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Death of a dog on the MTR tracks shows up our selective sympathy

Paul Stapleton says outrage over the death of a dog on the MTR tracks smacks of hypocrisy given our callousness towards farmed animals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 3:43am
 

The recent incident involving the death of a stray dog struck and killed by an MTR train once again reveals a disturbing hypocrisy with regard to the treatment of and concern about animals.

The death of one dog has produced a major outcry and media stories both here and abroad. A petition with 90,000 signatures was submitted to the MTR Corporation and it has publicly apologised while promising to review its policy regarding the rescue of animals on train tracks.

The MTR will release a report on the incident shortly after receiving advice from animal welfare organisations.

In the meantime, a funeral march under heavy police presence was held and flowers were laid near the site of the dog's demise. Media reports say some in the procession were weeping. The tenor of stories and comments in the media has been that the MTR Corp displayed a wanton lack of respect for the life of an animal.

The hypocrisy here, of course, is the apparent inconsistency the general public has with regard to the lives of animals. When a stray dog meets its maker with the help of steel wheels, the event is newsworthy because MTR staff delayed trains on the main line between Hong Kong and mainland China for only six minutes.

This period of time can be used to make an interesting comparison, however. Last year, roughly 1.7 million pigs were slaughtered for the Hong Kong market. This amounts to three pigs every minute, or a total of 18 pigs in six minutes.

Generally, at the abattoir, a steel bolt is fired at the head of the pig, which normally leads to a quick death, probably not remarkably dissimilar to the steel wheels experienced by the stray dog.

What is dissimilar between the lives of the unfortunate dog and that of the millions of pigs, however, is that the dog lived a life of freedom before its death. While our mongrel scavenged, slept and mated to its heart's content, those millions of pigs endured miserable lives in dark concrete pens barely able to move because of the tight quarters. Unlike the dog, the hogs' first glimpse of the sky was on the day of their death.

And such a sad tale ignores the equally short and dismal lives of the millions of chickens and cows that endure similar conditions.

While some of the mourners for the stray dog may be vegans who indeed do not contribute to the suffering described above, it is likely that most are not.

Thus, it is unfortunate that these "animal lovers" and the community at large fail to recognise their hypocrisy when they became angry with the MTR over the life of a stray dog when many of them will enjoy pork for dinner.

Some may argue that pets are in a different category from farm animals. But this argument falls apart with the knowledge that pigs are also sentient beings widely acknowledged to be more intelligent than dogs.

I also feel sorry for the dog that took the last train to glory, but I feel a million times sorrier for the pigs, cows and chickens that end up on our plates.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education

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