Not just killing cats now – but people defending them centuries ago
In 2021, cruel maltreatment of cats during 2018 and 2019 was prosecuted. It had resulted in between sixteen and twenty three cats being killed or injured by one man – in Brighton. Successful action was not primarily taken by the local police. Rather, it was undertaken by local cat lovers, including a woman named Boudicca Rising, from a campaign group,who tried to catch a suspected killer. Further, a woman owner of a killed cat set up a CCTV system to capture on camera a fresh cat attack.And did this.
Thus Steve Bouquet, a security guard,was jailed for 5 years and 3 months in July 2021. The judge Jeremy Gold QC said, “It is important that everyone understands that cats are domestic pets but they are more than that. They are effectively family members…” These comments were not entirely different to words in the nineteenth century. A London alderman would state that a prisoner attacking cats “ deserved to be skinned alive for his barbarity” (1831) while radical activist Leigh Hunt described cats being liked and “the picture of comfort”(1834) in his London journal. Yet recently defined by BBC news and the press in January 2022, the cat killer died in Kent from thyroid cancer on January 6th.
Although the press generally covered protecting cats, there was no understanding that acts defending cats were not at all new! After Martin’s Act passed in July 1822, the first in this country to defend many animals, from the 1830s new laws to defend domestic animals emerged. The Pease’s Act of 1835 introduced laws to defend and protect cats and dogs, including dogs transporting animal food or cats killing rats in factories and homes – or both giving emotional support to people.
Court cases included police activity bringing men – and women – cat killers to magistrates’ court grew at that time. But – like now – it was primarily local people who took a stand. Obviously there were no cameras then but there were people who dragged killers to the police to arrest them, and then gave statements in court, ran demonstrations outside, and even physically threatened offenders.
This action to defend owned and stray cats and dogs was not new just to Brighton nor to the twenty first century but became part of animal protection by humans in this country nearly 200 years ago.
As I am writing in my current draft book on nineteenth century cats, the Martin’s Act of 1822 was indeed positive , but the acts taken by locals, like today, were those undertaken by ordinary people who supported cats – and personally defended them!