Among all the historic photographs I saw of Dumfries there is one that’s quite disturbing.

It shows bear baiting in the town centre.

Bear baiting was once all the rage. A bear was chained to a post by the leg or neck and two dogs were set on it. Usually the bear’s claws had been removed so its main form of self-defence was to fall on top of the dogs.

When a dog was exhausted, injured or killed it was replaced by another one.

To more compassionate 21st century minds its sounds horrific, though it was a popular spectator sport in its day. Queen Elizabeth I was a fan – just as our current royals are fans of fox hunting and pheasant shooting.

Bear baiting and cock fighting were finally outlawed in 1835, though bear baiting must have continued despite that. Photography didn’t arrive in Britain until later that century.

But it is in the last 20 years that we’ve seen most advances in animal welfare. Testing cosmetics on animals was banned in 1998 and the docking of dogs’ tails was stopped in 2007. Keeping hens in battery cages was outlawed in 2012.

Most controversially – but in my own view rightly – hunting with dogs was banned in 2005. The ban applied to hare coursing as well as fox hunting.

We now hear of another advance in January 2020, when the use of wild animals in circuses will be prohibited. David Cameron promised the ban would take effect by January 2015, but it’s better late than never.

Most people no longer want to see wild animals perform unnatural behaviours that they’ve been forced to learn through beatings and abuse. Clowns and acrobats are enough of a spectacle.

And it’s not jot just animal-loving Brits who feel this compassion. Most Spaniards are now against bullfighting.

In a typical Spanish bullfight, the animal is attacked by men on foot and on horseback with lances and barbed harpoons. The matador forces the confused, exhausted and injured bull to make a few charges before eventually attempting to kill it with a sword.

If it is not already dead, the bull is stabbed in the back of the neck with a dagger until it is paralysed and finally dies.

The animal may still be conscious when its ears or tail are cut off and given as a trophy to the bullfighter who killed it.

Increasingly, holidaymakers who go along find that bullfighting is not an art but a particularly brutal cruelty.

It happens not just in Spain but in France, Portugal, the USA, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela, and public opinion in all of them is now firmly behind a ban. Only 19 per cent of people in Spain still support it.

I’m wondering whether horse racing will come next. It’s true that some people will have done well from Saturday’s Grand National, especially if they backed Tiger Roll to win for the second consecutive year. No horse has won two Grand Nationals in a row since Red Rum 45 years ago.

But three horses died in the race. Since 2000,13 horses have been killed at Aintree.

The British Horseracing Authority reveal that from 2010 to 2015 the average number of horses killed every year because of racing is 193. That doesn’t include the deaths that occur during training.

I wouldn’t argue for an outright ban on racing, though some would. The League Against Cruel Sports considers races of four and a half miles over large fences too long and gruelling for most animals. Carlisle racecourse is a more humane one mile and four furlongs.

There is a case for a ban on the whip from racing. In Norway it was banned in 1982 and trainers, spectators and racecourse bosses all approve.

All bans are a limit on personal freedom, and some libertarians are against the idea of banning anything, whether it’s cock fighting, hare coursing or smoking in pubs, on principle. I’d ask them whether they agree that child pornography should be banned.

Outlawing unnecessary cruelty to animals is a sign of a civilised society, and if some people find it enjoyable that’s too bad. After all, some sick individuals enjoy child pornography. No-one should be free to do anything.

In the future fox hunting,bullfighting and circus animals will seem just as cruel as bear baiting and cock fighting do today.