Animals in war

“It would not be an overstatement to say that the outcomes of many of histories wars might have been very different if it were not for the role that animals such as horses and dogs played in them”
– Margo De Mello, Animals and Society

And it’s not just horses and dogs:

“Armies past and present have made use of pigs and other animals such as dogs, horses and even rats to help them win battles and conquer lands.”
– Pia Spry-Marques

Legend has it that Alexander the Great used squealing pigs to panic the war elephants of his enemies.  This was a tactic also used by Romans to repel the Greeks.  On another occasion, a squealing pig was hung from the walls of a besieged town to frighten the elephants of the enemy camped outside.  In the 1st century AD, pigs doused in pitch were set alight and driven towards the enemy’s war elephants.  War elephants were clearly intimidating but they are prone to panicking – hence the use of squealing pigs to scare them.  They would stampede in their attempts to escape and so each rider had a spike and a hammer to kill the elephant in the case that it charged towards their own lines.

Of course, dogs were also used. Ancient Greeks and Romans used them to guard their communities and military outposts.  They have also been used as pack animals, messengers, to attack, as companionship for soldiers and to pull injured soldiers to safety.  When Europeans settled in North American, dogs were even trained to attack, and even kill, the natives.

In 16th century manuscripts, we find ‘rocket cats’ being used to invade castles; cats living in the castle would be captured, bomb attached and then there was the assumption the cat would return to the castle.  I can only assume the people suggesting this plan hadn’t spent much time with a cat… I cannot image them being cooperative…

Other “animal weapons” included foxes with fire tied to their tails, boars with gun powder on their back and ‘fire birds’ – birds who had a bag of embers attached to them.  The idea being that they would then roost on enemy buildings and cause a fire.

We have a lot more information about animals used in World War One and Two, and species utilised included pigeons, horses, dogs and cats.  World War Two was the last conflict to use great numbers of horses and millions of them were killed along with tens of thousands of dogs and other animals including bats…

There was a US plan to attach timed bombs to the bats and release them en masse.  The idea being that they’d settle on buildings and then explode.  Whilst it never actually happened, it was tested and in the tests the bats roosted on a fuel tank… there were no fire extinguishers on the site.  $24 million in today’s money was spent on testing this…

More successfully, pigeons were used to convey messages and were trained to guide missiles.  It was better than existing technology but I’m not sure if pigeon missiles were ever actually implemented.  One messenger pigeon called Gustav conveyed the news of the D Day landing and by the time World War Two ended, 32 pigeons had received medals.

The Dickin medal was created in world war two to recognise animals in war.  It was established by Marie Dickin who also founded PDSA and the medal helped to publicise the charity as well as acknowledge the role of animals. Additionally, it provided a good news story during the war.

Since 1943, the medal was been awarded 71 times; 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, 4 horses and one cat called Simon who “Served on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtse Incident, disposing of many rats though wounded by shell blast. Throughout the incident his behaviour was of the highest order, although the blast was capable of making a hole over a foot in diameter in a steel plate.”

Alongside this good news story, the UK’s MoD lab Porton Down (opened in 1916) was investigating and experimenting on animals:

“A large number involve exploding live pigs to assess whether humans would be able to survive this sort of extreme battlefield injury and, if they did, to figure out what would be the best blood-clotting solutions for this kind of trauma.  As part of the centre’s experimental programme, pigs are also shot repeatedly and later operated on by arm doctors, or are made to inhale mustard gas to assess how this toxic gas affects human concentration levels and orientation.”
– Pia Spry-Marques

Animal experimentation wasn’t confined to the UK.  In 1946, at Bikini Atoll, 147 pigs, 3030 rats, 109 mice, 57 guinea pigs and 176 were placed in ships near to where the first atomic bomb was dropped to see how and to what extent the radiation would affect them.  Eleven years later, in the US’ Operation Plumbbob, experiments assessed the impact of radiation on pigs.

