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Animal magic

The trend towards permitting exotic pets and to treating crossbreds between wild animals and pets as no longer wild is unacceptable and should not be permitted. Whilst of course where damage is caused there will be potential civil actions both at common law and under statute, it is a bit late by then, and damages for injury or death are at best a very imperfect and unsatisfactory remedy.

Blurring the boundary between wild animals and domestic animals is dangerous. Wild animals are exactly what they are described as being. The principal protection for humans is that wild animals normally are afraid of humans and will give them a wide berth. (This is based upon lessons learned by generations and generations of wild animals who found that interfering with humans or coming close to them was a pretty good way of getting sharp implements stuck into you). The fact that the general suburban resident of today is far removed (in most cases!) both in temperament and generally carried weaponry from their ancestors is not something that has altered the fear that wild animals have. Once they lose that fear however they can be extremely dangerous.

Pretending that a cross between a wild animal and a domestic animal can properly be treated as a domestic animal is a mistake. There will be some such creatures who are more or less domesticated. There will be others which are pretty wild but which will have lost their fear of humans. Once that fear is lost then if humans can be seen as prey in the same way as any other animal. (Readers may recall some of the celebrated Australian cases regarding dingoes, wild dogs, and attacks on humans, but their interactions with humans have certainly impacted upon the lack of fear and hence greater propensity to attack).

Some new trends in this regard are very disturbing. There has been a new tendency to try and treat what are essentially crossbreds between Wolves and dogs such as Alsatians as pets. This is sometimes supposedly dilutive down the generations by mixing crossbreds, but even after three generations you can still have what is essentially 50% wolf and a creature which could still be pretty wild. I have always been one of those who treat the "big bad wolf" stories as fanciful, and there are relatively few accounts of attacks on humans. (Having said that, whilst travelling in the wilds I have known tribesmen who were really concerned about potential attacks from wolves and were adamant in the face of my saying such things did not happen that they had known them to happen). However even if some attacks occur, their rarity is because of natural fear of humans. Take that fear away and a wolf or crossbred wolf is much more dangerous than a dog. It seems somewhat ironic that in the age of legislation regarding dangerous dogs that part wolves could be tolerated as pets and permitted.

A new trend involving cats is to have crossbreds between wild cats (for example from Africa) and domestic cats. These crosses are treated as domestic when common sense shows that they can easily be effectively and largely wild but having lost any fear of humans. Again the risk to humans and especially children is manifest.

Whilst the principal concern is the threat to humans, it is not just a question of them. Readers may recall the pet cat which not so long ago was caught and consumed by the neighbour's pet python. Wild or semi-wild creatures simply do not belong in the pet environment. They belong in the wild, or in zoos, but not residential areas.

Anyone who has heard the terrible story from America of Charla Nash, and in particular anyone who saw her appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, will see the potential dangers. Charla Nash was attacked by someone else's pet chimpanzee. Chimpanzees are enormously strong (many times stronger than the strongest man). In the attack the victim lost most of her hands, her eyelids, (her eyes subsequently had to be removed as a result) her nose and lips and part of the bone structure of her face. She now goes around with a veil to avoid frightening people and also to avoid insult. She agreed to reveal her face on Oprah because she is campaigning about the dangers of wild animals being kept domestically. Her face was one to haunt your dreams, particularly when compared to a normal and happy looking picture of her before the incident. No damages claim could ever be a recompense. Those who want to take risks with the safety of others as regards wild or semi-wild creatures, would do well to study her face.

Michael J. Booth QC