Distraught Hillsborough mum tells of sickening attack on pet cat
The owner of a tabby cat named Tiger who was set on fire says she does not know how to tell her two young daughters about the sadistic attack.
Diana Stephens, from Hillsborough, said it "destroyed" her when she saw her horrifically injured 18-month-old pet on Wednesday.
"Every time I look at him, it breaks my heart," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I'm going to have two very distraught kids (aged 10 and nine) tonight. When they find out that the cat's been burned they're going to be totally upset."
Tiger suffered third-degree burns to his back and hind legs. He also lost the tip of an ear.
He was discovered in Kernaghan Park in the village on Wednesday around 5pm.
"When I took him to the vet I didn't know if he was going to come home, so I didn't tell (my daughters) anything," Mrs Stephens said.
"They used to dress him in baby clothes and push him round in a buggy.
"What am I going to tell them when I get home now? He smells and he's all singed. It's not good."
The treasured family pet normally loved being the centre of attention, but he is now frightened by strangers.
"He's very timid," Diana added. "He was never a timid cat.
"Whenever anybody moves he scrunches up or he goes and hides."
Read more: Animal cruelty blights our society
For now Tiger, a rural cat who liked exploring, will be kept inside while his wounds heal.
"We're not sure how he'll recover," said Mrs Stephen.
"We're hoping the fur and skin grows back, but you never know.
"Because he was such a fluffy cat, if enough grows back you mightn't be able to see it, but his trust in people has been destroyed."
Mrs Stephen's insisted those responsible "should be locked up".
"I think somebody who can do this to a poor defenceless animal is sick," she said.
"They need to understand that it's wrong and that it destroyed me to find him. Hopefully, with a lot of care and with two little girls that will spoil him to bits, he will come around."
Yesterday, animal welfare charity Cats Protection launched a manifesto for Northern Ireland calling for much harsher penalties for cruelty.
Reacting to the news of Tiger's injuries, the group's advocacy manager Jacqui Cuff said: "The attack on Tiger is absolutely horrific, and it is very distressing to hear of such an appalling act of cruelty being inflicted on a defenceless animal."
In our manifesto for cats, we are calling for a string of measures which will improve the long-term welfare of cats.
"One of our major priorities is asking politicians to ensure better enforcement of laws such as the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) to improve how cases of neglect and mistreatment are dealt with.
"We regularly see the horrific consequences where cats have been mistreated, and we support maximum sentences being imposed where there is clear evidence of guilt.
"Better enforcement of current laws will act as a deterrent and help to prevent attacks such as the one inflicted on Tiger."
Ulster Unionist Party Lisburn and Castlereagh councillor Jenny Palmer said she agreed with tougher sentences.
"As a pet owner myself, I simply cannot fathom how anyone could set fire to a living creature, and I can only imagine the distress this has caused the family," she added.
"There is something badly wrong with anyone who could inflict such pain and suffering.
"Clearly, whoever was responsible for such cruelty needs to be caught and punished to the maximum extent the law allows."
Police in Lisburn are investigating the incident.
They urged anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in the Kernaghan Park area on Wednesday before 5pm to contact them on the non-emergency number 101, or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.