A Far North community is reeling after two pet dogs were found mutilated, riddled with bullets and covered in bite marks – evidence of a suspected dog fighting ring.
The bodies of Chuck and Bruno, who lived with two separate families in Moerewa, were found dumped on the walkway between Ranfurly St and Otiria Rd last Tuesday.
Jane Johnston and Bay of Islands Animal Rescue's Summer Johnson say autopsies carried out on the family pets show "clear evidence" that they were used to "bait" the fighting dogs used in the inhumane blood sport. They are calling for police and the SPCA to investigate.
However, police say despite being asked about rumours of the activity in the Upper North Island, "staff have advised multiple times that they don't have any knowledge of dogfighting rings in the area".
Johnston said both families were "devastated" to hear what had become of their beloved pets.
"It's a form of torture and a horrible thing for these dogs," she said.
"They're taken and trapped and thick collars are put around their necks. They're on a chain so they can't fight back and they're used to wind up the dogs used in a fight.
"They're bitten multiple times.
"These families feel completely violated that someone stole their pets and they were tortured and killed in this way.
"It's almost like a member of their family has been murdered."
A Whangārei resident, who didn't want to be named, said she had seen the post circulating on Facebook but didn't realise it was her Bruno, a six-year-old bull mastiff cross who lives with her parents in Moerewa.
The 31-year-old said she was "absolutely devastated and shocked".
"He's such a gentle giant, I just don't know how someone could do that to him.
"He walked my brother's kids to the shop where they caught the bus and he'd come home.
"He did roam a bit but he always came back. He follows the kids all the time."
The woman said Bruno had been missing for a couple of days before he was found with
a broken leg and covered in slug pellet wounds and bite marks.
Her parents were also upset.
"Everyone is, he was part of the family.
"I want some sort of justice, I want to know why someone had to shoot him 13 times.
"People were saying there was a dogfighting ring. For them to be found in the same area, three metres apart, that tells me maybe he was dumped there."
The dog's bodies were found by local children and collected by the Bay of Islands Animal Rescue group, which identified the owners by getting the dog's bodies scanned for microchips at the Bay of Islands Vet in Kerikeri.
Johnston, a friend of Chuck's owner, said the dog was a 14-month-old "beautiful animal".
His injuries included trauma to his head and stomach and numerous bite marks.
He had been missing for about six days.
His owner, a mum and her eight kids, were "devastated", she said.
"He was such a gentle dog, and a faithful companion to the children."
Johnston organised a candle-lit vigil to "voice our opposition to the recent thefts of pet dogs to be killed in a dog-fighting ring".
About 50 people turned out to Simpson Park in Moerewa on Sunday.
Johnston said the event was "as much about supporting the families who lost their pets as it was for pushing for council to do better with dog control and advocating that all agencies that have a role do better at performing their role."
The autopsies showed "clear evidence" of a dogfighting ring, she said.
"They've definitely been used as bait for dogfighting purposes, you could tell by the injuries they sustained.
"They couldn't have been fighting in the street; people would have observed that, and they don't usually end up killing each other."
SPCA investigations and prosecutions manager Sue Baudet said there is "no doubt" that dogfighting rings are operating in New Zealand.
They are "highly sophisticated criminal operations", which makes it very difficult to find evidence, Baudet said.
Organised dog fighting is an appalling practice, Baudet said, and she encouraged anyone with information to contact SPCA or police.
"The SPCA is horrified to hear of the injuries that these dogs were discovered with, and we're deeply concerned about how they potentially received them.
"While SPCA is aware of concerns from members of the public about dogs being stolen for dogfighting, we have not yet received any complaints of this nature, nor have we found evidence of this.
"There could be a number of reasons dogs go missing, and without evidence we can't rule anything out."
A police spokesperson said the Moerewa incident doesn't appear to have been reported to police.
"If someone has come onto your property and taken something, including a pet, this should be reported to your local police station, or you can also call police on 105 to report a crime after it has happened.
"If the theft is happening now call 111."