Other animals used in the world wars included the glow worm which was trapped in a jar and then used to help soldiers read maps and letters in the dark trenches.  The humble slug was used by the US army in their trenches as an early warning system to alert soldiers to the presence of mustard gas.  Slugs are more sensitive to it than humans and thus would alert the soldiers and indicate it was necessary to put on a gas mask.

In the Vietnam War, Agent Orange was used to destroy plant life (allegedly aimed at food supplies) but had the result of destroying major habitats.  The homes of tigers, elephants, gibbons, leopards and other animals were destroyed. Additionally, unexploded landmines would kill at least 40,000 animals after the war.

During the cold war, a fence 815 km long was erected between Germany and the Czech republic and although the border is now open, red deer who live in the area still don’t cross the line.  Fences such as this one have known impacts on nature.  They divide populations, split males from females, interrupt migration routes and block access to food and water sources.

Since 1960, the US Navy has used dolphins and sea lions to protect ports and equipment from attack, to retrieve objects, to spy and to locate sea mines.  They are used because they can dive deep without getting the bends, they are fast, reliable, adaptable and most importantly trainable.

Of course it’s not just marine animals that have been used to detect mines, many land animals have been used as well.  For example, the Nazis used pigs, cows and camels to check for minefields as they moved across Egypt and we have bomb sniffing dogs and rats.  In particular, the Giant African Pouched Rat has been trained by US military to detect buried landmines – they can sniff them out and are too light to set them off.

During the Iran-Iraq war, numbers of wild goats, wolves, otters, pelicans, striped hyenas and other animals were dramatically reduced, sometimes even wiped out.  In the Afghan war more than half the total livestock population was lost and in the Gulf war, more than 80% of the livestock in Kuwait died.  A deliberate oil leak by Iraqi troops also killed many aquatic animals and birds.

Looking very briefly at the impact of war on animals, we can see that zoo animals are inevitably affected during war.  Sometimes that has meant food shortages other times it has resulted in individuals being killed as a preventative attempt so that dangerous animals weren’t running around if they got out during bombing.

During Mozambique’s civil war – 1977 to 1992 – elephants were butchered for ivory and meat and populations dropped significantly.  Thankfully they are now bouncing back.  Lions, buffalo, hippos, wildebeest are now more numerous than in 1994.  During the war, Gorongosa National Park was a refuge for rebel forces and when government troops came to challenge them, there was carnage and fighting which inevitably had consequences for the wildlife in the area.

And in a very different vein, dogs are well known for their use in supporting soldiers with PTSD, so I leave you with this video, in order to end on a brighter note…


Devilish creatures

The (Christian) devil has had many faces, some more human than others, and we can look at these depictions to learn about what the people who made them were afraid of.  Depictions of the devil and demons inevitably reflect the prejudices of the day and we can see that in descriptions of demons as peasant like, with red hair, with appearance of a Scotsman and so on.

We have had a virtually blank slate when it comes to the appearance of the devil as the bible doesn’t really give any detail, thus making it easy to project fears onto.

“Many kinds of animals have come to symbolize the evil beast, as a force associated with evil or whatever it is we dislike.”
– Lynda Birke

During the middle ages, the devil was depicted as animal like with horns, a tail and sharp teeth – an image I’m sure we’re all familiar with today.  This became more human from the 16th century, thus more able to seduce and recruit witches to his cause.

Depicting the devil as an animal may have been a way of reinforcing both the chain of being and the animalistic nature of the devil.  Using animals such as male goats and rams could have been to emphasise him as a sexual being – hence wild and uncontrolled and seductive – as horns have long been used to represent fertility and sexuality.  Some people have suggested that the goat has been linked with the devil because of their weird, devilish, eyes but I think it’s hard to know which came first – a chicken and egg situation.  Admittedly goats have unusual eyes and this may have been enough for people to declare them devil touched.  We also have the idea of goats vs sheep – the sheep being the flock of saved souls and the goat being those who are damned.

