Everyone knows the urban myth about the absent-minded old lady who put her poodle in the microwave in a misguided attempt to dry it out.
[Brendan Blennerhassett’s conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal. Click here for the report.]
But the myth is being turned into reality in a sickening criminal trend adopted by robbers and thugs to intimidate their victims.
For purposes of blackmail or revenge, pets are being forced into microwaves before the eyes of their frightened owners. If the ovens are switched on the animals are cooked from the inside with a blast of short electro- magnetic waves.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals said last night that it was appalled that people were prepared to subject pets to such torture and would be seeking prison sentences for those found culpable.
Scotland Yard said yesterday it was looking for a gang who seized a couple's cat and put it in the microwave after forcing their way into their home in St John's Wood, north London.
The thieves threatened to cook the cat unless the couple gave them the combination to their safe and later escaped with antique jewellery, watches and other goods worth pounds 18,500.
The three robbers struck as the husband, 53, parked his car at home after watching a football match at Arsenal.
They demanded the man's Rolex watch, before punching him in the face and forcing him into the house, where they threatened to cut his 46-year- old wife's throat and kill the couple's cat.
The raiders then took the woman's Cartier watch before searching the house and using the cat as a blackmailing tool. When the safe was opened the cat was released unhurt.
But a worse fate befell Jasper, a kitten, who was forced into a microwave by a man whose advances to the animal's owner had been spurned at a party.
Brendan Blennerhassett, 24, was jailed for six months this week at a court in County Durham after being found guilty of deliberately killing the 12-week-old kitten.
A court heard that he had carried out the attack after Jasper's owner, who he had earlier met at a nightclub, rejected him at a party later the same evening.
Vicky Allen, 20, had brought her kitten to the party, so that it would not be left alone at home. Ms Allen cried as she told the court that she had tried to save the stricken animal: "I took it out and tried to revive it but it died."
Ann Morris, chairwoman of the bench in Houghton-le-Spring, Co Durham, said: "The torture and death of a much loved and defenceless 12-week-old kitten is a thoroughly despicable offence."
By a strange twist of fate, the microwave was invented to meet a need to heat hamsters humanely in 1950s laboratories.
James Lovelock and other scientists developed the technology while working on experiments concerned with the preservation of living tissue.
Hamsters which had been subjected to a cooling process needed to be revived through warmth without burning their skins.
Since then, partly thanks to the spread of urban myth, the image of the pet in the microwave has become the source of dubious humour. The comedians Hale and Pace made their names through the controversy which followed an infamous sketch depicting a cat being microwaved.
The RSPCA has looked on in horror as a new form of pet torture has evolved in British homes. It has on its books a case where a 13-year-old boy killed the family whippet in the microwave for "fun".