LONDON – LONDON (AP) — The gray-haired woman gently pets the cat, occasionally glancing furtively at a garbage bin. Then she strikes, casually grabbing it by the scruff, tossing it in, popping the lid closed, and quickly strolling away.
The surveillance video posted online by Lola the cat's owners takes only seconds, but it has outraged thousands of viewers around the world, some of whom posted angry messages pledging retribution. Now, police say they've identified the woman and posted guards outside her house in central England.
Investigators at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which prosecutes cruelty cases, said Tuesday that the gray striped cat was trapped for 15 hours before being rescued on Sunday morning by her owners, who told a British newspaper they heard Lola's muffled cries from inside the bin. The distressed cat was unharmed.
The society said it planned to interview the woman involved after it confirmed her identity, but declined to say whether she had been identified by a viewer of the clip online.
Police in the city of Coventry urged local residents to show restraint.
"Coventry Police are supporting the society's investigation and would urge the public to leave the matter to be dealt with in the appropriate manner by the authorities," the West Midlands police department said in a statement.
Lola's owner Stephanie Mann said she and husband Darryl couldn't find Lola on Sunday morning but followed the sound of her meows.
"We thought she might be trapped under the car because she sounded like she was hurt, so we followed her cries and eventually found her in the bin," she told the Coventry Telegraph newspaper.
The couple had previously installed a personal surveillance camera outside their home following a spate of thefts in the area.
Mann said they checked the video tape expecting to discover local youths, or a drunk, had thrown Lola into the bin late on Saturday evening, but were shocked to discover the culprit was a respectable looking woman.
"I was absolutely heartbroken to see how someone could just be so cruel," she told the newspaper. "I don't know what went through her head but it was just disgusting to watch and it broke my 8-year-old daughter's heart."
Mann later posted the clip online, where it has attracted tens of thousands of views.
Coventry police department said a small number of community support officers — wardens who assist the police but have no powers of arrest — had been stationed near the woman's home after a crowd gathered outside.