A HORSE IS A HORSE, OF COURSE, OF COURSE
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The subject of how animals are or are not viewed under
Canadian law is one of my many interests in the entire field of
animal/human relationships. Currently, I am following the recent
Charter challenge in the Ontario Superior Court to Ontario’s
controversial “pit bull ban”—i.e. last summer’s
revisions to the Dog Owners’ Legislative Act that opponents
of the new law refer to as “racial profiling” for dogs.
Earlier this year, the hit-and-run attack on a horse and rider with
the Toronto Police force’s mounted detail held similar interest
for me, because of the disparity between the very “human”
way the horse was treated in death, as compared to utter lack of
legislation in this country to protect police animals injured or
killed on the job. Here’s what I wrote in March about the
send-off ceremony for a horse called “Brigadier”
A HORSE IS A HORSE, OF COURSE, OF COURSE….
March 10, 2006
Earlier this week in Toronto, there was a public
memorial to celebrate the life and mourn the death of a police horse
named Brigadier. An estimated twelve hundred unaffiliated individuals,
including me, made our way along with an uncounted number of members
of the media, to the Ricoh Coliseum at the Exhibition Grounds. There,
we joined mounted police officers and horses and dogs from the Toronto
force, from the R.C.M.P. and other forces from across the country
in a solemn service that included bagpipers, an emotional eulogy
from Brigadier’s now horseless rider, and—most eloquent
of all—his worn saddle on display at centre stage.
In speeches made on Brigadier’s behalf, the big Belgian-cross
horse’s sense of humour was lovingly recollected, along with
his wisdom, his gentleness, and his enjoyment of his job. He was
cited to as a fallen hero of the force, in the wistful speculation
that he may have saved his human partner’s life by taking
the brunt of an automotive assault, when a man deliberately drove
his van into the patrolling pair.
Brigadier’s eight short years on earth and sudden death were
celebrated with the same seriousness we’d expect the police
to accord any human member of their ranks who’d died on duty.
Perhaps it was such solemnity that brought tears to so many onlookers’
eyes. The procession of pipers and mounted officers, the montage
of film clips and still photographs….all to mark the passing
of an animal who, in life as well as death, would surely be unaware
of the intention behind the big fuss.
Or, maybe what made the memorial for Brigadier so affecting was
the need to eulogize him as if he’d been any two-legged member
of the Toronto force, who’d opted to do a man’s work
among other men and women. In truth, Brigadier was only an animal.
Like the vast majority of his kind, he chose neither the manner
of his life nor the circumstances of his slaughter. As much as mounted
police in general love their horses, as much as Brigadier was especially
beloved of the Toronto force, there is no evidence at all that he
or any other animal would ever volunteer to put his own life on
the line that way.
Nor is there any law currently on Canadian books to make it a crime
to cut down Brigadier or any other police animal on the job. For
all the references made at the memorial to Brigadier as an officer
dying in the line of duty, the only charges leveled against the
man who aimed his vehicle at horse and rider were causing bodily
harm to the mounted officer and failing to remain at the scene of
During the service for Brigadier, the police onstage took the high
road. To a man, they refrained from any reference to the ironic
disparity between Brigadier’s lack of stature under law while
he lived, and the height of heroic importance to which he’s
been elevated in death. It was only after the event, milling around
Brigadier’s now-empty stall, that I heard male and female
cops from Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere voice their anger about
the lack of legal protection in this country for four-legged police
In which case, I wonder if giving Brigadier a human-scale memorial
sent the wrong message. Could it be that suffusing a horse’s
senseless death in the sentimentality of skirling pipes and florid
phrases actually obscures the true nature of every animal’s
unimportance in the eyes of Canadian law?
It’s a question worth asking, if only because ceremonies such
as Toronto’s recent tribute to the death of Brigadier are
becoming more and more common. Increasingly, dogs, horses, birds,
rats, are thanked in public for service in the line of police duty,
or on the battlefield, or even in the experimental lab—sacrifices
no creature actually elects to embrace. It seems as if for humans
increasingly ambivalent about the unassailability of our dominion
over other life forms, it’s becoming more and more necessary
to extol animals’ heroics, to trumpet the nobility of their
nature, and the selfless quality of their impulses, as a way of
assuaging the guilt that comes from making life-and-death choices
on their behalf.
From that ambivalence, I think, came the Toronto police force’s
need to ennoble Brigadier, by anthropomorphizing his involuntary
life-work and his unpunished demise, and then turning both into
a self-sacrificing career choice. Meanwhile, members of the public—such
as myself—may well troop to such memorials from some similar
need. Along with the sincere hope that, through our high-flying
homage to animals’ lives, we can somehow countervail the lowly
inconsequence of their deaths.
THE FOREGOING WAS PUBLISHED IN THE COMMENT SECTION OF “THE
GLOBE AND MAIL,” March 10, 2006.
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