Pet charities have reported a surge in the numbers of mutilated, murdered and kidnapped cats. Are we a nation of animal-maimers? Or is something else going on?
A demon barber in the Cotswolds has been shaving the fur off domestic cats. Tippi the tortoiseshell, Treacle, Beau and a kitten named Baby are among up to 10 cats targeted in villages near Stroud.
Meanwhile, the bodies of more than 10 headless cats found dumped around Croydon in recent months appear to have been deliberately killed, according to the RSPCA, which has performed postmortems and believes they may have been struck by a car before being decapitated – although this has been disputed. Another south London cat shelter has recorded more than 50 possible murders of cats, as well as mutilated rabbits and foxes, in the past two years.
Pet charity Blue Cross reported an increase in admissions of cats suffering from air gun injuries and the RSPCA noticed a surge in cat poisonings last year, including a spate in Baxenden, Lancashire, that took the life of Jaffa, the ginger cat of local MP Graham Jones. In 2014, a map showing where more than 185 cats had gone missing was created by cat-lovers convinced someone was kidnapping animals in the Ipswich area.
What’s the psychology behind this horrific cruelty towards cats? Research suggests that animal abuse is often a sign of deep psychological disturbance. The FBI’s first psychological profilers found that mass murderers and rapists often engaged in animal cruelty in childhood and US studies have identified links between domestic violence and animal abuse: 30% of children who witness domestic abuse perpetrate similar violence against their pets. But a review of scientific research revealed that while 35% of violent offenders had abused animals as children, so had 37% of men in the non-criminal control group.
Attributing all cases of animal cruelty to psychopaths probably doesn’t fully explain the violence against cats. Footage of an apparently ordinary 45-year-old bank worker who seized a cat and dropped it into a wheelie bin went viral in 2010 because it was so inexplicable. The “cat bin woman” was then mercilessly bullied over the internet for her cruelty.
Some of the violence against cats will be motivated by disputes with neighbours: people infuriated with cats defecating in their gardens, or killing songbirds, or by people who believe there are too many in their neighbourhood (the UK cat population is estimated to have risen from 4.1m in 1965 to 7.9m in 2014).
“We’re often asked if we as a nation are more cruel than we were, and we don’t think that’s the case,” says RSPCA superintendent Simon Osborne. “More people are becoming aware and have the ability to comment on social media.” He says that some instances of abuse against cats are carried out by keen gardeners who spread glass to deter cats, or use slug pellets or other poisons against them.
But while the torturing of cats gets our attention, Osborne says, cases of abandonment are far more common. “Cat crises season” starts this month and continues for most of the summer, with feral cats producing “abandoned” kittens and transient human populations leaving their cats behind when they move house.
Are there simply too many cats? “The sheer scale of abandonment shows that neutering isn’t being done to the level where we can keep a healthy population of domestic cats,” says Osborne. “The RSPCA and other charities are providing neutering schemes which are having a good impact, but these things take a long time.”
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