Ann Widdecombe — you know, that feisty MP who spends her Saturday afternoons ambushing huntsmen and dragging them from their horses — has taken one step further in her quest to protect all that is furry (not you. William Hague). Besides writing a children's story called Anda the Panda, our favourite Bunhill Belle has now, along with MP Jackie Lawrence, accepted an invitation to become a patron of the Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare. "God created the beasts before He created man," she points out. "We are told that He sees the meanest sparrow fall unnoticed in the street and we should always be mindful that when we are cruel and negligent of His lesser creation He sees
us." Strong stuff. Nevertheless, it would seem she is the side of the angels (whom I am informed by the editor are actually labradors) since Archbishop John Ward of Cardiff, a creation-loving Franciscan, is the president of the good society. Fine. But what I want to know, however, is when will Miss Widdecombe join the Seal Club?
Our stalwart of the Tory right will no doubt reap the benefits of her involvement with the circle, Indeed, some of the forthcoming events advertised in The Ark, its bulletin, look great fun: animal welfare retreats: a celebration of animals used in agriculture to mark the Holy Seely Jubilee of the Agricultural World on November 12th, and a symposium on consciousness, cognition and animal welfare. Ohhmrnm! My favourite is Vegetarian Lent 2000, In future, that John Gummer had better look out where he shoves his beefburgers, let me tell you, or he might well wind up trussed up like a Christmas turkey.
Herald boss and the circle's general secretary, Deborah Jones, is indeed a fascinating publication. Its coverage is comprehensive, entertaining and not only does it ask all the right questions, but actually takes them one step further. So, that old chestnut, "do animals go to Heaven?" becomes "Could There be Squirrels in Heaven?".
I don't mind squirrels, myself but there are a few creatures over which I wouldn't weep if they were cast into the inferno — or sent to Purgatory for a mighty long stretch. Mosquitoes can burn for all I care, as can tapeworms, sandflies and those Crown of Thorns starfish that eat all the beautiful South Seas coral. Oh, and don't forget cockroaches and bluebottles, which I doubt would be missed buzzing around the celestial barbecue (though my dog, Toby, a truly holy hound, enjoys chasing and eating them).
More seriously, all Catholics involved in the struggle for animal rights deserve our support and appreciation. After all, if chimpanzees want to smoke and wear lipstick, surely that's a matter for them.
Applause, too, for Catholic children who this year aim to clinch the Queen Mother's Birthday Award for improvements to the environment. Do get rid of that broken glass as it cuts the pads on pets' paws! And you never know, this good work may also be your reward — when all those dogs, squirrels, songbirds, foxes, hedgehogs, cats, ducks and frogs are interceding for you in the Arcadia in the sky.