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Why leave money to a pet?

Published Jul 31, 2011


London - What a generous man the late Alexander “Lee” McQueen turns out to have been. Before he hanged himself last year, he clearly gave careful and kindly thought to the disposal of his £16-million fortune.

His will shows that charities have done very nicely. So, too, have his two long-serving housekeepers, each the richer by a cool £50,000, and each, no doubt, thrilled to learn about it. But I wonder how they felt when they also learned they have inherited exactly the same sum from McQueen as... his pet dogs.

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The fashion designer is not, of course, the first wealthy person to indulge a beloved pet with a legacy. In 1931, American heiress Ella Wendel left her pet poodle £15-million - quite a few bob in those days. In 1996, actress Beryl Reid left her £1-million home to her cats, and in 1999 London bookshop owner Christina Foyle left each of her five cats £20,000 a year for “upkeep”.

Nor will McQueen be the last. Oprah Winfrey - who, frankly, I”d have thought would be smarter - has already let it be known that her dogs will inherit £30-million if she beats them to the great feeding bowl in the sky. Woof, woof!

It is, of course, these people’s own money, and theirs to throw away as they see fit.

But even if you knew how to spend such fortunes on an animal (emerald-crusted collars, perhaps?), it wouldn”t make doing so any less obscene. Please do not misunderstand; I’m as much of a sucker for pets as anyone. Somebody once even called me a “dog whisperer” after I had tamed a neighbour’s previously uncontrollable hound and he then developed an absurd, if touching, crush on me.

At home, we have a sweet little clever cat and two enormous lurchers; gloriously soppy critters, without a functioning brain cell between them. I love them dearly, and I can prove it.

Every morning, come frost or shine, my first task is to trot around the garden, tissues in hand, picking up the overnight mess and being nice about it. Before breakfast. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

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And because I love them, and because I know a dog is not just for Christmas or even just for life (my life, that is), I can imagine making provision for them after I’ve gone: for the poncy top-end range of dog food they like, the costly veterinary insurance and so forth.

But tens of thousands, even if I had that much to give? Absolutely not.

This is nothing to do with meanness or generosity. It’s about understanding that, however loyal they are, however welcoming, however licky, waggy, cuddly or cute, and however genuine the emotion they evoke, they are, after all, only cats and dogs.

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Cats and dogs are not your friends. They are not your substitute babies. They do not “understand every word you say”. And unless your name is Lassie or Rover, then trust me, they are not “part of your family”.

Too many people wilfully refuse to recognise that. The western world is absurdly anthropomorphic; we attribute human characteristics to animals, as brazenly as Walt Disney did to Donald Duck. Except, in real life, it’s actually not funny at all.

The first to suffer, often as not, are the animals themselves. Because to treat an animal as a human is usually not to treat it very well at all. I think, for example, of a couple in their 50s for whom their pooch, a light creamy labrador, is - as they describe her themselves - a replacement for their two daughters who have now left home.

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“Our princess,” they coo breathily. “Come and see how much Mommy loves you... “ Which the princess most happily does, in full knowledge that “Mommy” is about to show her “love” by pulling from a pocket her 20th “present” (ie sugared biscuit) of the day.

A walk to shed the calories? Don’t be silly. “Our princess doesn’t like going out - the pavements make her pretty paws dirty.”

Labs, as we know, are prone to weight gain and bad hips. This princess is as wide as she is long, and arthritis has set in already. She’s just three.

But, oh, she is loved.

Another woman I know takes her cat everywhere on a lead, and plonks her in a bicycle basket for shopping trips because “we can”t bear to be apart, you see”. No, poppet; you can’t bear it. The cat would be far happier at home. And guess what? She is loved, too.

Almost as deserving of worry as the animals, however, are the owners. For if they really can’t understand the difference between animals and people, what does it say about their relationships with human beings?

In the past year, I’ve read about pets who have “consoled” owners through marital splits, and “comforted” them in life-threatening illness. One writer even declared that she cried longer (daily, for a year, as it happens) when her dog died than when her parents did.

Good grief, don’t these people have friends? Real ones, I mean? Are they too busy relating to an alien gene pool to make time for any among their own?

And if so much compassion is spent on a chosen few from the animal world, is there enough left for people - who, I would argue, deserve it rather more?

When people leave to an animal the kind of money that most would consider a handsome sum for a human, what they are really doing is demonstrating not just that they have a singularly icky relationship with their pet, but that they also have a lamentably distorted sense of priorities.

All right, I know that, for instance, Oprah Winfrey is generous to people as well. I also know that she is, even counted in sterling, a billionaire. Against which you could say, well, £30-million leaves plenty of change.

Still, it is £30-million. And £30-million buys stuff that matters.

Similarly, Alexander McQueen left the overwhelming bulk of his money to charities, animal charities among them, against which £50,000 is relatively small fry. But, again, it is £50,000. And £50,000 also buys stuff that matters.

It is a perpetual complaint from fund-raisers for children’s charities that animal charities, at least in this country, do better than they do.

I shall even admit to having written the odd cheque to Battersea Dogs’ Home myself. Nevertheless, I cannot begin to understand a person who would sit down, today, and sign a will that leaves tens of thousands to one cat or dog.

Not, that is, if they own a television and have turned it on of late. Not if they have gazed into the dying eyes of Somalian children.

If this person has watched so much as a minute of the famine coverage, and if, still, they sign on that dotted line, then it’s not just their ridiculous, pampered pets that aren’t really human. - Daily Mail

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