Pre-Christian thinking and beliefs inevitably have a role to play in how the devil was imagined.  In ancient Babylonia there were wicked demons; winged female creatures that flew at night looking for men to seduce and children to attack.  Christianity routinely took existing gods and turned them into evil spirits and this may be how the devil acquired wings.  We can also see the devil as the ancestor of Pan – a half man, half goat Roman god who was associated with lust and hence could easily be seen as the epitome of temptation.  Pan was also the god of nature and casting him as the devil reinforced the divide between man and nature, and emphasised the importance of not worshipping nature.

The devil also appeared as a cat or dog.  Greeks and Romans associated dogs with Hecate, a goddess of witchcraft (and by association for Christians, of evil).  There has also been a long association of dogs with the underworld and thus it was natural for Christianity to link dogs and the devil.  Dogs also roamed freely and uncontrolled in the middle ages, a time when restless souls, or those who didn’t seem to belong anywhere, were seen with suspicion.

Another devilish form is the serpent, specifically, the serpent in the garden of Eden.  Again, this highlights the sexual, seductive and tempting nature of the devil as snakes have a long association with fertility and sex.

These different forms fed into the concerns around bestiality.  The animal could well be the devil in disguise and thus sex with it would lead to half monster creatures and the devil would have succeeded in creating chaos and disrupting the god given order of the world.

In addition to the devil himself being portrayed as an animal, we see this association between devil and beast in the form of witches familiars.  The species varied significantly and included cats, dogs, rats, toads, mice, snails, birds, ferrets, moles and even small insects such as flies and moths.  Whilst a witch may find their familiar appears out of nowhere, or is gifted by a fellow witch, one way of acquiring them was through the devil.  The devil would give it in exchange for a pledge of allegiance.

We also find witches on the continent riding to sabbats on demons disguised as animals, and were said to be able to shape shift themselves as well as transform others into animals.  All of this added to the threat that witches posed.

Something I’ve been pondering as I’ve been writing this is, what would the devil look like today?  I can’t help but think of certain politicians…



Have you come across the celebration of Wolfenoot, No Hate Only Snootboops? If not, don’t worry too much, it’s brand new and speaks to the amazing power of the internet for good.

A post appeared online earlier this year saying:

My son has invented a holiday called Wolfenoot.

It is when the Spirit of the Wolf brings and hides small gifts around the house for everyone. People who have, have had, or are kind to dogs get better gifts than anyone else.

You eat roast meat (because wolves eat meat) and cake decorated like a full moon.

A holiday to the spirit of wolves that celebrates people who are kind to dogs? I can 100% get behind this. So we will be celebrating Wolfenoot. It’s on the 23rd November if anyone else is moved to celebrate it. 😉 If you do, please post pics, so he can see how his idea has spread.

If you’re posting publicly about it, use #wolfenoot.

Wolfenoot has captured the public’s imagination and it rapidly spread. I love the idea and I love how much interest it’s attracted. As such, it was only appropriate that I celebrated wolfenoot! Yes, despite my severe allergy to dogs and probably wolfs… The young creator of wolfenoot has made it clear that any animals, pets or not, can take part.

The moon and meat are important in the celebration of wolfenoot but vegetarian options are available. The small presents scattered around the home may include lego, books and treats for pets. It is also encouraged to donate to animal related charities or volunteer if you can.

So, the plan was to spend some time outside, to try and see the full moon (it’s been a long time since I spent any time outside at night and thus have had limited moon views and even less star gazing time), to take part in themed art and themed film watching. My house of Helens were keen to involve bubbles and wolf music seemed appropriate too…

The day began with art in the park, Wolf themed of course.

Followed by a quiz to establish where in the Wolf pack we would rank.  It turns out I’m the wolf pup of the group…

I tried to find a Wolf film but landed on the dog centric The Secret Life of Pets! After the film came a moon themed tarot reading. The evening walk was lovely and fresh but lacking in moon and star sightings which was disappointing as I was really looking forward to seeing the moon. To round things off, I read a North American Wolf story from the beautifully illustrated A World Full Of Animal Stories.

IMG_20181123_185625_491.jpg IMG_20181123_185625_490.jpg

I hope you had a howly wolfenoot!

