Liz Hoggard: Tough on the causes of cat crime

Share
Related Topics

So where do you stand on Catgate? Should Mary Bale, the Coventry woman who threw four-year-old tabby Lola into a wheelie bin, be strung up? Sectioned? Forced to make a public apology on YouTube (the modern equivalent of the medieval stocks). Or is the public outcry – Bale has received death threats – a massive over-reaction?

I adore cats. I own three, all of them totally indulged (they eat gourmet cat food, sit on the furniture). Outside the door are 10 feral bruisers who I'm trying not to feed too much. I have Celia Hammond rescue cats on speed dial. It's brilliant to have a national outcry about animal cruelty. Sometimes I wonder if we really are a nation of pet-lovers any more.

Of course we want the perpetrator "punished", in the form of a fine or community service. The cat survived – but it's a symbolic crime that deserves firm action. And yet. And yet. Part of me is scared by the mob fury (look at how Facebook fans turned Raoul Moat into a modern-day Robin Hood). We all know self-righteous indignation can turn ugly.

Maybe it's a fear of casting the first stone. Most people are guilty of silly, random acts. I would never ever throw a cat in a bin, assuming it could climb out. But anger, loneliness, and frustration are emotional drivers. Ms Bale originally told a journalist: "I did it as a joke. I never thought it would be trapped, I expected it to wriggle out." Adding unwisely, "I don't know what the fuss is about. It's just a cat."

It is never just a cat, lady. For many of us cats are friends, proto-lovers, substitute children. It's not a good fight to pick. But it's true that cats don't work on the same clock. If they want affection or food or shelter, they expect us to get with the programme. Can the same instinct that makes us love a cat suddenly make us furious about their vulnerability, their essential neediness?

Can you be jealous of a creature who – in a loving, domestic environment – has all its needs met? If perhaps you, an adult, don't. I can hardly bear to think about it. But I suspect we need to. If we're to understand the psychological triggers for cruelty.

Mary Bale is an unusual villain. An unmarried bank worker, she sings in the church choir, lives with elderly parents. In the CCTV footage she looks older than 45. I'm fighting not to make assumptions here, but maybe her life is not as fulfilled as it could be?

A photograph of her in 2007 has emerged from a church choir dinner (presumably one of her few outings). The sequinned blouse, salt-and-pepper hair and awkward dash of lipstick don't scream animal-abuser. According to her mother, she was under strain because her father is critically ill in hospital. Maybe the very moment that she met the cat she needed something to feel powerful over. Yesterday she apologised for her actions, citing "a split-second of misjudgement that has got completely out of control".

The semiotics of Mary Bale are endlessly fascinating. Her age. The class she comes from. Certainly the story would never have had the same resonance if the perpetrator had been a teenage boy. But you know who she reminds me of? Gillian Duffy, the woman who tackled Gordon Brown during the election. Both are women we don't often see on the front pages of newspapers – older, unadorned, ordinary women caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Mrs Duffy was of course fêted as the emblem of good sense, her wardrobe and brusque diction celebrated. Columnists queued up to claim her as The Great British Aunt or Grandmother. Mary Bale is another rabbit caught in the headlights. She's not media-sophisticated. She's only just grasping the magnitude of her actions. And her life is unravelling.

Can't we try and understand a little more? Or at least take our collective anger, that great palpable force, and use it to campaign against animal cruelty. And – just as importantly – to campaign against child cruelty in this country. Outrage is a worthy instinct. But let's switch off Facebook and do something different.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits