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A Noble Fight for Animal Rights
By Catherine Lyst
January 23, 2006
The landed gentry are often associated with pursuits such as fox hunting and grouse shooting.
But the 15th Duke of Hamilton and his duchess are not ones to conform to such a stereotype.
The couple have helped highlight a number of animal issues
Despite being the brother of renowned Tory politician Lord James, the duke has admitted he is "unsympathetic" to the Conservatives.
An unassuming man, he is the Queen's official representative in Scotland but is quite happy to be referred to as Angus, and his wife insists on being known as Kay.
Come the Glorious 12th, you will not see them pulling on their wax jackets and loading their shotguns.
They are more likely to be seen on a protest against blood sports.
Dedicated to animal welfare, their list of exploits is lengthy:
They famously boycotted Edinburgh's prestigious Jenners store after it refused to stop selling pate de foie gras, which they believed had been obtained as a result of animal cruelty
Angus has banned commercial shooting on his land since the 1980s
Kay runs a refuge and rehoming centre for Staffordshire bull terriers
Kay once came to the rescue of a Christmas turkey which escaped from a lorry heading for the slaughterhouse. She now has three "Christmas" turkeys
With the help of a former member of the special forces, Angus planned and carried out the undercover rescue of three bull terrier puppies from the hands of a dog-fighting gang
The pair were questioned by police over their alleged involvement with the "liberation" of a dog condemned to death under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
However, Angus insisted he was not a big fan of animals.
"I can live without them but I don't want to see them treated badly," he said.
"We are all animals and my belief is that no creature should suffer at the hands of the human animal.
"I agree with Arthur C Clark when he said that how we are treated in the future by a higher civilisation, may depend on how we have treated the animals in our care."
Much of Kay's passion for animals is channelled into Edinburgh-based Advocates for Animals.
The duchess helped save three Christmas turkeys from the table
But she is at pains to point out that the organisation is about animal welfare and does not condone violent acts.
"We would never hurt people. We apply pressure to change things legally," she said.
A little-known fact is that Angus' grandmother Duchess Nina was a founder of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Vivisection, which went on to become Advocates for Animals.
She also tirelessly campaigned for slaughterhouse reform and helped abolish the practice of letting pigs bleed to death.
Kay, who comes from a working class background, admitted that the couple were not what some people would expect.
"A lot of people are surprised that we do not hunt and shoot but we believe it is now accepted that we just don't do it," she said.
The couple live in a five-bedroomed farmhouse in East Lothian. Lennoxlove, the 14th century ancestral estate, which is home to the family heirlooms, is nine miles away and open to the public.
The pair met when Angus went to get a rescue dog from Kay for his children.
"We discovered we had the same sense of humour and beliefs," she said.
The couple have been boycotting Jenners for the past five years over its refusal to stop selling pate de foie gras.
"We didn't think about the reaction we'd get," Kay said. "We just felt it was the right thing to do.
"It did a good job of highlighting the issue. We had 400 letters and not one of them was against us. We even had letters of support from France."
Kay admitted she has trouble biting her tongue when they visit a restaurant which serves the dish.
The duke and duchess boycotted Jenners over an animal issue
"I ask them if they have to have it on the menu and explain that it has been cruelly obtained," she said.
"I don't expect people to be vegetarians but I would just like to see animals kept in a humane way."
Kay is concerned about the impact poor treatment of farm animals can have on humans.
"If we looked after our animals properly we would have less problems with diseases like bird flu, Jacob Creutzfeldt and Sars.
"You name it, it affects our health.
"If we don't look after animals we will suffer and our children will suffer."
Kay said all three of her rescue turkeys have had pneumonia, a condition she believes was caused by breathing problems resulting from the way they were bred to satisfy supermarket demands.
"I also had some chicks which were rescued from a broiler farm at a day old. They all died at six months from heart disease.
"We are eating these animals.
"Supermarkets have the power to change conditions."
Kay believes her love of animals was inherited from her father, who always had animals around.
"He was an ordinary working man and he believed that you should only kill for food."
The Duchess runs a dog rescue and rehoming centre
She said that after her mother had twin daughters it was felt one of the babies would not survive and the hospital wanted to let her die.
"My father used to feed her milk with a pipette," Kay said. "All he knew was how he'd looked after his animals.
"The baby in question is now 70, so it must have worked."
Kay is currently concentrating her efforts in the campaign against live animal transportation, although she will support any cause she thinks is worthy.
She believes things are changing gradually.
"You will rarely find a restaurant that doesn't have a vegetarian choice these days," she said.
"There is a lot more awareness now but I will just keep ploughing on.
"I would like to think I'd made a little difference to the lives of animals."