A Far North identity who spent the New Year in tears after his family pet dog was shot on his property said it could easily have been one of his children in the firing line.
As the year clicked over to 2021, celebrity medium Kelvin Cruickshank, along with his friends and family were in tears of devastation as their beloved pet dog's life hung in the balance after being shot at on their property.
Just two hours earlier, the group of about eight were playing a quiet game of cards on the deck of his Waipapa property with their three dogs close by, in anticipation of an early-morning New Year's fishing outing.
Five-year-old chihuahua Pearl walked off to relieve herself on the 1.2ha property and that was when the sound of gunshot rang out, followed by laughter.
It was only after Pearl made it back to the deck and Kelvin's friend picked her up - getting his hand covered in blood - they became aware she had been shot.
"Pearl was making a gurgling noise and when I saw, I just burst into tears," recalls Cruickshank, adding that it was panic-mode finding the phone to call the Bay of Islands emergency vet service.
It was a 12-minute drive to meet the vet, with Cruickshank's partner Aenea Berge, Pearl's owner, cradling her tiny 2.1kg frame in a towel.
There they learned that Pearl had been struck twice by .22 calibre projectiles – the first bullet entering through her chest, clipping her lung, breaking ribs, tearing muscles and exiting her back, missing her spinal cord by 0.1mm. The second was a parting shot entering her backside as she tried to run away.
"I think it was an adrenaline hit to get home," said Cruickshank. "The first one was a kill-shot and it's a miracle it missed [the mark]. I'm a hunter and I know how it works."
Pearl was left with the vet service overnight to undergo surgery and the group returned home 10 minutes before midnight, where there was "a lot of tears".
They were in bed by 1am and a "very intense day" followed, waiting to hear news of the 2.5-hour operation to repair injuries the vet said it was a miracle Pearl survived.
"The Bay of Islands vets are genuine and outstanding people. I don't know how they did it but they are incredible," said Cruickshank.
Pearl returned home with 20-plus stitches on January 4 and while Cruickshank said she is alert, it is still not certain if she will survive and, if so, it is unclear how her mobility would be impacted.
"She's quite alert and holding her own. If I walk into the room, she'll wag her tail. She's feisty by nature and, at this point, she's fighting, she's a real battler and has personality-plus," described Cruickshank. "She's a real people-dog and we just love her to bits and are absolutely devastated."
Cruickshank, who became a household name after appearing in multiple seasons of the TV series Sensing Murder, said while he is thankful their blended family of children were away on holiday at the time, they could easily have been the target.
"We've got children and cats and dogs and all of our kids were away on holiday and we were really thankful for that. Normally they're running around the section playing spotlight [after dark]."
He said his golden brown chihuahua is unmistakable - "she doesn't look like a rabbit at all" and, while he doesn't know who shot her, it was possibly young people under the influence of alcohol.
"We've got no enemies here in our beautiful community and our neighbours were in shock when they heard. We can't point the finger but if it's a young person, instead of getting angry, we want to make the world a better place and spend some time educating them," said the campaigner against alcohol and firearms.
"It's about bringing awareness to the fact that it's super-dangerous to not be identifying a target. It's in police hands now because it's a .22 and you have to have it registered and have a firearm's licence and a holder should know better than to shoot little puppies.
"I love my hunting but I've seen too many things and alcohol and guns don't mix – you should leave the drinks until the guns have been put away."
Unable to tour the country with his live shows for most of 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, Cruickshank embarked on an outdoor action and adventure TV show called Reel and Rifle with KC, which teaches safe and respectful hunting and fishing skills to kids without male role models.