The last thing Michelle Bunce expected to find when she took her dogs for a walk this week was a box of kittens.
However, that is exactly what happened. As the Paradise Valley resident was returning to her house she stumbled across a box of 15 abandoned kittens.
"I was just walking the dogs on my land and I think they must've dumped them in between when I went down into the bush and when I came back, in a very short window of time, because the dogs would've seen them on the way down otherwise."
She estimated the kittens were dumped around 6.45am.
"It must've been at least three litters. If the dogs hadn't found them I wouldn't have seen them because I was on the track. They would've died because they would've wandered on to the road or gone into the bush and got lost.
"They were really thirsty and hungry when I got them back. I ended up carrying 10kg of kittens half a kilometre back to the house, with the dogs jumping up to say hello."
A self-confessed animal lover, Bunce has already rehomed four of the abandoned kittens herself and worked with a rescue centre in Tauranga to find homes for the rest.
She hoped her experience would encourage pet owners to have their animals desexed.
"They're really cute little kittens, I'd say they range between five and eight weeks old. It was a really odd spot to leave them.
"I managed to rehome them all within a day, mainly using Facebook ... so why can't other people to do that? The main message is to spay your cat. If you can't afford to spay your cat, you shouldn't have it," Bunce said.
SPCA Bay of Plenty area manager Sue Kinsella said kitten season had "definitely started".
"To be fair, it didn't really stop, it just slowed down a bit.
"We are seeing all flavours of kittens, from a day old to several weeks old, coming into all Bay of Plenty shelters.
"We have discounted desexing available for Community Service Card holders and encourage the community to avail themselves of the opportunity to desex their pet at a discounted rate."
• Peak kitten season is November to March and sees the SPCA receive more than 2800 a month nationally, compared with the usual 1000 per month.
• Last year 28,495 cats and kittens came into SPCA care.
• Cats and kittens make up more than 71 per cent of all incoming animals to SPCA.
• The height of kitten season SPCA Rotorua Centre will see up to 115 cats and kittens per month in the centre.