Some canine related links…

Sharing space: Dogs

Dogs are strange beasts; they are the wolves which lay down with lambs, the predators which do not bite.  And our relationship to dogs has been one that has taken us from prey to predator to care taker.

As I said in my post about cats, I’m very much a cat person and much less of a dog person… You can get a sense of this in my animal spirit card posts… Take one and take two

But dogs are very important to a lot of people, both in terms of companionship and in terms of what they can do for us.  Here I’m going to look a little bit at how we got to where we are today, at puppy farming, at dogs which are labelled dangerous and at how we speak for our dogs.

A bit of background

Dogs have been with us for thousands of years and may well have contributed to our success as a species, allowing us to venture into parts of the world where we would have struggled to survive without “man’s best friend”.  Undisputed evidence shows our relationship started at least 15,000 years ago, with disputed evidence more than doubling this.

But dogs are not a fixed concept.  Since the early days of domestication, we have bred and manipulated the species to meet our needs. Some we have bred to be cute and friendly, others to be tough and fierce and some we’ve bred to excel at very specific roles.  Today we have over 300 breeds of dog (some people argue it’s less, it seems to be a controversial area…).  And as with most other things in our human world, there are fashions and trends in dog breed popularity.  Right now, pugs and miniature dogs are in vogue but who knows what the next fashionable dog will be?!

Sometimes the choice of dog is down to personal preference or trends, but sometimes prospective owners are looking for particular characteristics as they have a particular job in mind for the dog.  Examples of these jobs include:

But where do these dogs come from?  Well, a certain number of them are unlucky enough to start life in a puppy farm…

Puppy farms

In the UK, we spend £10.6 billion pounds a year on our dogs.  A lot of which goes towards buying puppies.  But despite this vast amount of money changing hands, we don’t necessarily know where are beloved pets are coming from.

You might think it’s easy enough to go online, search for a puppy, see a picture and buy it from a stranger, meeting to exchange money and puppy.  Easy.  But there is a huge puppy farming industry and they know how to make sales.  Adverts are put online as if they are different individuals selling dogs from good homes, photos are included which give the illusion of a household environment and the dealer may even make your life a little easier by offering to drop round with the puppy or meet you somewhere.  The phone numbers for these adverts will be different as will the names of the sellers.  And if you are buying a purebred, you will be given fake paperwork as well.

According to the Kennel Club, in 2014, 41% of people who bought a puppy did not see the puppy with its mother and 53% did not see its breeding environment, meaning those puppies are highly likely to have been bred by puppy farmers and sold by third parties.

These puppies may be born on farms in the UK or abroad, indeed it is estimated that 50,000 puppies come over from Ireland each year and almost that many from Europe.  The puppies imported tend to arrive starved, dehydrated, with a low immune system, ill and without the appropriate injections.  They are likely to have been taken away from their mum too early and about 10% of them die despite getting vet care.  Of those dogs which aren’t found by customs and which get sold, about 20% die within the first six months.

The mother gets impregnated, gives birth and very shortly after her babies are taken away and she gets hormones and impregnated again.  It’s a vicious cycle which ends with the mum dying after about 3 or 4 years because of exhaustion.  In this time, she is kept in a tiny cage, fed mechanically and doesn’t get the level of care that we require of our food animals.

If someone is found guilty of puppy farming, they receive 6 months in prison, in a cage which doesn’t even compare to the cage that the dogs are kept in.

Dangerous dogs: an unfair sentence?

The cycle of abuse can understandably lead some dogs to behave badly and illegal breeding of illegal breeds can mean that some animals are considered dangerous from birth.  These dogs don’t stand a chance and should never have been bred as the law requires them to be put down because of their breed.  No humane person would breed these.

For those dogs which are not illegal breeds and which are labelled as dangerous, their status may be temporary, but can come with a life sentence.  For example, in one programme I watched, there was an extremely aggressive dog which strongly resisted being taken by the dog warden but within a week, having been cared for and fed, it was ready to be rehomed and showed virtually no aggression.  It had acted as it had because it was scared, hungry, abused and had been trained to defend the house it was it.  It was not a malicious creature, it just found itself in a bad situation.

