Tell me who the real animals are…

My dog Starbuck.

My dog Starbuck.

Over the weekend, I found myself wondering how a dog I’d never met was faring after reading yet another harrowing account of animal cruelty.

Max the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was kicked several times and thrown to the floor by his owner – because it kept wandering into a Co-op store near his home.

On Friday 26-year-old Samuel Byatt, of Fenton, was given an eight-week prison sentence – suspended for 12 months, with 12 months of supervision by magistrates at North Staffordshire Justice Centre.

It isn’t just me that thinks this is unduly lenient and that cowardly bullies like Byatt should be handed much stiffer penalties for abusing animals.

Alsager Animals in Need volunteer Hilary Baxter, who was named Charity Champion/Volunteer of the Year at The Sentinel and Aspire’s Our Heroes Awards recently, agrees.

Hilary, who has rescued more than 4,000 cats and dogs over almost a quarter of a century, said: “I think anyone who kicks a dog will not hesitate to kick a fellow human being.” I couldn’t agree more. Simply put, you surely have to be wired wrong to inflict that kind of pain on an animal which looks up to you for food, shelter and protection.

The sad fact is that not a week goes by when we don’t read stories in this newspaper about pet dogs, cats and other animals – as well as fish and birds at local parks or nature reserves – suffering unspeakable cruelty at the hands of supposedly more intelligent beings.

The most recent RSPCA figures showed that 48 people in our patch were prosecuted for animal cruelty over a 12-month period.

These included Neil Stockton, of Cobridge, who kicked his dog in the air in full view of two police officers.

Then there was Maxine Davenport, of Bentilee, who failed to take her pet whippet zero to the vet despite its weight plummeting.

Or how about Simon Land, of Congleton, who hit his pet cat Mia on the head with a metal bar? Or perhaps you remember back in July the Staffordshire Bull Terrier pup found running around at Greenway Bank with horrific facial wounds.

RSPCA officials blamed his injuries, including the loss of an eye, on illegal dog fighting or ratting and said he had probably been abandoned because of his failing health.

Then in March there was the story of grandmother Margaret Brereton, of Fenton, who was horrified to find her pet rabbit Thumper had been killed and his eyes gouged out. And so it goes on…

The truth is these cases represent the tip of the iceberg and casual cruelty against animals – pets or otherwise – goes on, day-in, day-out.

No matter what your personal circumstances are, no matter how poor you are, neglect of animals who are clearly ill or in need is simply indefensible.

But when someone actually takes it upon themselves to hurt, maim, or kill a defenceless creature out of spite, for fun, or just because they can then – in my book – they cross a line.

The main image on this page is my dog Starbuck – a two-year-old family pet who wants nothing more from life than to be walked twice a day, play fetch with his toys, enjoy the occasional rawhide bone, be fed and watered and receive plenty of fuss when ‘his pack’ are around.

In return he gives unconditional love and loyalty that frankly shames many humans.

He’s brilliant with my daughters – teaching them the importance of being responsible and caring towards others – and isn’t half a bad guard dog either.

Contrast his behaviour then with that of Samuel Byatt and tell me which one is the animal.

He was convicted in his absence and given what many will view as little more than a slap on the wrist.

Lord knows what has become of Max.

Now I don’t believe for a second that tougher sentences and larger fines would solve the problem of animal cruelty but I do think it would be a step in the right direction and perhaps make some morons think twice about their actions.

I suspect spending a while in clink explaining to other inmates that they’re doing time for kicking a dog/killing a rabbit or throwing a kitten into a stream may well be a sobering experience.

Perhaps harsher penalties could also be tied in with unpaid work on behalf of the many terrific animal charities which often have to pick up the pieces in cases such as these.

Forcing those who have shown so little regard for other species to work to tackle the effects of cruelty and neglect is one way of shaming them into never doing it again.

Of course, the real answer – as with so many of society’s ills – lies with education.

It may seem barmy to most of us but clearly there are some people who do need to be told what’s right and wrong when it comes to how you treat animals and this has to be taught from a young age.

They say that a society should be measured on how well it looks after its elderly.

I would say the same about how well our society treats animals.

These defenceless creatures have no voice and so it is up to us to speak up for them and say: ‘Enough is enough’.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Too many healthy horses are dying. It’s a National disgrace

I was off work on Friday so missed the round-robin email from a colleague offering the chance to take part in the annual office Grand National sweepstake.

I used to have a punt – even though I never had so much as a sniff of the prize money in more than a decade of trying.

Other than a yearly flutter on the greatest race of them all, I must confess I have no interest whatsoever in the gee-gees.

My knowledge of horse racing is patchy to say the least. I’ve been to the Roodee in Chester a couple of times and organised a stag do at Uttoxeter Racecourse.

I know Desert Orchid was a grey and, at a push, I could probably name half a dozen fences on the Grand National course at Aintree.

But the sad truth is I can’t even bring myself to lay bets on the great race anymore because of its appalling safety record.

On Saturday, two more horses – the joint favourite Synchronised and outsider According to Pete – both had to be put down after falls.

This followed the deaths of four horses at the Merseyside meeting last year when only 19 of the 40 horses finished the feature race.

Yes, this is a multi-million-pound event watched by an estimated half a billion people around the world.

But I’ve come to regard it as more of a national lottery than Grand National.

In other words, it is a lottery which horses survive the course and only a matter of time before a jockey is seriously injured or killed.

When I was little, I used to point my cowboy gun at the telly when the National was on and pull the trigger when the horses reached a fence, pretending I was shooting at them.

Occasionally, one or two would fall. I didn’t realise that some of them actually did die as a result.

It goes without saying that the National is a thrilling spectacle, but rather than holding my breath and hoping the horse I’ve had a fiver on makes it over the next fence, I’m now just willing every horse to get round safely.

Since the early 1990s, great strides have been made in terms of better protecting horses and jockeys and last year the British Horseracing Authority conducted a review of safety which led to further changes.

However, the fact remains that, each year, perfectly healthy horses have to be put down because the challenge of the National proves too great.

To my mind, the price paid by these wonderful animals is simply too high – the risks too great.

Never mind that race horses sometimes enjoy long and pampered lives compared to their less glamorous cousins in ordinary stables.

We all know damn well that, when we wander into a bookies and place an each-way bet on a horse with a name we like the sound of, there’s a good chance it might die as a result of taking part in the Grand National.

I’m no animal rights activist and I am not naive enough to think the race will ever be shelved on healthy and safety grounds because there is simply too much money involved.

However, I’m with the RSPCA, which is calling for the size of the field to be reduced and the jump design and race length to be looked at.

Some people launch into hyperbole about the nation coming together just once a year and housewives closing their eyes and sticking pins into pieces of paper to make their choices.

Others – some of those who attend the race meeting itself – care more about the hat they are wearing and how much alcohol they have consumed on their big weekend out than they do about the horses.

Others still will witter on about the need to preserve history and heritage and point to other perceived cruelty to animals that goes unchecked in this country.

But I’m talking here specifically about a horse race – albeit a long-established one – which could be made so much safer.

Isn’t the simple truth that the Grand National, in its current form, is incredibly dangerous as it routinely leads to the death of too many horses?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel