Harriet Williamson, The Independent
There have been consequences for Kurt Zouma. The Premier League footballer has been ordered to carry out 180 hours of community service for kicking and slapping his cat in a video that sparked outrage in February.
The Snapchat video posted by Zouma’s brother showed the West Ham defender abusing one of his Bengal cats at his London home. He drop-kicked the cat into a kitchen cabinet, threw a pair of shoes at it, and slapped it in the head. He said: “I swear I’ll kill it” and laughing can be heard in the video.
The 27-year-old West Ham defender is now banned from keeping or caring for cats for five years, and was ordered to pay court costs of nearly £9,000. His brother Yoan has received 140 hours of community service for the part he played in the abuse.
Responding to the outcry in February, the prime ministers’s sister and LBC host Rachel Johnson said: “I do think we are in danger of overreacting and cancelling Kurt Zouma for one misguided kick in his kitchen which his silly brother posted on social media. He’s 27, clearly he’s old enough to know better! But do we really want to live in a world where one silly mistake can lead to the end of somebody’s career? I think we don’t. I think he has taken his punishment, his cats are now no longer in the house.”
But in my opinion Zouma’s abuse of his pet was no “silly mistake” — and District Judge Susan Holdham agreed, calling it a “disgraceful and reprehensible act”. Silly mistakes include misplacing your keys, getting on a bus going nowhere near your destination and sending a screenshot to the wrong WhatsApp group.
A grown man violently assaulting an animal is not. Abusive behaviour should always have serious consequences, and that includes animal cruelty. The removal of Zouma’s cats by the RSPCA was, quite rightly, just the first step — not the end of this story. What message does it send if there are no meaningful consequences for cruel and abusive behaviour?
Often, when people in the spotlight get caught doing disgraceful things, there are calls for their glittering careers to be protected; as though their right to be successful trumps the safety and dignity of other people — and in this case, animals. To me, Johnson’s plea that “there are bigger issues at stake” is typical of this mindset.
What are these “bigger issues”? West Ham having a good season? Kurt Zouma being able to continue earning a whacking great professional footballer’s salary? I don’t think that’s more important than setting a standard in public life, and showing those who look up to sports stars that animal cruelty isn’t cool or funny or acceptable.
The way we treat animals generally is worthy of wider discussion. The vast majority of us know that our pets, which we have chosen to make part of our lives and are supposed to love and care for, are not toys. They are living beings and should be treated with respect.
As District Judge Holdham said: “The cat looked up to you to care for its needs. On that date in February you did not provide for its needs.” She also addressed Zuma’s position as a Premier League star, and the responsibility that accompanies this privilege, saying: “You must be aware that others look up to you and many young people aspire to emulate you.”
Animals aren’t our playthings, they’re not footballs to kick around. The filming of Zouma’s abusive behaviour and the laughter in the video suggests a really disturbing lack of compassion from both men. It’s right that they have faced community sentences — animal cruelty is always a big deal.