Because illegal breeders don’t care about where the dog ends up, they can find themselves with bad owners who may abuse or neglect them.  Then when the dogs behave inappropriately, they are labelled dangerous dogs and suffer the consequences whilst the human gets off fairly lightly.  And unlike the animals we saw in the past, these dogs rarely get the respect of a trial.  If they do, it’s likely to be trial by media and in some rare circumstances, public outcry and pressure has meant that a fair hearing has been given. But this is far from the norm and in most cases there is no one to speak for these dogs, unlike for their more loved and cared for canine siblings.

Speaking for Fido

We do not know what are dogs are really thinking or experiencing but that doesn’t stop us from projecting.  How often have you heard someone refer to a dog feeling guilty because they ate the cake from the worktop or destroyed your favourite shoes?  Research shows that dogs do not experience guilt, it is far more likely that they have picked up on your mood and are afraid.  The “guilty look” may be something they’ve developed because it means they are less likely to feel the wrath of your temper.

Alexandra Horowitz delivers an excellent talk about how we anthropomorphise dogs behaviour and has done research which tries to test out these assumptions.  I’m not going to repeat it all, you should watch the talk, but she debunks the idea that dogs feel jealousy as well as guilt and thus challenges our assumptions that we can speak for our dogs and understand what they mean.

She also discusses the very different perspective of the world that dogs have to us.  They live in a scent-centric world instead of our vision-centric one.  They see from a different height and have different priorities and this informs how they perceive the world.  If you go into a room, you might be more attuned to finding a chair, whereas a dog might be more attuned to the crumbs of food under the table.  We have different lives and different things are important to us and this shapes our experiences of being in the world.  And this is often neglected when we take on the task of speaking for our dogs.

In The Divinity of Dog Writing, Nathan Goldman asks:

Can we encounter dogs in their otherness? Or are we doomed to see them as, at best, versions of ourselves?

The article poses humans as interpreters, as flawed interpreters, of our dogs and how our human-centric existence essentially means we are speaking for them through human-tinted glasses.  How often do we misunderstand our beloved pets? And what are the consequences of this?

For [Donna] Haraway, to truly love dogs is not to treat them like furry children. Dogs “are not a projection,” she writes, “nor the realization of an intention, nor the telos of anything. They are dogs”.

After writing this post I got an email directing me to Are dogs trying to tell us something with their expressions? which may be of interest.

Sharing space: Cats and dogs

I will be looking at dogs but first, lets have a look at cats and dogs together, their relationship and cross over areas.  It is a bit random in places but I’ve watched and read some interesting and less relevant things that I’d like to share.

In 2011, Americans spent $7.4 billion pounds on their cats and $19.2 billion on their dogs.  56% said their cats were family members and 66% for dogs. 


Apparently there isn’t much research about cats and dogs in the same home, instead it tends to focus on one or the other despite the high number of households which have both.  However, anecdotally, we know that owners tend to treat them differently and the stats above back this up.  Where dogs are expected to interact with their owners outside the house in a variety of situations, it is generally the case that cats are not.

Fighting like cats and dogs?

You might wonder why cats and dogs always fight, well a story from Taiwan has the answer for you.

Actually, in reality, the idea of cats and dogs always fighting is a stereotype and not true, as owners of both will back up.  When I was growing up we had a cat and then got a dog as well and they didn’t fight and the cat wasn’t scared of the dog, as most cat owners will testify, the cat became top dog.

In a study which looked at the interaction between cats and dogs in the same household, it was found that there was a high degree of amicability.  They stayed in proximity to each other even if they didn’t have to.  75% showed nose to nose contact which is a sign of affection and it has been shown that they understand each others body language, even in cases where what the dog is conveying by doing x has the opposite meaning when the cat does it.  Perhaps predictably, the most successful cat dog relationships occur when they meet when they are young.

