01 December 2010

CyberShrink on UK cat shock

The web is abuzz about the woman who dumped a cat in a rubbish bin. Cybershrink asks why someone would do such a thing?


The web is abuzz about the awful woman who callously dumped a cat in a rubbish bin. The young cat, Lola, was only discovered in the bin 15 hours later, when the owner heard its cries. Fortunately, Lola seems fine, and was friendly towards reporters and TV cameramen who approached her for a story.

The perpetrator, 45-year-old Mary Bale, seems unduly thick in several senses, and has managed skilfully to compound the offence she caused by her remarks.

'It's just a cat'

Interviewed by The Sun newspaper, she said: "I really don't see what everyone is getting so excited about - it's just a cat. I don't know what came over me, but I suddenly thought it would be funny to put it in the wheelie bin, which was right beside me. I did it as a joke because I thought it would be funny. I never thought it would be trapped. I expected it to wriggle free."

Yet if you watch the video clip, there's no suggestion she thought this amusing - she doesn't appear to be laughing. There's nothing inherently funny about a cat potentially starving to death in a bin, nor being crushed in the rubbish removal process.

I have no doubt that had anyone mischievously dumped Ms Bale in a bin (perhaps saying: "Why the fuss - she's only a bank clerk?"), the humour of the situation would have escaped her completely.

Nothing much seems to be known about Bale, so people can only speculate on her motives. Walking along, she encounters a friendly cat. The cat jumps up on the wall, and she starts to stroke it. But she soon seems to think of the plan, looking round at the bin, and then gazing up and down the road and at the house where the camera is placed, before grabbing the trusting cat by the scruff of the neck and dumping it in.

The way she glances around before and after mishandling the cat suggests she was very aware of her wrongdoing, and she appears to wish not to be observed in the act. Then having quickly shut the lid on Lola, she walks away rather briskly as though not wanting to be seen as associated with the act. She didn't wait around to enjoy her joke, or to see if the cat managed to wriggle free. And apparently she didn't return later, though she lives nearby, to check whether the cat had managed to escape.

Accused others of 'over-reacting'

She has accused others of "over-reacting". And clearly those who are rumoured to have sent death-threats (I'm not sure how they would have managed that) are indeed over-reacting. But these appear to have been extravagantly wild comments on the web, rather than specific malicious plans. It's an excellent illustration of how, in the age of surveillance cameras (including private ones as in this case) and easy internet access, a brief stupid act can become an international event, and cause an apparently silly and thoughtless person to be hated on an international scale.

There can be no doubt that this was an act of animal cruelty, and it would be unfortunate if the authorities fail to bring this odd woman to book. Strangely, the local police seem to feel that this is not a criminal offence. She reportedly works in a bank as a customer services assistant, is unmarried and has no pets of her own. She's more worried about whether she might lose her job, and about her own security. 

To assess the implications of her act and its motivations one would need to know much more, including her previous relations with cats and other animals, and previous odd behaviours. She may simply be an unpleasantly callous person, perhaps impulsive, apt to do things which even slightly amuse her, without thinking of the consequences for the target of her actions, herself or others. In fact, what should be most worrying is not merely what she did, but that she thought it amusing to make another creature suffer, and that she can't understand why other people are upset.

Link between animal and human abuse

Cruelty to animals isn't only a matter that should interest animal lovers. It's very rare to find someone cruel to animals who isn't also callous and heartless towards people. Indeed, when assessing a possible diagnosis of psychopath or Antisocial Personal Disorder, one of the things one looks for is a childhood history of cruelty to animals. While most people who are vicious to animals do not go on to murder humans, it's rare to find a serial killer who was not conspicuously cruel to animals.

On a less dramatic but no less serious scale, a strong correlation has been found between abuse of pets and child abuse within families. People who become abusers of animals often have a history of being abused themselves, and of coming from dysfunctional families.

So apart from the widespread public outcry that this woman should in some way be punished for her acts, if the matter comes to court, and although there seem to be no mitigating factors, it might be wise for the court to call for her to be psychologically assessed, to check whether she has other behavioural problems and is in need of help to deal with them.

(- M.A. Simpson, Health24, August 2010)

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