Cats have been stolen from a sanctuary in west Cumbria so they could be set upon and killed by dogs, animal cruelty officers believe.
An officer with the RSPCA investigating the deaths of four cats has described the crime as “heinous” after their bodies were found dumped on a river bank at Dearham.
Three of the cats were stolen from a local sanctuary, before being torn apart by dogs and their corpses abandoned.
But RSPCA Inspector Chris Towler said the cruelty was the tip of an iceberg. He said similar crimes in Cumbria are “endemic” and added: “Unfortunately the RSPCA receives many calls relating to dog attacks on cats and we are keen to halt this barbaric use of dogs.
“It’s endemic and this is an incident where the cats have been taken with the express intention of being set upon by dogs.”
In the early hours of September 13, criminals broke into a small sanctuary that offers shelter to cats.
Three animals, including a female cat that was nursing kittens, were taken using cat boxes and a cat trap. The owner was in bed during the burglary.
A week later, it was discovered that the cats’ bodies had been hurled down a river bank near to the Old Mill pub, along with the body of a fourth cat. A vet said the animals’ injuries were consistent with wounds caused by dogs.
Mr Towler said the RSPCA does not have a problem with lurcher-type dogs – the breed often used in attacks of this kind.
“We are not vilifying the breed,” he said. “We are vilifying the people that did this.”
The RSPCA is appealing for anyone with information to come forward.
“I can only describe this as a heinous crime,” added Mr Towler. “There’s no sport in this – it’s a dreadful attack on domestic animals.
“The RSPCA and the police are working together but so far we’ve come up with a blank.
“It might be that someone has driven past and seen, what we assume to be a gang, with cat boxes. They may have had dogs present or in a waiting van.
“There was a storm that day, and the perpetrators may have used this to cover the noise of their activities.”
The owner of the sanctuary did not want the premises to be named for fear of reprisals.
Anyone with any information should call the RSPCA on 0300 1234999 and ask for Chris Towler.