IN one of the more predictable festive front pages, an England-based red top tabloid manufactured some seasonal outrage over a story about prison inmates being allowed to pet baby pigs.

There was a similar row a few months back when re-homed dogs were used for morale-boosting purposes in another jail.

Maybe it was a slow news day. Or maybe the writers thought it better to have prisoners stay bored and angry rather than trying to make them change their mindset and their behaviour.

What wasn’t mentioned was the unmistakeable power of animals to improve the human condition, regardless of the human concerned.

We’ve long known about the bond between vision impaired people and their guide dogs, and now hearing dogs for the deaf. We’ve watched as dogs perform an incredible range of household tasks for the physically disabled.

But, as the year end report from the Gareloch branch of the Riding for the Disabled Association, on page 8 of this week’s Advertiser, underlines, horses too can have a magical effect in widening the horizons of young people especially, who find joy in the freedom they encounter from supervised riding with horses who often seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing how to impart feelings of security.

There was also a remarkable video doing the rounds in December from a hospital in America which allowed a normally frisky colt to be led into the hospital rooms of people with terminal illnesses.

The transformation from an animal you first saw galloping freely round its enclosure to the gentle nuzzler of dying patients was nothing short of remarkable.

Animal therapy is not some daft, soggy, liberal notion of do-goodery, but a proven means of bringing help and comfort in a range of situations.

For urban children the opportunity to interact with farm animals is an invaluable means of broadening their education – not least those kids who think milk originates from the supermarket!

And having their own pet provides important lessons in caring for another being, regardless of the species.

For people spending their final years in care homes, the presence of dogs, often borrowed, brings a very special kind of happiness to those who have lost their independence, and long for company.

And, although I’m not of their persuasion, I do understand that people find stroking cats on their lap to be satisfying – even if the feline in question may have an ulterior motive.

All this would be true, even if I weren’t the hopelessly devoted animal lover than I am. I had to turn off Farming Today last week because the presenter cheerfully announced she was taking the listeners with her into the abattoir.

As for all those much lauded David Attenborough documentaries: well, brilliant they may well be – but frankly too much blood, guts and carnage for this wimpy viewer. You rarely get three minutes in before something is savaged.