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Would I ever throw a cat in a wheelie bin? I wish I could be sure

In fact, I suspect that I might be capable of something much worse

By on Monday, 30 August 2010

Mary Bale put a cat in a bin because she thought it was funny. But could you do the same? (Photo: PA wire)

Mary Bale put a cat in a bin because she thought it was funny. But could you do the same? (Photo: PA wire)

The general outrage over Mary Bale, who for no apparent reason put a cat in a wheelie bin, where it remained for 16 hours, mewing piteously, is a very extraordinary phenomenon. Of course, she shouldn’t have done it. But this isn’t just a story about someone being cruel to an animal; after all, it wasn’t really actually monstrously cruel, only moderately so. 

No, there is something more to all this; we need more of an explanation for this nine days wonder, for the hundreds of thousands of hits on the YouTube footage (the whole episode having been captured on the private CCTV of the cat’s owners). Why are we all so fascinated? Because, I suspect, we still have no answer to the big question: why did she do it?

It is worthwhile to return to Mary Bale’s own words. “I really don’t see what everyone is getting so excited about. It’s just a cat,” she said. “I was walking home from work 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 garden wall. It was very friendly.

“I don’t know what came over me, but I suddenly thought it would be funny to put it in the wheelie bin, which was right beside me… it was just a split second of madness.”

What are we to make of this? After all, this wasn’t a very funny thing to do. It’s that “split second of madness” that interests me. This story, it seems to me, is a classic example of what André Gide called an “acte gratuite”. This was a term used by Gide to designate utterly unmotivated behaviour that defies routine, custom, and normal explanations. The hero of Les Caves du Vatican exemplifies it when for no reason he pushes an old man to his death from a moving train. The apparent amorality of Gide’s hero and the popularity of Gide’s novels with the young intelligentsia led to attacks on Gide as a corrupter of youth, and his books were placed on the now abolished index librorum prohibitorum.

The question I have to ask myself (as I suspect we all do) is simple: could I have put that cat in that wheelie bin? Of course we all disapprove of Mary Bale’s action. But I suspect that, all the same, I would not have been entirely incapable of performing it myself. It isn’t that I have mixed feelings about cats (we have one ourselves). But I simply do not know what I might have been capable of if my life had been other than it is.

Over 50 years ago, after we had both attended a lecture on Les Caves du Vatican, a fellow undergraduate decided on an acte gratuite in a Dublin bookshop: he stole a book entitled Ethics. That was certainly an amoral act; it was also quite funny. But he didn’t kill anyone, like Gide’s hero. I asked him at the time what he thought he was really capable of: might he ever, for instance, have been carried away like those hysterical crowds in Germany in the 1930s (for us, only two decades before) shouting “Heil Hitler”; might he even have been drawn into complicity with the Holocaust?

He indignantly, and with absolute moral certainty, denied that he ever could. But I wish I could be absolutely sure, for all my present hatred of anti-Semitism in particular, and of totalitarianism in general, that I could not. That was there, and then; this is here, and now, thank God. Meanwhile, I am not inclined to be too indignant about the now world-famous acte gratuite of Mary Bale. 

  • LookL

    I would say it's an action of someone with not a very active conscience.

  • Noreen FitzGerald

    People confine animals all the time! Dogs are chained, cats declawed, birds caged, Animals taken from their natural habitat just for human pleasure, This “acte gratute” of Mary Bale pales into insignificance when the motivated behavior of pet “owners” is honestly scrutinized.

  • Rich

    If the dustbinmen had come the cat would have been mincemeat.

  • Rich

    How can we be sure she hasn't been a serial cat abuser, or even killer, for years?

  • Mollybenton5

    Maybe she just had an absent minded moment, like whe you find yourself putting the milk in the teapot instead of the jug. Then when she came to herself she couldn't see how to get the cat our of the bin, so she just cleared off, thinking it would soon be found. Well, I'm trying here……

  • Dave

    Mary Bale Imprisoning Cat in Bin.

    No one seems to consider what would have happened if the cat had not been found and the bin had been emptied with the cat inside – perhaps with rubbish thrown inside by inattentive people. Who checks for cats inside their rubbish bin? The poor creature, dehydrated and starving, might not have been killed by the crusher, but lived on, badly injured in the collection vehicle until dumped with all the rubbish.

    Furthermore the way she did this was very deft and I doubt if it was the first time – how many people's loved pet cats have disappeared in that area, never to be seen again?

