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Fr Heyward and dogs

Sunday 18th September saw, for the first time in Warrington, a unique event taking place. It was the first time a Service of Blessing and Prayers for Animals was held and the venue was St Oswald’s Catholic Church. Fr Dave Heywood, parish priest, welcomed around 60 adults and their children, who were accompanied by their pets (dogs being in the majority), together with several cats and one hamster. Also assisting was an Anglican vicar, Rev. Mavis McDonnell.

Several hymns and various gospel accounts were read, accompanied by the occasional response from various dogs! Chris Fegan, Chief Executive of Catholic Concern for Animals (CCA), addressed the congregation, expressing his delight to be present and talking about the formation of CCA and how the message has spread to other countries, namely Australia and North America.

Following a litany of prayers and intercessions, Fr Dave invited people who mourned their deceased animals to come forward and place a memorial on the table and light a candle for them. Each person was given a copy of a beautiful reading called ‘The Rainbow Bridge’. At the end of this ceremony, Fr Dave concluded that these pets were now with God.

A liturgy of Blessing and Remembrance then followed as the Ministers moved among the congregation for the blessing of pets. Each animal was named and the following prayer said:

‘N., you were created by God, and you are loved by God. May you and your human family experience joy and companionship together, and continue to be a blessing to each other. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen’.

After the final prayer, blessing and dismissal we were invited to give to a collection for two animal charities, Freshfields Animal Rescue Centre and Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land.

Refreshments for human and non-human followed, and many people expressed their delight in attending such a service.




I am sure that you are aware that there was an attempt by the new Government to amend the current Hunting with Hounds legislation which would have, in the views of many animal welfare experts, destroyed the existing Hunting Act 2004 and allowed packs of hounds to, once again, roam free across England and Wales to hunt, chase and kill foxes in a barbaric, horrific and cruel manner. CCA took immediate action by writing to all Catholic MP’s across the UK, including Scotland, to ask them not to support these proposed amendments. We were magnificently supported by our Parliamentarians and all Catholic MP’s who responded to me said they would vote against the proposed amendments. I also want to especially thank our Patron, Sir David Amess, who went on Newsnight to condemn the proposals. He has written a special article for The Ark, which I strongly urge you to read. Thankfully, the Government withdrew the proposals ‘at the last minute’ but we must remain vigilant on this issue.


CCA Patron, Sir David Amess MP, is the Conservative MP for Southend West. He has been a tireless worker for animals and in 2011 he won the ‘Animal Welfare and Environment Champion Award’ at the Dods Charity Champion Awards for his leading parliamentary role in promoting animal welfare. He tells The Ark why he would not want to see a repeal of The Hunting Act. This article was submitted before the attempted amendment to The Hunting Act in July 2015.


Sir David Amess with two dogs

Throughout my time in Parliament I have always had a very strong interest in animal welfare issues. This derives from my love of animals and my abhorrence at any cruelty being inflicted against them. In those early years, my party had a very large number of colleagues who were characterised as being part of the hunting and shooting fraternity. My background of course, which was very much working class, meant that I had no exposure to country sports. Whilst I can appreciate the pageantry involved in fox hunting, the idea that dogs should be set against foxes to corner and trap them, and literally pull them apart, horrified me. My view, certainly on the Conservative benches, was only shared by three or four colleagues. We always voted against fox hunting, if ever the issue was debated. When Labour formed a Government in 1997 they were committed to promoting legislation to ban fox hunting, and hunting generally. Many Labour members were entirely genuine in finding fox hunting distasteful. For some however, it appeared to be very much part of the old battle over class. So it was that the national debate took place and fox hunting was eventually banned.

The debate itself became very emotive, with the Countryside Alliance leading the debate to keep fox hunting and animal welfare organisations making the case for banning it. At times it felt that the very heart of the argument about cruelty to animals was sometimes lost. There was, of course, the division between rural and urban life. Whilst many urban dwellers might have been against fox hunting, they took the view that the urban fox had become a reality and posed the question: how could the fox population be controlled by fox hunting? There was a deafening silence. There was much speculation about how it might work in practice, with the impression being given that fox hunting would continue and a blind eye would be turned to the hunts. There was the emotive case made about what would happen to the hounds – would they retire; how would they be looked after? At the end of it all Parliament decided, by a substantial majority, to ban fox hunting. By and large, that ban has been successful. Through drag hunting the tradition and pageantry of the hunt still continues, but without foxes themselves being hunted.

The Conservative Party gave the commitment to allow for a free vote on the issues again. It was very clear to me that if a vote was held on the issue, then it would be lost and hunting foxes with hounds would not be legalised. I say this because a sizeable number of newly elected Members of Parliament are opposed to fox hunting. From my point of view, I am glad that increasing numbers of my colleagues now recognise the cruelty of fox hunting. What Parliament should now address is a programme for the humane control of the fox population, particularly in urban areas. It is distressing to see so many of these animals in bad health and lying by the roadside in country lanes and motorways. So the debate should no longer be centred on cruelty to animals, but how to treat them with respect and with animal welfare being at the core of Parliament’s future deliberations.



When the UK Government moved to bring back hunting with hounds in July this year, CCA responded immediately and, along with other major campaign groups, helped to prevent a repeal of the ban on hunting with hounds in England and Wales.

On 8th July 2015, on budget day, the UK Government announced that it was bringing in a statutory instrument to amend The Hunting Act 2004 to allow an unlimited number of dogs to be used to flush out a fox, replacing the current limit of two dogs. In other words, without a full repeal of The Hunting Act, hunting with hounds could be restored to the position it was in before the Act. The announcement gave parliament one week’s notice of the vote which would receive only 90 minutes of debate.

Unfortunately for the government, the news immediately leaked and campaign groups swung into action, contacting their supporters and asking them to lobby their MPs to ask them to attend the House and vote against the amendment to the Act. When it became apparent that the result depended on the SNP voting against the amendment, campaigners immediately lobbied the SNP to ask them to vote. This presented the SNP with a dilemma, as the debate on English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) was being debated on the same day, which was probably no coincidence. However, the SNP MPs listened to the English people who filled their mail boxes and decided to vote against the amendment, for which CCA is extremely grateful. The SNP had been frustrated with the Westminster politicians for not listening to the people of Scotland. Now they realised that they didn’t listen to the people of England and Wales either, as polls had showed that over 80 per cent of the UK people were against foxhunting. Led by Chris Fegan, CCA played a major part in this campaign, supported by the Animal Interfaith Alliance, of which CCA is a founding member. Along with The League Against Cruel Sports, Save Me, Blue Fox, the RSPCA and IFAW, CCA helped develop a campaign strategy and attended Parliament and lobbied MPs, writing in particular to Catholic MPs.