Fears grow of a cat killer on loose as toll of missing pets rises to 242
A bizarre spate of apparent cat abductions which began in Newry earlier this year before spreading across the island of Ireland is getting worse, with almost 250 felines now reported missing.
Emma O'Hare from Pet Connections in Newry started plotting each reported incident on a map in September when the number of missing moggies stood at 70, but she has been left horrified by the alarming pattern it revealed - including a spike last month.
"There has definitely been a huge spike in the month of October, this is not a case of cats going for a walk," Emma told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We are now covering a much larger area and the scale of the problem is absolutely shocking.
"I am convinced it's malicious and could be the work of just one person."
The number of missing pets currently stands at 242, but it is rising daily and has sparked concerns that someone may be imitating the 'M25 Cat Killer' in England.
The twisted cat prowler is believed to be behind the death and mutilation of more than 250 cats - as well as dozens of foxes and rabbits - since 2015. The mystery culprit started the killing spree in south London and was initially dubbed the 'Croydon Cat Killer', but had to be given the new nickname after dead animals were discovered as far north as Manchester.
Emma said: "Most of the cats are going missing along main roads, particularly the motorway between Belfast and Dublin. But there has also been a large number of missing cats reported in the south Belfast area.
"The glaring difference of course is that no bodies are turning up over here, but I have genuine concerns that we are dealing with a copycat here."
Emma is convinced that the number of abductions could be significantly higher due to people's reluctance or inability to report their beloved pet missing.
"There's a lot of elderly people who rely on cats for company and they can't access social media," she said.
"They won't be aware that this is happening and therefore won't think to report it - and to me that's heartbreaking.
"Then there will be those who assume their cat has strayed and they'll be reluctant to report it, especially after a period of time."
Two distraught cat owners who have fallen victim to the cruel culprit have reported seeing a white van in the area at the time of the disappearances.
"It could just be a coincidence, but people should be aware of it in case it is related," Emma added.
All the missing cats are described as friendly felines who had not been prone to wandering.
"Out of all the cats to vanish, 80% were neutered and 39% had micro-chips - that means a significant number would have been returned if they were found," Emma said.
"Behind every single case is a heartbroken family and a child crying themselves to sleep at night."
The pet care provider, who helped re-home many of the cats who have vanished from the Newry area, has been left comforting devastated families in the wake of the mysterious episode.
"We are offering as much support as possible can, but we can't bring the cats back," she said.
Ms O'Hare said that she handed over her database to the PSNI in September, but claimed that she has had no more communication with the PSNI since then.
"I understand that the police are busy, but I am encouraging individual owners to report their missing cat," she said.
"It's the only way they will take it seriously and, at the end of the day, causing harm or suffering to a cat is a criminal offence.
"It's also a proven fact that people who abuse animals are much more likely to end up killing people."
Responding, a spokesperson for the PSNI told the Belfast Telegraph they have not received any additional material or evidence from the pet charity or from any members of the public.
However, the spokesperson added: "Should new information come to light, police will make appropriate enquiries."