This video was emailed around my UK office yesterday and you could tell when someone watched it because of the audible gasp, even though we had all read the accompanying headline and knew what we were about to see.   That headline?  “Cat owners hunt for woman who put pet in wheelie bin.”  Here’s the video:

The mystery middle-aged white woman in Coventry (quickly identified as Mary Bale after the video appeared all over the web) was captured on a family’s security camera dropping their cat, Lola, into a garbage bin.  Walking by, Bale stops to pet the friendly kitty before looking around for witnesses, gripping the cat by its scruff, and dropping it into the garbage before walking away.  Darryl and Stephanie Andrews-Mann searched for the family pet for 15 hours before finding Lola, and were flummoxed as to how the accident occurred – until they reviewed the tapes from their home security camera, which they had installed two years ago after their car was repeatedly damaged by drivers-by.

Darryl, 26, said: “I’d like to know how she would feel if she was stuck in a bin for 15 hours without food or drink.

“It was really hot day outside. I searched nearby alleyways [for Lola] but suddenly heard a tiny meowing coming from the bin. I looked inside and I found her in the bin. She was terrified and covered in her own mess.”

Unsurprisingly, a large crowd was reported to gather outside Bale’s home and death threats were received as the video spread.  The Metro reports that Bale is under investigation by the RSPCA, and her mother was in the unenviable position of defending her daughter’s actions:

‘Her father is in hospital and very ill. I think she was just in a world of her own — we all are at the moment. Mary said she just didn’t know what possessed her, or what came over her. It’s just very strange because she cannot explain her actions at all. She absolutely adores cats. She’s an animal lover.’

While one feels a prick of sympathy in the face of this explanation – indeed, grief can cause people to act in erratic and strange ways – the 45-year-old bank worker neatly undermined her mother’s words with this commentary:

Bale told The Sun on Wednesday that she has been amazed by the outrage, commenting:’I don’t know what all the fuss is about, it’s just a cat,

‘I was walking home from work on Saturday night and saw this cat wander out in front of me. I was playing with it, stroking it and listening to it purr as it stood on a wall. It was very friendly.

‘I don’t know what came over me, but I suddenly thought it would be funny. I never thought it would be trapped. Cats are good climbers and I assumed it would just scramble out.

‘People are reading too much into things. I’ve no feelings about cats one way or another.’

She should have stuck to the grief script.  While from a grand-scheme-of-things point of view, this is a minor transgression (as the cat is ultimately physically unharmed), the casual cruelty of her actions is shocking to witness.  What she did was furtive, intentional, and left entirely up to fate.  There was no guarantee the cat wouldn’t starve or be baked alive in the heat before discovery.  Moreover, it would have been regarded as an accident, or perhaps blamed on badly-behaved children playing a prank.

Instead, we see an everywoman with full understanding of the potential consequences of her actions not only engage with the cat, we see her make a conscious decision to roughly trap the animal in a garbage bin and walk away.  And it is shocking!  When I started writing this post earlier today, I wrote that the woman could be a bank teller, or drive the local schoolbus, or work at the post office (and it turns out I was not far off), and that is what is so jarring.  That she could be your professor, or mother, or sister, or family friend.  Your dentist or pastor.  The invisibility of her normalcy is so at odds with the behavior that I think the shock of it compounds the outrage.

She is just an average, regular person, who was caught out doing something surprisingly shitty.  In the digital age, her punishment will exceed her crime, but I think we’re all having a hard time feeling too bad about that.