A cat killer appears to be on the loose in Russell, prompting locals to offer a reward of more than $1000 for information leading to the culprit's arrest.
The money was put up after Tigger, a tabby belonging to Russell residents Peter and Lorraine Blignaut, was shot with an air gun.
The pellet entered Tigger's ear, passed around the front of his skull and lodged under the skin on the other side of his head. The family pet of nine years had surgery to remove the pellet this week and was sent home from the vet's clinic yesterday.
Mrs Blignaut thought Tigger had been in a fight when he came home last week with a wound by his right ear and a lump on the left side of his head. Their vet, however, realised the cat had been shot.
The Blignauts, who migrated with Tigger from South Africa six years ago, complained to Russell police and put up a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Mr Blignaut said they had left South Africa to get away from crime, "and now Tigger is a victim of crime".
At least five other cats have disappeared in Russell in recent months. A cat missing from Tapeka was reportedly found two weeks later with a bullet wound to its leg. The owner of one of the missing moggies bumped up the Blignauts' reward to $750 and yesterday an anonymous donor added another $500.
The concern in Russell is that someone is deliberately trying to kill the town's felines.
Natalie Struthers, of the Village Vet in Paihia, said several of her clients' cats had gone missing. "These are much-loved cats and their owners are distraught. Russell is a tight-knit community so when a cat goes missing a lot of people are affected and there's often a community search," she said.
Mrs Blignaut said their first reaction was disbelief, followed by anger. "At least we've got our cat back. If it's missing you don't know if it's lying somewhere injured," she said. They had received "amazing support" from the Russell community since the shooting, she said.
A Bay of Islands SPCA spokeswoman advised anyone whose cat had been shot to contact the police first and then the SPCA. People whose cats were missing could also contact the SPCA to help the organisation build up a picture of what was happening.
The fatal shooting of Gingy, a cat in Maunu, Whangarei, in March 2013 led to a reward of almost $2500 being put up by a group calling itself the Cats to Stay Army for information leading to a prosecution. Another cat had a leg amputated after it was shot in the same suburb.
Call Russell police on (09) 403 9090 with any information on the cat killer.