as long as 24 hours.”
Until our society can feel equal empathy for all sentient creatures we must build on the positive relationships that already exist. When politicians in Scotland shortly have the chance to vote to ban snares, many of them will do so for the sake of the foxes. For those who don’t see foxes as we do, maybe they could imagine a dog caught in a snare, and vote accordingly.