Dogs used in hunts are often subjected to horrific conditions
Animal rights campaigners in Spain held demonstrations across multiple cities on October 16 to shine a light on hunting dogs being exempt from new animal welfare laws.
The Spanish government recently lodged a further amendment to its Animal Protection Law, which sought to keep hunting dog breeds exempt from abuse protection.
Barcelona-based animal rights group Paw Portal called the move “a shame,” considering this is the same government that made so many positive steps to help animals previously.
“Do dogs feel less if they are in the hands of hunters than in the hands of people who do not have killing animals as a hobby?” the group asked in a Facebook post. “Indeed: they feel less affection, less attention and less respect.”
Protests were organized in Almeria, Cadiz, and Valencia, amongst others, to encourage people to sign a petition launched by Spanish political party the Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals.
Paw Portal supported efforts and informed its followers about the underlying issues of speciesism and cruelty. “[This is] a reminder that the Spanish government wants to exclude hunting dog breeds from the new animal rights laws,” it wrote.
“This will allow the biggest perpetrators of the worst animal abuse to continue without facing any consequences!”
Abuse faced by working dogs
Paw Portal claims that dogs used to hunt are kept in abhorrent conditions. Many are reported to be kept on short chains for the majority of their lives, while housed in unsanitary feces-filled kennels, and denied access to clean drinking water.
At the end of hunting season, due to the undomesticated nature of the animals, thousands face abandonment or death at the hands of their owners. Hanging, burning, and being discarded into wells to drown are listed as some common “disposal” techniques.
Under the Animal Protection Law, all of these activities would be deemed illegal and punishable by a prison sentence. However, the government is looking to remove all protection from hunting breeds, apparently on the grounds of “cultural interest.”
In its petition, the Animalist Party states that: “This was [also] denounced by the Intergroup of the European Parliament on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals in a letter sent to the Government, in which it indicated that the treatment given in our country to animals used as hunting tools is in contradiction with European values.”
The party demands that no species is exempt from protection by the law. It also asks that none be used as “tools” for human profit, as it equates to exploitation, a term it also connects to another Spanish tradition, bull fighting.
Spain cracks down on animal abuse
On August 1, the Spanish government updated its Animal Protection Law to reduce cruelty, abandonment, and the unnecessary killing of animals. The amendment was brought in by the minister of social rights, Ione Belarra.
“Animal abuse going unpunished and aberrant practices such as cockfighting or shooting pigeons are over,” she said at the time. “Gone are the days when hundreds of thousands of animals were abandoned every year in our country.”
Murcia Today reported that key changes included a zero sacrifice policy, with no animal being euthanized except for in extreme medical circumstances, and a tougher stance on perpetrators of animal abuse. The Penal Code was changed to increase custodial sentences from a minimum of 24 to 36 months for first offenses.
Zoos and marine parks are also required to transform into wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Following on from the amendments, more animal rights progress was made in December when animals became classified as sentient beings in Spain. Only the far-right political party Vox opposed the move, which saw domestic companions and wild species alike no longer considered as “objects” by law.
The Head of the Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit, Salman Sufi, announced that the development of the Animal Rights curriculum, which will be taught in schools in the federal capital, is almost complete.
His tweet read: “As part of PM Shehbaz [Sharif’s] Animal welfare reforms, Chapters on Animal rights in curriculum are in final stages of composition”.
He added that he had also had detailed consultations with over 40 academics, the Ministry of Education, the curriculum board, and animal rights volunteers in this regard.
He had stated in September that the course will be introduced in the syllabi of Grades 5 and above at both private and government schools in the federal capital by the end of October.
Sufi also mentioned that the government is working with international organizations and local activists for this project that will educate students about pets, stray animals, and exotic pets.
Detailing the layout of the course, Sufi had said,
Animal rights activists will visit schools and teach children about keeping pets. They will tell kids that pets cannot just be kept for fun, and make them realize that animals are a responsibility.
They need to understand that you can’t throw stones at stray dogs. That it is better to neuter these animals. That even Islam teaches us to respect every living being and emphasizes how animals should be protected.
Furthermore, the course content will also include the dangers of keeping exotic animals at home.
“We will tell children that if they can afford these wild animals, it is absolutely unfair to keep them at home and that importing exotic animals is a big no,” Sufi said.
The premier’s aide had also previously explained that the course on Animal Welfare will have co-curricular sessions, and after it is launched in Islamabad, the authorities will push for the provincial governments to follow suit.
Above – A truck with tightly packed cattle arrives at the unloading yard of Kampala City Abattoir. Animal rights advocates want the government to enforce laws that require humane treatment of animals during transportation.
All photos – EDNA NAMARA, GPJ UGANDA
KAMPALA, UGANDA — As soon as the truck pulls up, Joseph Lubwama jumps out and starts unloading 24 tightly packed cattle he has brought to Kampala City Abattoir. He begins by untangling a web of ropes used to tie the cattle’s long horns to the rails of the truck bed to keep them still. They have been on a 250-kilometer (155-mile) journey from Kiruhura, a rural district in southern Uganda. One by one, the cattle step out of the truck. They look tired.
“For the animals to travel that long tied to one position by the horns and tail, it is uncomfortable,” says Lubwama, as he begins to herd them off the truck.
What seemed like genuine concern vanishes when Gaju, a bull with the majestic horns typical of the Ankole breed, wobbles, falls in the middle of the truck bed and can’t get up.
“Get up, Gaju! Go, go, go, Gaju, go,” Lubwama shouts as he kicks the animal and mercilessly strikes it with a cane.
When Gaju doesn’t budge, Lubwama finds support on the frames of the truck’s cargo cage and kicks the animal hard using both legs with his heavy gumboots. The apparent pain forces Gaju to gather strength, stand up and stagger out of the truck.
