The British papers must have made uncomfortable reading for Prince William in recent days.
First of all the new dad was pilloried for announcing that he would be taking a year off work, apparently to decide whether or not he is ready to become a full-time working royal. During this period, we are told, the prince will devote more of his time to supporting the Queen (presumably carrying out more official functions and possibly undertaking a royal tour) and also working with his new environmental charity.
To ram home the seriousness of his new mission, and deflect criticism that he was taking a "gap year" or slipping into a life of work-free dilettantism, William granted a rare interview and unprecedented access for an hour-long documentary, New Hope, New Father. The film goes so far as to show the prince weeping (who knows what Prince Philip would have made of that display) as he watched footage of a poached rhino being butchered. He was also shown in the film, which aired on Sunday night, talking at length about how fatherhood has made him even more concerned about the fate of the globe’s wildlife. The message was clear.
Or, at least it was clear until Tuesday evening, when rumors began to circulate that the Sun had landed a scoop that could serve to undo much of the carefully constructed narrative around William’s new role in public life as a champion of the animal kingdom. For, incredibly, it appeared that within days of William formally leaving the RAF and quitting the rescue base on the island of Anglesey in Wales, two guard dogs that had faithfully protected the prince when he was based there—Brus and Blade—had been "euthanized."
While no one is suggesting that William knew about the plans for the dogs to be put down, and it is plain that humanely ending the life of a dog is very different to poaching rhino, the sad fates of Brus and Blade has grabbed the public’s attention. While there is often little sympathy for organisations like PETA in the U.K., which are perceived as extremist, when it issued a statement saying that dogs should not be "tossed away like empty ammunition cases" it was hard to disagree.
Unflattering comparisons are being drawn between the way the U.S. and the U.K. treat ex-military dogs. In America, “Robby’s Law”—named after a heroic service dog whose handler fought in vain to save him from being put down—ensures that all decisions to put military canines to sleep are recorded in a report presented annually to Congress. In 2011 just 219 dogs were put down, while 1,052 were rehomed.
Prince William’s office declined to comment to the Royalist on the incident, while the Ministry of Defence told the Royalist that the two dogs were only put down because they had developed “veterinary problems” and it would be “inappropriate and inhumane” or “unsafe” to re-home them. Nine-and-a-half-year-old Blade reportedly had spine and hip trouble and Brus, 7, had behavioral problems which meant he could not be sent to a kennel.
That may be so. But how come the dogs only became unfit for work a few days after William left the base? You don't have to be a fan of the Celestine Prophecy to think that’s a pretty big coincidence.
However, there is an out for William in this row. Whether or not they approve of military dogs being put down, most reasonable people will conclude that, as the military made the decision to put Brus and Blade dog down, it is the RAF who have questions to answer on this matter, not William.
The public might not be so forgiving, however, if our newest global conservationist were directly involved in animal cruelty; for example, shooting pheasants at the annual Boxing Day pheasant shoot at Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk estate.
While some may balk at the emotive characterization of game shooting as "cruelty to animals," there is little doubt that there is a powerful tension between William’s undoubted passion for conservation and his willingness to mow down hundreds of birds, reared specially for the purpose of being shot, in the pheasant shooting season, due to open on the first of November.
William, an excellent shot, has been an enthusiastic participant in blood sports since his teenage years. On a trip to an estate in Spain last year, William’s party was said to have bagged—along with numerous wild boar and deer—740 partridge between them.
This an obscene number by anyone’s reckoning.
The public, by and large, simply doesn’t buy the line that game shooting supports biodiversity by protecting habitats that would otherwise be destroyed or overrun with vermin.
Would William support a hunting safari in Africa, whose supporters often make the very same arguments?
Of course he wouldn’t. The row about the sad fate of Brus and Blade will not taint William in the long run, but it is a shot across the bow of the young royal, warning him to wake up to how the killing of animals is perceived.
I am not suggesting William become a vegetarian. But it is a guiding principle of the Young Royals that—unlike their ancestors—they must be whiter than white.
Access to the best shooting in the world is one of the perks of being a royal. Unfortunately for William, if he wants to be taken seriously as an ambassador for global conservation, he is going to have to forgo it, and put his guns down.