"Is that your lovely little cat in there?" I asked the woman at the antique shop on Monroe Street.
She smiled. "They're all mine, all five of them, and they're all strays."
When she unlocked the door to the other side of the shop where I had seen the cat, he jumped down immediately off the probably very expensive chair where he had been sleeping and trotted over to rub against my leg.
I squatted down and stroked his fine, thin little body. He was jet black with four white feet, a tail like a pencil and probably weighed all of five pounds. But, there as something dreadfully wrong with one of his eyes. It was pearled over - like he had a cataract.
The woman was evidently reading my thoughts. "Somebody tried to kill him." She said.
I could feel my stomach tighten. I knew I did not want to know the rest of the story, but I didn't know how to stop her.
"We were feeding him outside and he disappeared for a few days. When he finally dragged himself back, half of his face was smashed in and his eyeball was hanging out. The doctor said he'd see this week if he was going to have to remove it."
"You don't think he might have gotten hit by a car?" I asked hopefully, not wanting to deal with what she was telling me.
'No." She said firmly. "The vet said it was more like someone took a shovel and swung at him, trying to crush his skull."
The sweet little being beneath my hand purred in pleasure and rubbed his face against my fingers.
"If you'll stay right there, he'll just love on you for hours." She said. "That's all he wants to do. Be careful, though, he's bad about running your stockings."
"I can buy another pair of stockings." I replied, marveling at the forgiveness of a being that had been so abused.
As a criminologist, I spend a great deal of my time reading about and talking about and sometimes even looking at the unspeakable things human beings are capable of doing to each other. Somehow, I have learned to stand that. But, when it comes to animals, and deliberate cruelty, I can't even bare to listen to it
That's why I didn't read all of the articles about the fraternity boys at a local university who tortured chickens and alligators as a kind of party stunt..
There are people, and I have worked with several, who disparage great love for animals - who regard it as trivial and silly. They think that love and tenderness for animals reveals a lack of love for people. I think it is just the opposite. I think great love for animals reveals a profound appreciation and respect for life - the preciousness and vulnerability of all little souls.
Animals are the most vulnerable and truly innocent beings around us. And, they have the least protection from the intentional cruelty dished out by the human race.
When a man smashed that precious little cat's face in with a shovel there was no 911 call, no ambulance, no police investigation, no arrest or punishment. Just horrible and unnecessary pain and suffering.
And even if you are among those who don't care about animals, you should care about this kind of intentional cruelty.
There is a substantial criminological literature which connects violent criminal behavior against people with a history of cruelty to animals. It only makes sense that if a person is willing to smash in the face of a cat, or torture chickens, or shoot the legs off a dog for sport, they are perfectly capable of, and quite likely to be, abusive to people as well.
To witness suffering, any suffering, to be able to do something about it and to turn your face away is a great and serious crime against the sacredness of life. But to deliberately set about to cause suffering, to watch and enjoy it, and laugh about it, in my mind, makes you a monster.
"There is a special circle in hell for people who do such things." The owner of the antique shop said, looking down sadly at her little cat..
"I hope so." I replied. "I truly hope so."