A sick 10-week-old puppy was allegedly stolen from the back of a Northland animal rescue van as it was parked outside a vet in Kawakawa on Tuesday afternoon.
Gus, a gentled-natured snow-coloured staffie-cross, was rescued two weeks ago by Bay of Islands Animal Rescue and his theft has left the group's founder, Summer Johnson, devastated.
"I'm absolutely gutted. We give back to the community so, so much and this is like a complete violation."
It is the fourth time the group has been hit by thieves in the last 12 months just as they have put out a call for donations to ease the financial demands of the large number of animals they rescued last year.
Johnson had parked her van outside the Bay of Islands Vets in Kawakawa on a routine stop. She opened up the backdoors to allow airflow around the back where Gus was resting on a bed with a bone.
"I walked into the vet clinic and came out minutes later and Gus was gone," Johnson said.
Johnson bawled when she discovered Gus was missing. She collected herself, and without missing a beat, secured CCTV footage from outside the vets which identified a vehicle and person of interest. She contacted police to assist with the return of Gus.
"I just want our wee puppy returned. No questions asked - give him back," Johnson said. "You can drop him off at any vets or pet shop in the Bay of Islands."
Johnson said she thought Gus had been taken because he was a gorgeous looking puppy with bright blue eyes.
Following the incident, Johnson has arranged with local engineers to have special cage doors installed on the van that will allow her to open the backdoors and secure any animals from potential thieves.
"It's another expense that we will have to pay for," Johnson said.
Around eight months ago the van was completely cleaned out twice in two separate incidents. The culprits took food, flea treatment, "just absolutely everything,' Johnson said.
"The theft of Gus is the fourth time our van has been robbed, it's just devastating."
Johnson said the group had been struggling in recent times as they juggled the hundreds of dogs, puppies, cats, kittens, pigs, and piglets they have recently rescued.
"Our vet bill in December was $17,000 and January is not looking good either. We need help please ... our fuel bill has skyrocketed too and we are running on empty," Johnson said.
Bay of Islands Animal Rescue is an independent group started in 2016 by Johnson of Kawakawa.
The registered charity receives no funding, and Johnson relies on the goodwill and support of the community and has more than 20 foster parents on board, looking after dogs and puppies until they find forever homes.
Since then the group has rescued, fostered and rehomed thousands of animals, mostly dogs - many of which are rescued from the Far North District Council's two dog pounds -but also horses, cats, pigs and anything else that needs help.
In August alone they rescued 131 dogs, 76 of which went to Auckland for rehoming, while 55 are in foster homes in Northland.
Anyone with information can anonymously phone 105 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.