Is the environment secretary pandering to sentimentality – or on to the fact that our understanding of animals is changing?
Ever since Michael Gove inadvertently found himself on the wrong side of a row over animal sentience at the end of last year, he has been all over animal welfare with the uninhibited enthusiasm of a python preparing its dinner. His latest move is a bid to stamp out the hideous cruelty of puppy farming by introducing a ban on the sale of kittens and puppies in pet shops. In future, would-be pet owners will have to go direct to the breeder or (so much better) to a pet-homing charity.
The Mirror, which has run an energetic campaign calling for the ban, is thrilled. Earlier this year, Battersea Dogs Home was equally chuffed when the environment secretary promised tougher sentences for animal cruelty, and the Express has only just got its breath back from cheering Gove on after he posed with Finn, the police dog who nearly died protecting its handler, and pledged tougher sanctions against anyone who attacked service dogs or horses. True, he has been persuaded that a total ban on electric collars for dogs and cats, used for restraint and training, might have the unintended consequence of leading to more pets dying on the road, but the direction of travel is unmistakable: in a world polarised by Brexit, pets can be the new politics.
Animal welfare is more often a question that unites rather than divides people, even politicians