Renata Jones is a Charnwood Borough councillor.
There was a row recently about animal sentience – after it was widely but inaccurately claimed that MPs had voted in such a way as to sugges that animals ‘didn’t have feelings’: unsurprisingly, people got very upset.
Our digital age is a golden age for the transfer of information instantly – or at least, as quickly as people can react to, write, film, or picture it – and then click “send”. Technology to post and platforms to share user-generated content get slicker and quicker, and have wider coverage and user bases all the time. While this is fantastic for sharing valid information, it’s a drawback when misinterpretation or misinformation goes viral – sparking long-range mass rage. Sometimes even when it’s ‘fake news’. The political turmoil and mass debate online about animal sentience recently demonstrated this eloquently.
I myself am a Conservative with a pet cat. Whilst she can’t speak to me in words, I can often understand what she is thinking or indicating, and she definitely knows her own mind. She typically expresses her feelings and thoughts with body language, a variety of noises, and actions.
I know, for instance, that given the choice on Brexit, she would have voted Leave. She has strong opinions on immigration and the sharing of habitat resources. She usually expresses these feelings with a strong combination of hissing and bashing of the window with her paw when another cat tries to get into the house without permission.
I like to think she’d be a strong activist if she could be. She regularly campaigns for more resources – often biscuits – usually by starting a sit-in by food bowls, often accompanied by protest song-style meow noises, despite having been fed recently She’s not willing just to be told what constitutes enough. She doesn’t accept a definition of it from the powers that be – whoever it is in authority, be it the vet, the food manufacturing companies, or me as their effective representative weighing out the food.
There are occasionally policies of the house that she doesn’t agree with. She’s forced to have anti-flea drops put on the back of her neck at regular intervals to protect her from disease. She often tries to avoid this, and runs away if tricked into it. There has never been consent to this healthcare policy, and I can’t see that ever changing. It’s the same story with annual jabs, another healthcare policy she protests with loud voice every year.
She’s lived with me in a Conservative-voting constituency for a long time. I like to think she’d vote Tory, and maybe one day technology or our understanding will grow enough to enable votes for cats. If she lives long enough for things to change enough for her to begin some suffragette-styled votes for cats movement, I’d support it. Because I truly believe she has feelings and knows her own mind. That’s sentience. And that’s the point of recent debate and outrage. I don’t own a dog, but I’d say the same for dogs. I’m sure most pet owners are responsible, love their furry, four-legged friends, and could feel the same.
If I hear the phrase ‘just a cat’, I’m somewhat outraged for her. I don’t know if she can understand that phrase or not, but I feel hurt and offended for her. I was appalled for her when a pet insurance company documented her as a ‘moggie’ on paperwork sent out to me. Suffice to say they lost my renewal – regardless of price. These statements are commonplace, and racist. My cat has demonstrated that she has feelings, so perhaps has the capacity to be offended by racism towards her. Because my cat is not ‘just a cat’. We share a home, she shows me affection, we care for each other, we’ve become best friends – she’s even fended off two burglars. She’s earned the right to be a member of my family.
Perhaps that’s for another debate.
This is all context to say that despite being a Conservative, I can fully see why people would been outraged to hear that Conservative MPs voted animals didn’t have feelings. But they didn’t.
Essentially, they voted against accepting EU animal-related laws. However our country is known throughout the globe as being a nation of animal-lovers. What could the EU laws tell us that we don’t already know? And if we’re out the EU, as we will be soon, we don’t need theirs – we’ll use our own, better laws, thanks. Of course MPs love animals as much as the rest of us, or Larry the cat would never have been appointed ‘chief mouser’ to Number Ten.
Still, one good thing has come out of all this: we’ve got away from men in suits making dry speeches, and got to see Michael Gove hugging his dog in a video that went viral. I for one fully support any calls for more pictures of politicians with their pets – and any votes for cats movement, of course.