Children as young as nine have tortured kittens to death after tying the helpless animals up and beating them with sticks.
An animal rescue charity blasted the police and Belfast City Council for allegedly failing to help after the kittens were killed in north Belfast.
Newtownabbey-based charity 7th Heaven Animal Rescue Trust was called to a house in North Queen Street on Thursday after receiving reports that cats were being tied to a railing and beaten to death with sticks by children in an alleyway.
Stephen McMurray from the charity said he got a call from the daughter of the woman who lives in the house that backs onto the alleyway. She reportedly contacted both the PSNI and Belfast City Council's animal welfare unit after watching the children – some as young as nine – torturing several kittens and thrashing three to death.
The witness then got in touch with the charity after neither the police nor council offered any help.
"It is a disgusting and horrendous crime," said Mr McMurray.
"These were two and three week old kittens. The woman was very distressed when she noticed the injured and dead animals in her garden. We went out on Thursday night and yesterday and managed to rescue six of them but I suspect around 16 in total were in that group."
He said that most of the felines were wild. Some were tortoiseshell and others pure white in colour, including a pregnant cat.
"If anyone sees them in the area please get in touch because we don't want any more kittens to be killed," he added.
Mr McMurray appealed to anyone who can foster or rehome the cats to contact the charity.
"Some of the kittens are still too young to be homed and if they turn out to be feral they will need to be neutered and rehomed in a farm as opposed to a domestic setting," he said.
USPCA press officer David Wilson said the responsibility for protecting "companion animals" like cats lies with the Council's animal welfare department.
Mr Wilson described the crime as "vile" and said it was a reminder of the importance of neutering cats.
"These colonies of wild cats are just unwanted litters that have nowhere to go. It reiterates the importance of neutering animals," he said.
A police press officer said yesterday it had no record of the incident. Belfast City Council confirmed it had received a report but the on-call animal welfare officer last night did not comment.
The 7th Heaven Animal Rescue Trust can be contacted on 028 9443 2229.