A group of boys, some as young as nine, have been caught trying to set a kitten alight.
In the third incident involving horrific attacks on animals in the past fortnight, a woman managed to intervene and rescue the tabby kitten and its three black siblings from the gang.
The shocking incident happened in Londonderry a week ago, close to Brandywell Stadium.
It only came to notice after the woman brought the six-week-old litter to the Rainbow Rehoming Centre two days ago.
The woman had been caring for the kittens at home in the hope that their mother might return to them, but centre staff believe she may have been too frightened and ran off.
The animal lover said: “I was just passing by and I saw one of them holding something up by its tail.
“They had started a fire and I asked them what they were doing and another boy said they were going to put the kitten in the fire.
“They were swinging it about. These were boys aged nine, 10, 11 years old. There was about 14 of them.
“I was terrified in case something would happen to the wee thing. I took the kitten off them and then they ran away, but one of the boys told me there were three more at the back of the bushes.
“He showed me where and I found the other three kittens under the bush. It was desperate. I didn’t want anything to happen to them so I took them with me. We have been looking for the mother, but we can’t find her.”
The woman said the gang of boys had been terrorising residents in the area and were also responsible for a series of anti-social episodes including throwing stones and mud at passing cars.
The disturbing incident follows reports that a German shepherd was found dead after being beaten and set on fire in the Springtown area of Derry last weekend.
Border collie Codie, meanwhile, is recovering from burn injuries inflicted 11 days ago in Maghaberry, near Lisburn.
Joanne McMullan from the Rainbow Rehoming Centre described the latest incident as extremely worrying.
“These are young boys — what are they going to be doing when they are 16 or 17 years of age.
“There is a real need to educate on animal welfare and questions need to be asked as to how they are even getting access to lighting materials.
“It is sick when an adult does something like this, but when a child does it, it’s very disturbing. It is a proven fact that people who abuse animals when they are young go on to more serious things.”
The four kittens are currently being cared for at the centre and are now ready to be rehomed.