Those who rightfully condemn animal abusers like Mary Bale should be equally outraged at those who torture and kill animals on farms, in labs, and in slaughterhouses every day.
After a CCTV video showing her dumping a cat in a rubbish bin in Coventry, England, was broadcast on the internet last week, Mary Bale found herself the target of public outrage, “one of the most hated women in the world.” She has been compared to Hitler, and more than 10,000 people have joined the “Mary Bale hate group” on Facebook, although at least one “Death to Mary Bale” group has been closed. Playing to the outrage, the U.K. Sun’s website now invites its readers to “CLICK HERE TO PLAY Whack-cat-woman,” advising, “Now you can get your own back at the cat-dumper by slamming the dustbin lid on her in our fun game.”
Certainly Bale’s actions are repulsive. Not only did she trap Lola the cat in the bin, where she stayed for 15 hours, but when Sun reporters identified Bale and tracked her down, she laughed about the incident, explaining, “I did it as a joke because I thought it would be funny,” and wondering “what everyone is getting so excited about – it’s just a cat.”
Bale is not the only animal abuser to have been caught on camera, although her malicious actions have been topped by others. In 2001, a grisly video that Toronto residents Matthew Kaczorowski, Anthony Wennekers, and Jesse Powers, made of themselves torturing and killing a cat helped to convict them of cruelty and mischief, although their punishment was light under Canada’s outdated cruelty laws (Kaczorowski got a max of six months plus three years’ probation, but received eight months’ credit for time spent in jail awaiting sentencing; Wennekers got 21 months, though 10-and-a-half had already been served, and three years’ probation; Powers got a 90-day sentence to be served on weekends, and 18 months of house arrest). In 2006, internet users were able to track down Wang Jeu, a 37-year-old nurse who had been filmed in a “crush video” using her stiletto heels to kill a kitten in China. Currently, users of the internet forum 4chan, who helped locate Bale, are trying to identify the young woman shown in an online video throwing five puppies into a river.
The fact that these animal abusers spark outrage offers us a somewhat reassuring message about human concern for those who are helpless and victimized. It is right to condemn the cruelty of individuals who abuse animals for their own peculiar pleasures. Yet what is perhaps even more disturbing than these individual acts of gratuitous cruelty is the fact that we condemn them while accepting institutionalized animal abuse on a much broader scale. Author and legal scholar Gary Francione calls this “moral schizophrenia,” but this term adds further stigma to those with mental illness; we can simply call it moral inconsistency.
The routine torture and murder of billions of animals is hidden by those in the animal exploitation industry, who provide “necessary illusions” through images of contented animals who can imagine no happier future than to be killed for our benefit. Yet there is a kind of unspoken collusion here. They will do everything they can to hide the atrocities that go on in factory farms, vivisection laboratories, and slaughterhouses, and we will do everything we can not to find out.
However, images of these institutionalized cruelties are there to be seen. In 1981, Alex Pacheco’s undercover video of the ”Silver Spring monkeys” helped to mobilize the new animal rights movement in the United States. The animal advocacy group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) posts online video evidence of the cruelty inflicted on animals in the rodeo industry. Shannon Keith’s recent film Skin Trade exposes the grotesque depravity of the fur industry, showing animals being skinned alive and thrown away like garbage. In May 2010, Mercy For Animals exposed some of the abuse in the dairy industry with undercover video from Conklin Dairy in Ohio: workers beating cows with crowbars, stabbing them with pitchforks, and punching them in their heads. Farm owner Gary Conklin claimed this was the behaviour of one sadistic employee, Billy Joe Gregg Jr., who was fired and charged with animal cruelty.
But these abuses, and worse, are standard practice. For example, in 2009, Mercy for Animals showed equally grim undercover video of unwanted male chicks being thrown alive into a grinder at an Iowa chicken plant, Hy-Line Hatchery. Much more evidence of similar institutionalized cruelty can be seen in the documentary Earthlings, which can be viewed online.
After the recent CTV documentary No Country for Animals exposed some of the atrocities in Canada’s animal industries, viewers flocked to the websites of Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals and the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals. However, the contradictions of these groups are inherent in their very names, as they hold out the promise that somehow animals can be exploited humanely
The thousands of people who were, properly, outraged by Mary Bale’s behaviour should be equally moved by the plight of these other animal victims. In the compassionate and humane world that we should all strive to build, such atrocities should be condemned and abolished.