God Save the Queen

  My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.

   Anna Sewell

During the Victorian Age, the concept “pure breds” came into being.  Sure, Shar Peis have been around for possibly thousands of years, but the first cataloging of these dogs began during this age.  Hand-in-hand with the cataloging came the desire for new breeds.  Thus, the Victorian Age created more new breeds of dog.  Fortunately, as more and more people dabbled in Artificial Selection (breeding), along came some of the first animal welfare acts.

Queen Victoria with one of her many beloved dogs

Queen Victoria with one of her many beloved dogs

Queen Victoria I, reigning sovereign of England from 1837 – 1901, and had a tremendous effect on how we view dogs.  She was a passionate dog lover, as well as a strong leader, and therefore bestowed quite a bit of influence upon the population’s perspective on dogs (and animals in general).  In 1822 Colonel Richard Martin succeeded in passing an act in the House of Commons preventing cruelty to such larger domestic animals as horses and cattle; two years later he organized the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to help enforce the law. Queen Victoria commanded the addition of the prefix “Royal” to the Society in 1840.  In 1837, Great Britain was the first to ban bull baiting, cockfighting, bear baiting, and a great many other atrocities against animals that had been occurring.  Suddenly animals were being treated well, humanely.

If you take a look at Victorian paintings, quite a few depict the family dog(s).  Animals became part of the literary scene (Black Beauty, a book about the cruelty of humans towards their domestic animals, from the animal’s point of view, being a forerunner).  The concept that an animal could suffer was beginning to emerge.  Suddenly dogs became more than living machines: they became, in the words of Edith Wharton “My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”

As all things do, gradually the concept of animal welfare hopped the pond.  Eventually those in America started to pick up on these ideas (cockfighting was only banned in Louisiana in 2007).  But we still have a ways to go. In 2007 British law declared docking of an animal’s tail to be a crime.  Unfortunately, that is not the case here in America.  Compared to the protection given to animals in England, America sometimes looks downright backwater and medieval.  Hopefully, one day, we can be the forerunner in protecting animals.

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