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OPINION: Rat that sniffs out landmines is proof we need to love our animals

PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:13 28 September 2020

Cambodian landmine detection rat, Magawa is photographed wearing his PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, recognizing the rodent for his

Cambodian landmine detection rat, Magawa is photographed wearing his PDSA Gold Medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, recognizing the rodent for his "lifesaving bravery and devotion in searching out unexploded landmines in Cambodia. Picture: PA

Animals make the perfect lockdown company says Helen McDermott, who loves them all (even the slugs)

When I was young we always had a pet in the family, mainly dogs but there never seemed to be a shortage of cats claiming the best place in front of the fire. I suppose they all had names but the only one that I can remember was Minkle, a stray cat who came from out of nowhere and simply decided that we were good enough to keep (don’t forget it’s the cat who owns you and not the other way round). She had a powerful purr when she was stroked, and just when you thought you’d won her deepest affection and had softened up, relishing your touch she’d try and bite you.

She used to sit on the concrete steps leading up to our tiny flat above dad’s hardware shop, ready to take a swipe at any bald head passing below. My sister and I thought this was a marvellous form of spectator sport, enjoyed more by us than any of the surprised passers-by. Although Minkle was a grumpy animal I couldn’t help feeling a strong affinity with her, as indeed I did with all cats. When I was eight years old I was inconsolable for days when she became so ill that she had to be put to sleep. The same thing happened recently when Jingle, one of our rescue cats, grew more and more ill, eventually dying a natural death. I was in floods of tears for a long time after he left us and we missed him enormously.

People who don’t share their lives with a pet find it hard to understand how your heart can be broken by losing a precious and furry member of the family. Needless to say, when Jingle was gone, our two remaining cats could hardly care less, though they might have puzzled a bit as to why there was more food left in their dishes for them to guzzle down. I must say I do envy any pets who are left, simply hardening their hearts and getting on with the business of living and not giving a damn about the departed.

Any animal lovers can tell you that a pet, even a grumpy one, can bring a lot of joy into your life along with sadness too. They are certainly a huge comfort in dark and cheerless days like the ones we are having at the present when we welcome all the cheer we can get. It’s no surprise to hear that more and more people are looking to pets for comfort in these dire times.

I know it sounds cowardly, but I can’t bear to watch or listen to programmes where there’s any cruelty to animals involved; I just have to leave the room and allow time for the sequence to pass. It really does hurt. I can’t even bear to watch nature at work, where one animal will chase and kill another, even though one needs to do it as a matter of survival. Believe it or not, I will never knowingly kill a fly. If one is buzzing around in the house I’ll make a point of trying to let it out of the window. The same goes for slugs even though I find them horrible. Thankfully, we’ve got some visiting hedgehogs who find them a tasty addition to their diet and help to control the slug population beyond the back door, not that I could actually bear to linger and watch.

I’m certain there must be people who think I’m potty, but still believe slugs have a right to be here. Something that’s turned up lately and is far too mystifying and distressing to watch are the pods of whales stranding themselves in their hundreds on the beaches of Tasmania. What can it be that drives them ashore to surrender themselves and die pointlessly even though in all other respects they are perfectly fit and healthy?

It’s not mankind that appears to drive them to their deaths; mankind is actually lining up in hundreds to offer salvation. But there is another side to this coin, distressingly close to home, right on our doorsteps. We’ve mentioned the phenomenon before: the blockheaded families who think it’s fun to chase seal pups with their slimy smart-phones, driving them into corners to get the best selfies, with no thought as to how the young animals might survive such treatment. Year after year the word goes out: LEAVE THEM ALONE, yet cretinous seal selfie takers carry on killing the pups for fun, for a picture they are likely to look at once and then throw away before seeking the next novelty.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me despair until tales of animals like Magawa come into view. Magawa is a rat, a super special rat, brave and big-hearted, trained to protect his fellow-rodents on the beaches of Cambodia where rats of a different species have been hard at work sowing landmines, designed and targeted to kill Cambodians (the two-legged kind). Magawa’s job is to glean them and leave the world a safer place. And now he’s got a golden gong, the PDSA medal for life-saving bravery. It’s the sort of story that blows the blues away on days like those we’re having now. Let’s hear it for the Mighty Magawa.


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