    And is Mary Bale displaying mental instability that may well be turned on other vulnerable creatures, even a child? She has an odd look about her. I hope that the police have insured that she is being brought up in front of a court who can order medical checks. The safety of children must be paramount.

    Many media commentators have taken a very casual view of this, and it appears Mary Bale's prefix of 'Ms' has entitled her to considerable protection – that would not have been given to a young man.

    She is being punished for this by the surrounding community, and serve her right.

  • Dave

    Good point!

  • http://twitter.com/JimLackey Jim Lackey

    It took some time for this American to figure out what a “wheelie bin” actually is. Turns out I have one at my home in Virginia. We just don't have such a creative name for it. We may have won our independence from you, but you still have the knack for the language (as indeed you should).

  • Dave

    That is just silly.

  • homemaker

    We all value our pets and most of us believe that children in particular, benefit greatly from loving animals and taking care of them. Our pets have a moral value to us, teaching us about care and love.

    Mary Bale placing the cat in the dustbin is just horrible. A dustbin – this says everything about what she thinks the cat is. The cat was no more than a piece of rubbish, to be thrown away.This isn't “funny”. it isn't remotely amusing at all.This was a loved family pet, and not a piece of rubbish.
    Most of us are not capable of pet killing, nor pet torture and we condemn this act. Where people can behave in this brutal way, even as an alleged act of temporary insanity, we suspect they lack normal moral sensitivity.

  • twinkle

    Exactly! and who knows what else she has done to other peoples pets. I expect all the owners of missing cats in that area are wondering if that was the fate of their much loved pet. and No, it wasn't “Monstrously cruel” but it could have been. A good punishment would be to put her in a wheely bin without food and water for a day. That poor little cat being so friendly and affectionate.

  • Darwin

    Typical Christian gibberish… fact is that your moral maturity was stunted long ago by dogma. As a result, you are more worried about 'sin' than morality. This is the reason that you empathize with a woman who treated an animal like trash. I bet your strong hatred for Antisemitism stems from guilt over your religion's Holocaust culpability. Advice: learn to think for yourself and develop a morality based on respect for life and you won't have to wonder if your capable of animal abuse or worse.

  • Catbag

    About the senseless binning of a cat by a frozen-arteried middle aged woman which hit the headlines on Youtube and the evening news. It made a change that she was not your average alcohol swilling, drug taking, dissipated stereotype – you know, the kind of uncouth person who attacks cameramen outside of a city magistrate's court with an open hand to the lens and a few anglo-saxon words but – hey up! – it turns out to be a respectable-looking woman with a good job in a bank!

    A bank??????? Imagine the scene…

    Your cat may be at risk if you do not keep up repayments.

    I wish to buy shares in Pets At Home… or should that be Pets Missing Presumed Thrown Into A Wheelie Bin?

    I wish to open a Deposit Account…for my cat, Tigger. Do you provide litter trays?

    There used to be a cartoon on the telly called Boss Cat (Top Cat in the USA). TC lived in a dustbin but they weren't as spacious as our state-of-the-art wheelie. He just whizzed in and out of it effortlessly in the alley. Maybe Mary Bale mixed up fact with fiction and thought Lola would escape from her wheelie to join her chums to make mischief for Officer Dibble. The cops went after her instead… and the RSPCA.

    I often think that if a human could do that to an animal, God help humanity!

    We must pray for such sad people.

    PS: For goodness sake, Darwin, EVOLVE!!!!!

  • Antonaevic

    It is act of someone whose life is boring, probably sad pathetic and lonely and bitter woman..

    How would she like to be tarped for 15 hours in a small dark palce..

    She is not giving positive mesge to kids by doing that the stupid woman..

  • Josemurray

    Disgusting and thoughtless comment from another so called catholic!

  • Mary Collon

    Whilst I am intrigued by the concept you introduce me to “gratuitous act”, I think that Mary Bale is possibly too proud to acknowledge that in one instant, she felt like subjecting a vulnerable being (as vulnerable or more vulnerable than herself) to what she felt that she was being subjected to. She may have felt that, on a symbolical level, this was how she felt she was treated by the world. Talk about self fulfilling prophecy, she is now discarded by society as less than human.

    Having said that – I would be mad as hell if anyone abused my tortoises. When my house was robbed, they left my tortoises behind – if anything had happened to those innocent beasties – I would have gone mad…