Someday — soon, I hope — we will come face-to-face with the person (or people) responsible for mutilating cats in the Salt Lake area.

We will be shocked by what we find.

There is no profile of such a person that wouldn't shock us; no way for us to adequately prepare for it; no way to get a mental image of the body type or the facial expression. What kind of mind would derive pleasure from watching a living creature — a social and interactive pet — suffer? How do we conjure a mind that derives pleasure from returning the mutilated animal to the owner's doorstep in a perversion of the way a cat brings a bird home to curry its owner's approval?

Is this the work of some strange cult? Is it the misguided act of some young person who simply is starved for attention? Is it the work of a budding Jeffrey Dahmer who derives a deranged pleasure from the slow and steady torture of another living thing?

Or is it someone like Anthony Wennekers and Jesse Powers, who recently made names for themselves in Toronto?

These two young men — Wennekers was 26 and Powers 23 — made a video of themselves mutilating a cat, and then called it performance art.

During much of the 17-minute tape, which is too gruesome to describe, the cat remained alive, screaming and meowing in pain.

According to press accounts, Powers said the tape was supposed to be a statement about how gruesome it is for people to eat meat — kind of an over-the-top version of some of PETA's ad campaigns. Cows die the same way, he was trying to say, and no one seems to mind. Well, no, they don't die that way, of course, with people poking and laughing and gleefully talking about nailing them to the wall. The mutilation of a live cat has as much to do with eating meat as a junkyard has to do with driving lessons.

But it did help Powers' case when his art instructor from the Ontario College of Art and Design came to his defense, and when some other performance artists joined in. Apparently, Powers had plenty of encouragement before the act. According to the Canadian Press, he made a similar video of himself slaughtering and eating a chicken. He turned it in as a class project and received an A.

The judge seemed somewhat moved by all of this. He gave the two men each 90 days in jail, to be served on weekends so that Powers could keep going to his art class. Perhaps some aspiring fellow inmates are already thinking up performance projects of their own for those weekend visits.

As I write this, police have discovered the 10th dead cat in the Salt Lake area since May. Police say the attacks have been similar, using techniques that have not been publicized so as to inspire copycat crimes.

Much has been made recently about a similar spate of cat killings across the mountains in Denver. There, at least 41 cats have been killed during the past year.

Is this some sort of madman with a frequent flyer card? Not necessarily. Cat torture is fairly common. In Carrollwood, Fla., for example, police late last year were investigating a string of cat killings that numbered about 20.

It's common, but it ought to be of grave concern to everyone.

The list of animal murderers who graduated onto to bigger and worse things reads like a who's who of evil. David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam" killer in New York City, once shot a neighbor's Labrador and then claimed the dog inspired him to kill people. Carroll Edward Cole was accused of 35 murders and finally executed for five of them. He said his first act of violence was to strangle a puppy. Utah's own Arthur Gary Bishop used to torture and kill puppies. He eventually was executed for doing the same thing to little children.

Frank Ascione, a Utah State University psychology professor, has done a lot of research on the link between animal cruelty and human cruelty. The link isn't always there, he found, but three out of five times people convicted of animal abuse end up being arrested for other, more serious crimes.

So what type of person are we looking for? An artist? A madman with a crazed look in his eyes? A strange non-conformist like Brian David Mitchell, who is accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart? When we see him, will we kick ourselves for not having noticed him in our midst before?

All we know is this is a person who has lost the capacity to feel the pain of another living being. Whatever is going on, it isn't art. It isn't a statement. It is pure evil. And no matter who is doing it, decent people will be shocked.


Jay Evensen is editor of the Deseret Morning News editorial page. E-mail: even@desnews.com