Animal cruelty blights our society
One of the measures of a civilised society is how it treats its animals. Any stranger reading our newspaper or listening to the radio could be forgiven for thinking that Northern Ireland fails that test, given the number of animal abuse and cruelty cases reported on a regular basis.
By any measure the attack on a cat in Hillsborough, which we report today, is a shocking example of how low some people can sink. Someone set fire to the family pet, causing grievous injuries to the animal, which is adored by the two little girls who own it.
They will naturally be distraught when they learn exactly what happened to the animal, and their young minds will likely be unable to comprehend how anyone could be so cruel to a defenceless pet.
This is the sort of wanton cruelty which this newspaper has campaigned vigorously against for some time. And we can claim some credit for the recent decision by Justice Minister David Ford to increase the maximum prison term for animal abuse from two years to five years, and the maximum fine from £5,000 to £20,000.
There was a public outcry when members of a notorious dog-fighting ring from east Belfast walked free from court after being handed suspended jail terms. The abuse, which included letting dogs rip a cat to pieces, was described by animal welfare campaigners as among the most horrific cases ever witnessed in the province. Even police were shocked that none of the gang was sent to jail.
However, when the tougher sentencing guidelines become effective, judges will have more discretion to send offenders to jail.
Certainly, the public will expect a crackdown on those convicted of serious animal abuse, including the handing out of deterrent sentences.
Animal abuse must be judged as a serious crime. It takes a particularly warped mentality to inflict harm on any animal, yet it is obvious that there are a significant number of people who are capable of such acts.
In the case of the latest attack on the cat in Hillsborough, anyone with information about who was responsible should pass that on to the PSNI, so that the offenders can be arrested, charged and hopefully convicted in due course.
We cannot be deaf to the pitiful cries of abused animals or the sorrow of their loving owners.