Tension and finger-pointing as two dozen cats disappear from small town


Steve, Bob, Ichor, Claws and Maggie: one by one, cats in a small town are vanishing.

Over the past five years, locals say at least two dozen cats have vanished from their backyards in the Golden Bay settlement of Collingwood.

Many suspect foul play. However, no bodies means no evidence of wrongdoing, and authorities won’t take an interest.

When Elliot Strange and his family moved to the town, people warned him to watch his cat.

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Elliot Strange has become a reluctant spokesperson for the cause.  He's fundraising for a private contempt, and offering a reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever is harming the town's pets.

Andy MacDonald/Stuff

Elliot Strange has become a reluctant spokesperson for the cause. He’s fundraising for a private contempt, and offering a reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever is harming the town’s pets.

“People were saying, ‘Oh you have a cat? You’d better be careful’.”

When the cat disappeared, the family thought it was one of those things. “We told our daughters, maybe someone just loved her so much they took her away,” Strange said.

Just before lockdown, the Stranges got two kittens. They never left the property, Strange said. Nine months later, they disappeared, a week apart.

Suspicions raised, Strange reported the disappearances to the police, but nothing came of it.

As the months went by, Strange heard about more disappearances. Initially reluctant to get involved, Strange is now fundraising via a Givealittle page for a private contempt and offering a reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible. He is also offering to provide pet owners with free trackers.

Pete Black has lost four cats.  He keeps tabs on Sylvester with a GPS tracker.

Andy MacDonald/Stuff

Pete Black has lost four cats. He keeps tabs on Sylvester with a GPS tracker.

Some pet owners have messaged Strange telling them how much the loss of their cats affected them.

“People have said their lives have been destroyed; some people have left the area because of it.”

The week Stuff Visited Collingwood, a flyer was dropped in local letterboxes and at businesses around town: a map with X’s marking the spot where cats had disappeared, and where two dogs had died. The flyer included the names of four “suspects”.

Strange had heard the names, too. However, there was no evidence to support the accusations, he said.

“It could be none of them,” he said.

He cautioned against finger-pointing, which simply created more victims.

A map has been distributed around Collingwood, showing the location of the missing pets.  Another version includes the name of the

Supplied

A map has been distributed around Collingwood, showing the location of the missing pets. Another version includes the name of the “suspects”.

If someone was deliberately targeting people’s pets, Strange asked them to “have a heart”.

“Think about what you’re doing; the people you are actually hurting. It’s not about cats, dogs or birds, it’s an issue about people.”

Pete Black has lost “cat after cat”: Bob, Steve, Maggie and Lewis.

Like others, Black believed the cats were being poisoned: slinking off to a private place to die. He had his theories as to the culprits.

“I got involved after the fourth cat disappeared. I’ve drawn up a map of cat deaths around Collingwood. I know what’s happening, but I can’t prove it.”

However, like Strange, without evidence his calls to the council, the police and the SPCA had yielded no result.

Elliot Strange said the Golden Bay town was an

Marion van Dijk

Elliot Strange said the Golden Bay town was an “awesome community”. However, tensions were high as family pets continued to disappear.

Black believed at least two dozen cats were missing, and that two recent dog deaths were the result of poisoning, too. However, he believed the number of missing felines could be much higher.

Black felt it was only a matter of time before tensions boiled over.

“Something’s going to happen. There’s not going to be an official response: somebody’s going to teach these guys a lesson.”

Unlike others who have lost pets in Collingwood, Shannon McLellan was able to bury one of her cats. Gypsy had been sick for a few days before she died, Mcellan said.

“She’d vomited a couple of times the week before, but we didn’t think much of it.”

Then, she heard the wrenching sound of Gypsy, screaming from under the deck. When Mcellan tried to reach her, the distressed cat clawed at her, and the young woman had to wrap her in a towel before pulling her out.

Shannon McLellan's family has lost one cat, Claws, and found another, Gypsy,

Shannon McLellan

Shannon Mclllan’s family has lost one cat, Claws, and found another, Gypsy, “screaming” under their deck before dying on the way to the vet.

Mclllan’s sister rushed Gypsy into the car. But their much-loved pet died on the way to the vet.

Weeks later, Mclellan wondered if Gypsy, and another cat, Claws, who disappeared during a lockdown, were victims of foul play.

It was “sickening” to think someone could be harming pets deliberately, McLellan said.

Stuff reporters spoke with two people whose names have been raised as suspects. Both denied interference with the disappearances. One, visibly shaken, said the accusations had made living in an unbearable town, and he had called the police about the harassment he’d received.

A long standing resident, who Stuff has agreed not to name, said the situation had “snowballed … out of control”.

“It’s encompassed the whole town. I’m a bit scared; I have never seen anything like this.”

She was horrified about the finger-pointing and threats on the town’s Facebook page. “Fifty or so responses and not one person has said, ‘hey, is this right?’

“If they can find proof I’m right behind them. [But] people have just claimed it happened, and everyone got on board.”

Of the two dogs who had died, one was elderly, and the other had a seizure, she said. She was concerned that every pet death would be attributed to foul play.

“Going door to door and naming these people is unfair. It’s a witch hunt; those people will be labeled forever.”

An SPCA spokesperson told Stuff they were aware of reports about missing cats and had received a complaint. Anyone with information was asked to contact them on 03 547 7171.

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