Heartening reactions to ‘Blackie’

Like everyone who reads them, I’m appalled at recent stories from southern China about the treatment of dogs for human consumption. Not content to cram animals into tiny wire cages, wholesalers slaughter their stock by bludgeoning them over an extended period; immense fear and intense pain in the minutes before their demise are supposed to make the dogs tastier and more tender.

Humans have odd relationships with other animals — from treating pets as quasi-humans to the kinds of behaviour dog-sellers in Chinese food markets perpetrate. In a small way I explore our responsibilities towards animals in ‘Blackie’ (Knopf), which is about one of our pet cats, who contracted a tumour and underwent pioneering brain surgery. It’s a distressing story, yet several people have recently mentioned to me how much they ‘enjoyed’ — if that’s the right word — the book; that they had found it uplifting.

Nursing Blackie through his illness was a highlight of my life. But I’m still someone who eats animals whose lives must have been dismal, whose treatment perhaps was less than humane. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to make my living reviewing restaurants in all their forms, didn’t enjoy eating so much. The contrition of vegetarians must be very good for the soul.

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