Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

These animals should do time for their cruelty

Jeremiah Kirkwood leaves Laganside Court
Jeremiah Kirkwood leaves Laganside Court

You have to wonder do judges keep cats? Have they ever felt a small, bony, hard as a nut yet soft as satin head push its way into their closed palm as they idled the time away watching Pet Rescue? That little companion, coming towards you with nothing but its modest cargo of trust, love and, yes, need?

I ask the question, not because I would dare to interrogate the superior intellect of any of m'learned friends, for which I would undoubtedly pay a hefty price.

But simply because I – and many, many others across Northern Ireland – am at an utter loss to understand how four men convicted of inflicting one of the vilest forms of premeditated abuse on animals ever seen in Northern Ireland can walk free from a court here.

Because the message that sends out loud and clear is that this is a place where you can look on as a terrified cat held captive in a cage is torn to shreds by dogs trained to fight – and not serve a day in prison. In fact, you can also make a video nasty of the barbaric killing on your phone to watch later, as these men did – and not serve a day in prison.

Instead, you can whoop and grin and raise your arms in the air in victory – well, why not? You have won – as you stroll out into the sunshine, having been handed a six-month sentence, suspended for two years, and a ban from keeping or controlling animals for 10 years.

Incredibly, that was the punishment meted out to Jeremiah Kirkwood (43), and his sons Chris (23), and Wayne (20), who admitted keeping animals for fighting. They also pleaded guilty to having equipment connected with animal fights and causing unnecessary suffering to four puppies. Jamie Morrow (19), admitted similar charges.

No wonder the police described themselves as "very disappointed" by the court's decision. Why bother with months of investigation, gathering evidence, drawing upon PSNI time?

After all, it's only a cat.

Except anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to share their lives with these beautiful, sensitive, highly intelligent animals will know what a disgusting travesty that is – and will find it unbearable to think of the cruel, vile end which one of them met.

I have a friend who was given a little rescue cat when she was seriously ill and fighting for her life. She'd come home from each gruelling round of chemo and sleep fitfully for days but, each time she'd wake, there was her new pal, sitting on one corner of the bed, sentinel-like, watching over her.

Afterwards, mercifully well again, she told me she could never explain how vital that quiet, constant presence had been to her recovery.

I've known what it's like to be bereft with grief, wide awake in the small hours when everyone else is asleep, and yet feel not alone.

There is something so calming about being close to a cat, its low thrum echoing through the dark, its body gently vibrating when you reach out and touch it in the darkness.

And just look at their beauty! A little tiger that comes close to you. What a gift, to have in one's life.

Maybe I'm too sentimental about animals and that's why our judiciary leaves me at a loss. Maybe it's just a cat. It's just that pets have been part of my world for as long as I can remember.

Often they're easier company than humans, with their uncomplicated, easy, heart-on-a-paw personalities, their wise intuition. No mind games, sniping or treachery, beyond nabbing some food out of your hand.

Bored in a meeting at work, I can still while away the time, conjuring up every pet I've ever known from childhood, from Snowy the Rabbit onwards. My father was exacting with us about how we cared for our pets – "if you keep them, keep them right. Fed, watered, clean ... give them a good bed and kindness." Most of us, I'm sure, are the same.

So, forgive me if I don't really want to go to the dark places where people like the Kirkwoods and their ilk roam large. We all know the psychology, what is said about those who happily harm animals to get their jollies.

For some, it's their secret way of getting back at the rest of us – harming the creatures which give companionship to so many. That's why, as well as availability, it's domestic animals that are so often the victims.

Were the spite and violence conducted against property, bricks and mortar, or vehicles, there would be custodial sentences.

We need to make sure systematic, recreational violence against animals is met with adequate censure in the courts.

Especially when the victim is "just a cat". We owe dumb animals that.

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