The phrase itself apparently dates back to around 1550 when I suspect the relationship between cats and dogs and owners was very different.  As we saw in the post about cats, this was a period in history where pets weren’t common so the dogs were probably kept as hunting dogs or for protection whilst the cats may have been kept for pest control.  It is highly unlikely that they were pampered and food could well have been scarce.  In these circumstances, the relationship between cats and dogs is likely to have been more competitive and less amicable.

Another popular phrase, raining cats and dogs, has a possible origin which is a bit grim.  If you want to venture forth, you can do so at the Phrase Finder.

Scavenger or hunter?

This is the random part!  Cats and dogs, whilst we often treat them similar, are very different.  Cats are fine tuned hunting machines who capture their prey with skill and finesse.  It’s actually quite fascinating and Dr Frank Mendel talks about it in detail as part of the cats in context symposium.  Dogs on the other hand are much more generalist and, as any dog owner knows, will eat pretty much everything and anything.

Until I started this project, I hadn’t given a second thought to the pet food industry.  Admittedly I don’t have a pet but once I started to learn about it I was shocked.  Do you have a pet?  If you do, have you ever read the ingredients on the pet food or looked at the use by date?  In some cases, the food has such a long date on it that it will outlive the actual animal…

Anyway, before we get on to that, I want to give some context.  I’m including pet food here because it turns out that households with both cats and dogs tend to give them both the same feeding experience.  By which I mean they may have the same food, they may be fed the same amount, and fed in the same place.  But because of the differences in the animals, we’ll see that that is not appropriate.

Dogs Cats
Scavengers who eat virtually anything Obligate carnivores and finicky eaters on top of that
Social feeders Solitary feeders
Need a minimum of 18% of their calories from protein, 22% for puppies Need a minimum of 23% of their calories from protein, 26% for kittens
Burn protein at different rates depending on circumstances Burn protein at a high and fixed rate
Dogs eat quickly and often all at once Cats tend to be nibblers, eating little and often throughout the day
Will happily eat with other dogs but because of this they do have a tendency to guard their food Prefer a quiet spot to eat alone

Because of the above, the type of food we feed cats and dogs needs to have a different make up.  For example, cats do not need carbohydrates in their diet.

How we feed our pets is based much more on emotion than science.  When choosing your pet food, have you read each bag or given up, overwhelmed by choice, and chosen the one that looks good?  You wouldn’t be alone if you did.  And actually, pet food labels are not that easy to understand. Marketers use shiny labels and feel good pictures and words to get you to buy their brand.

The documentary I watched, Pet Fooled, was based on American pet food which seems to be a shocking state of affairs and the UK industry does seem to be better.  When they looked at different brands, the main ingredients were fillers that were not nutritionally needed by the animals.  They also use a variety of words which have technical legal meanings which do not correlate with how the average person interprets them.  For example (in the US):

  • Chicken flavoured food means there can legally be 0% chicken in it.
  • Food with chicken, means has to be at least 3% chicken. So “tasty food with chicken” may not have very much chicken in, and “chicken” says nothing about the quality or type of meat.
  • Using the word dinner, nuggets or formula means 25% of the product is the cited meat, again no guarantee about quality or part of the animal.
  • Natural – this was a ridiculous one. Basically it was the meat in question but it could legally be processed in many different ways, including cooked at excessively high temperatures.  The only thing that wasn’t allowed was chemical alteration.

In the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, a voluntary membership scheme, is one way of quality checking your pet food.  Their members follow nutritional guidelines and there’s lots of information for pet owners on their website about what different pets should be eating.

Pet foods are subject to stringent legislation in the UK to ensure safe products of high quality. For instance, the legislation covering pet food ingredients requires that when manufacturers use by-products of the human food industry they come from animals slaughtered under veterinary supervision.  The industry has also adopted a number of Codes of Practice which support and in some cases exceed legislative requirements.

So whilst things are better on this side of the ocean, I think awareness still needs to be raised about what we are feeding our animals.  At least have a look at the ingredients and see what it is you’re feeding your precious pet.  Also, whilst we’re looking at advice, in the wild cats get most of their water from their prey so they aren’t natural drinkers, however a dry food only diet may dehydrate them so if you can, feed them wet food too!