The sound of a man whistling while another gruff voice whispered "come on" alerted a Ruakākā woman to the fact her family was about to become the victims of an early morning dognapping.
Northland animal welfare advocates have called for harsher penalties for those convicted of stealing dogs and other loved pets – which they say is an issue rife around the country.
One Tree Point resident Daphne, who preferred to keep her last name private, said it would have killed her if the would-be thieves had successfully dognapped her "fur-baby".
And she didn't want others to feel that pain.
"In the last two and a half months I've seen a lot of notices going up (on social media) about missing pets and I just want people to make double sure their animals are protected at night time."
Last Thursday, Daphne unable to sleep, was lying in bed watching television around 1.30am when she heard unfamiliar male voices whispering and whistling in between the gusts of wind.
"I thought I heard whistling and some guys trying to keep their voices down but I didn't know for sure as I had the TV on a low volume."
In the 20m between where she lay awake in her bedroom and the 1.2m-high fence separating her yard from the public footpath were her two "adorable fur-babies" – with one secured by a chain.
But then Daphne caught the distinctive sound of a man coughing followed by the rattle of her gate being opened.
"As soon as I heard that I was like, what the f***. I yelled, 'get the f*** away'. I could hear my other dog nutting off."
Daphne pushed the curtain aside and saw the silhouettes of two men.
"I dove out of bed," she said.
She rushed out of her home to the gate where the men were already "barreling down the road" in a vehicle she believed had been parked out of sight.
"These people are getting bolder and bolder coming when people are asleep in their homes."
Daphne thought her dog was targeted because her breed was hotly sought-after for dog fighting.
She was unable to make a police report because she had no clear description of the men or the vehicle they were in due to how fast everything unfolded in the dark conditions.
Northland Police said they were not immediately aware of a wider issue in the region regarding dog thefts but encouraged anyone affected by crime to call 111 in an emergency or 105 after the fact.
However, the region's animal welfare groups on the frontline agreed dognapping was rife throughout New Zealand.
Bay of Islands Animal Rescue group founder Summer Johnson experienced the heartbreak that comes with a stolen animal first hand in January this year when a sick 10-week-old puppy, named Gus, was stolen from the back of her animal rescue van parked outside a vet in Kawakawa.
After a flurry of online and media attention Gus was later recovered on the side of the road and returned.
"It's hard to digest as we don't want to think that many dogs are being stolen but it's a horrific number. So many dogs go missing, never to be seen again," Johnson said.
And according to the experienced animal welfare advocate, the justice system was useless as people continued to get away with dog thefts. In Gus' case, Johnson said police opted not to prosecute based on a multitude of considerations.
"We need harsher penalties, harsher laws and for the authorities to be able to follow up."
New Zealand the theft of livestock, or other animals, carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.
Johnson said without change, dog thefts, fuelled by illegal dog fighting rings or to make huge money off selling stolen pedigrees, were going to continue.
"Dog fighting is still happening in Northland – it's just underground. We have got a boy that was a bait dog and he was ripped up and so skinny."
Bait dogs were any breed, Johnson said.
"The whole thing is just absolutely heartbreaking."
Bay of Islands Watchdogs spokeswoman Leonie Exel encouraged people to speak up when someone turns up with a pedigree dog they could not possibly afford.
"The law doesn't go far enough so we need the community to make it utterly socially unacceptable to steal a dog or any pet."
She said the theft of the pedigrees – especially Oodle dog breeds – or "anything that looks pedigree" generated dangerous "backyard breeders".
"They don't think about any of the genetic health risks associated with different breeds that can be really harmful for dogs. All these low-lives are wanting is a quick buck."
In Exel's eyes the SPCA and police needed more funding to better able them to crackdown on dog thefts and animal cruelty.
Tips to keep your dog safe:
-Ensure your pet is microchipped and contact details are up-to-date
-Keep your dog inside at night or if it must sleep outside consider security lights or cameras
-Secure your property
-Don't leave your dog in the car or tied up outside the shops
-Report any incidents