Kampala’s steady population growth over the last three decades has created high demand for beef. But the city doesn’t permit raising cattle within its limits, meaning that people like Lubwama have to bring in cattle from ranches hundreds of kilometers from the city’s abattoirs. But the inhumane way cattle are transported has led to a debate between animal rights activists and veterinarians who are calling for government intervention, and cattle dealers who contend that they would lose money if the current laws were enforced.
David Kakooza, a veterinarian’s assistant who keeps records of the overcrowded trucks of cattle arriving daily at the abattoir, says he doesn’t feel good seeing animals arrive so fatigued. He wishes the government could enforce existing laws and regulations that are supposed to ensure animals are not tortured during transportation.
“Animals have rights, too,” Kakooza says as he inspects a truck carrying 21 head of cattle.
Standing orders of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards stipulate that trucks “shall have enough space for the comfort of slaughter animals during transit, cattle placed crosswise on a lorry shall allow 50 cm to 60 cm of the truck length for each animal.” Transportation of animals for slaughter “shall be carried out in a way that minimizes stress, pain and suffering,” according to the guidelines. There is also the Animals (Prevention of Cruelty) Act, which states that any person who “cruelly beats, kicks, ill-treats, overrides, overdrives, overloads, tortures or infuriates any animal” is guilty of the crime of cruelty.
Siraj Katangawuzi, the imam of Nansana parish, says he wants to see these laws and regulations strictly enforced to ensure that animals are transported without suffering. He says one simple change the government could make is to require the use of timber instead of ropes to prevent cattle from falling during transportation. The government should also educate Ugandans on the importance of being kind to animals and revoke the licenses of those who refuse to follow the law.
“Ugandans need to realize that everything that breathes has feelings,” Katangawuzi says. “It is impossible for humans to travel all that distance without changing position, but cows, too, have feelings, so they should not be tied so mercilessly.”
Dr. Dickson Tayebwa, an animal welfare advocate and veterinarian who lectures at Makerere University, says existing laws are not enforced because “big men” — powerful government officials who own extensive cattle ranches and many of the trucks that transport animals to Kampala’s abattoirs — dominate the meat industry.
Above – Cattle dealers and herdsmen watch as a load of cattle is led to a resting area at the Kampala City Abattoir. Kampala’s growing demand for meat means cattle must be transported from far away, raising concerns about animal cruelty.
“Their trucks have papers indicating that they are special,” Tayebwa says. “So, the officers manning roadblocks cannot say anything, even when it’s clear that laws are being broken.”
An officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, acknowledges that the presence of powerful people in the industry makes government regulation difficult.
“They are untouchable,” the officer says.
David Kasura Kyomukama, the permanent secretary at the ministry, says he cannot comment on the issue of top government officials impeding the enforcement of laws. But he says the ministry is trying to convince people in the industry that obeying the laws and regulations would be in their best interest.
“Animals are animals, so they can’t be treated like people, but they can be treated well on the journey so that we get money out of them,” Kyomukama says. “If you treat animals in a way that stresses them, you won’t get their full worth, as some might lose weight, or even die.”
Kyomukama says the ministry plans to set up abattoirs in regions across the country so that animals are slaughtered closer to where they are raised and their meat transported to Kampala and other urban centers. He doesn’t say when that might happen.
Dr. Hannington Katumba, a Kampala city council veterinarian, agrees that treating cattle well would benefit the beef industry and consumers because healthy cows produce high-quality meat. He explains that when a cow is reacting to high levels of stress, its body excretes lactic acid, which increases acidity and makes meat fail to settle.
“That is the ugly meat we sometimes see in stalls. It looks beaten,” Katumba says.
The fact that Ugandan culture doesn’t generally value animal welfare has made ending cruelty against animals more difficult. Samuel Bwanakweri, a herder from western Uganda who has been in cattle trade and transportation for 21 years, laughs when asked why animals are treated so cruelly during transportation to the abattoirs.
“What is all the fuss about? They are heading to the slaughterhouse,” he says matter-of-factly. “Isn’t it ironic to feel pity for an animal you are going to kill?”
Bwanakweri says that he spends a lot of money to transport the cattle from as far away as 320 kilometers (almost 200 miles) to the abattoirs and that following the regulations would not make economic sense. To break even, he says he needs to get 23 cows on each truck because he must hire four handlers at 100,000 Ugandan shillings ($26) each. He also pays the truck owner and the bank that gives him business loans.
Although he’s not as dismissive as Bwanakweri about animal welfare, Bonny Katambula, a committee member of Kampala City Abattoir, agrees that if the current laws and regulations were to be strictly enforced, many dealers would be out of business. He says the ideal number for the large trucks should be 20 cows.
“A man cannot hire a truck for 1 million shillings [$260], drive it upcountry for cattle and return with only 10 cows,” he says. “That defeats the economic purpose.”
Above – Workers inside Kampala City Abattoir weigh and cut meat to buyers’ specifications.
Lubwama says his goal is to work his way up in the beef industry. As a cattle handler, he earns 100,000 shillings ($26) for each of the three trips he makes weekly. He is working hard to save money and be able to have one of his own cows on the truck.
“My dream is to slowly build my business and be able to fill a truck with my cattle,” he says as he leads Gaju and several cows to the yard for fodder, water and rest.
After 12 hours, he will herd Gaju to the slaughterhouse, where the bull’s journey will end. The meat will be processed, and the health inspector will stamp it to certify that it has been checked for disease and deemed healthy for human consumption. Lubwama will head back to Kiruhura and load the truck with more cattle for his next trip to Kampala to help quell the city’s hunger for beef.
Edna Namara is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Kampala, Uganda.