I’ve met the odd celeb in my time, and I have to say, in general, doing so has been a mistake. With the exception of the actor Rutger Hauer, spotted walking incognito across a piazza in Venice and looking every bit as tall and as well-put-together as he does in the original Blade Runner, male celebs always turn out to be a good foot shorter than you had them in your head, and female celebs, older, and far, far more disillusioned-looking. If offered the chance to meet one of my human idols these days, as a cynical lady d’un certain age, I’m not sure I would say ‘Yes’. You grow older, your illusions become more precious, not less, and I’d sooner keep the few I still have intact. But Finn – Fabulous Finn – is an exception for me as he is for every soul lucky enough to have him lie down obediently before them, and modestly turn the best side of his muzzle to the click and whirr of the camera-phone.
Finn is the police dog who made Simon Cowell cry. Finn is the (now retired) police dog who saved the life of his handler, Dave Wardell, when they were threatened by a knife-wielding robber, and who was almost killed in doing so. Finn is the inspiration behind Finn’s Law, Parts 1. #FinnsLawPart2 will mean that anyone who harms or abuses any animal will face up to 5 years in jail, and would be law already if it weren’t for the idiocies of Brexit and the hiccup of the last general election. The second 2nd vote on Finn’s Law Part 2 is now taking place this summer, which means that Finn (and Dave) are still canvassing support. Which is why I found myself recently standing outside Westminster Hall, on one of those soft grey wet afternoons that can’t make up its mind if it’s spring yet or winter still, with about 40 different MPS of every kind of political stamp, all waiting to be photographed with the four-legged hero of the hour.
The most ancient evidence we have of our social interaction with animals is of interaction with a dog. I say ‘social interaction’ because as an historian you’re meant to be objective and analytical, but really, what that evidence displays is a relationship so modern, yet so timeless, and so bound into our human ideals of trust and love and companionship that to try to present it as anything other than human-animal owner and animal-animal pet is ridiculous. If you’re one of the readers of my last book, The Animal’s Companion, then you’ll know this already: the evidence I’m talking about comes from what was the muddy floor of a cave in France, and comes in the now-fossilized form of a track of twinned foot and paw-prints from 26,000 years ago. The footprints belonged to a little boy, maybe nine or ten years old, and the paw-prints belonged to his dog; and the little boy had taken his dog with him into the cave because caves are dark and scary places and a dog (and a torch, from which we can carbon-date their adventure) is the basic human survival kit. Just as it was for Constable Dave Wardell.
Our two-legged human instincts have been pretty much screwed over the ages by the two-legged human brain. We ascribe all sorts of virtues to human beauty, for example, seeing good in what is merely good-looking over and over again – hence my rapturous delight in spotting one of my favourite heartthrobs in Venice all those years ago. I was taking it absolutely for granted that anyone who looked that good must be that good – a premium member of my species, in other words. But animal instincts, dog instincts in particular, remain instincts worth having. What we would call Finn’s bravery and heroism in saving his handler was no such thing to Finn himself, it was simply innate in him to protect, because a threat to one of them was a threat to both of them – to the human-animal unit of which Finn sees himself as being part. He read the intention, saw the knife, (first, says Dave – way before Dave himself realized what it was), and did exactly what the dog in the cave would have done all those thousands of years ago had some threat come out of the darkness there – he leapt to the defence.
Now we too do this, some of us, sometimes. In us it’s called altruism, selflessness, courage, all very good things, and all the tip of human behaviour at its most virtuous and evolved. And right now there are any number of animals out there that need that behaviour from us, and need laws that will safeguard them from its opposite. But we need that behaviour and those laws as well, because we’re at the point where there really has to be a step-change in the way we think of and relate to the animal world.
Here we sit, all of us, every one, worldwide, waiting to find out if Covid 19 is going to become a pandemic; and where did Covid 19 come from? A food-market in China, where live animals, wild and domestic, are kept in the nastiest and most uncaring of conditions until they are butchered and sold for food. And while they are so kept, unsurprisingly, they get sick, and the pathogens making them sick then merely have to slide from fur and snout and blood to hand to mouth to get into us as well. The same thing may well have happened in France in 1918, where a strain of the H1N1 flu virus managed to jump from the slaughterhouses needed to feed the troops to the troops themselves. That was the Spanish flu; maybe 50 million of us died of it. Maybe twice that number. If we treat the animal world and its inhabitants badly, it comes back to bite us every single time. You really would think we’d have learned that by now. And Finn’s Law matters not only because it’s a piece of legislation that should have been in place long ago, it matters because it’s symbolic of the step-change we so desperately need, because what harms an animal harms us, too. But what safeguards them makes the world a better place for every creature in it – us included.