A Taumarunui man is desperately seeking justice after his beloved pet cat was allegedly shot dead last week by an elderly man claiming to be "pest control".
Three-year-old Vinny had been snoozing in the sun by his home in Taumarunui - a small town in the Ruapehu District of the Manawatū-Whanganui region - when the alleged shooter fired the fatal shot.
Vinny's owner, Geoff, was standing mere metres away - and could do nothing but watch as his cat flailed in pain.
"I almost can't describe how I felt at that moment. It was like the worst possible nightmare but you can't wake up. It was absolute despair, shock, disbelief, fear, sadness, and anger, all at once. The worst instant trauma you can imagine," Geoff says.
Geoff, who lives on the fringe of the Taumarunui Golf Club, had been undertaking landscaping and rubbish clearance in the gully behind his home on Friday, July 23. Vinny, an outdoor cat, often ventured around the gully as Geoff worked, playing or sleeping in his favourite sunny spots.
As Geoff went to see Vinny at his sleeping spot of choice that afternoon, he noticed a golf cart parked near the edge of the trees of the bordering golf club.
"When I got to about 15 metres from the golf cart, I realised someone was in it and pointing a gun into the trees, directly toward the residential area," Geoff says. "I stopped walking, shocked and somewhat scared that someone with a gun was in the reserve.
"I was trying to mentally process what I was seeing and briefly thought it was someone shooting birds. I was about to call out, 'what are you doing', when the gun suddenly fired.
"To my horror I then saw Vinny flailing about beneath the wattle trees at his sleeping spot, jumping around in terrible pain before coming to rest, now deceased, about 10 metres from where he was shot."
After watching his beloved pet being shot before his eyes, Geoff screamed out: "That's my cat!"
The alleged shooter, who had not noticed Geoff's presence, appeared shocked that there had been a witness.
"I screamed, 'that's my pet cat Vinny you just shot!' and he sternly replied, 'good' - before hopping in his golf cart and departing, despite seeing how upset and traumatized I was."
Geoff says adrenaline kicked in and he began chasing the man, who quickly returned the golf cart and began hurrying towards his vehicle.
Using his phone, Geoff managed to capture his exchange with Vinny's alleged killer.
The footage, which he later uploaded to YouTube, captures an audibly distressed Geoff repeatedly asking the elderly man why he had decided to shoot a cat.
"I'm pest control here'," the man replies as he continues walking towards his vehicle.
"You just shot a cat, my domestic cat," Geoff presses. "One-hundred metres from a residential property."
"I'm sorry about that," the man mutters.
"Why did you just shoot my cat? Why?" Geoff continues.
The man stays silent and briefly looks at the camera, appearing to smirk. He then directs his gaze ahead and begins pointing, as if directing Geoff away.
"You just broke the law - you just shot my cat. Right in front of me.
"You just shot my cat."
The alleged shooter then gets in his car, with Geoff pushing the camera towards his face. The man suddenly snaps and shoves him away.
"Get out of my f***ing life, you c***," he says, before driving off.
After reporting the shooting to the police and to the SPCA, Geoff returned to Vinny's body and took photos of the scene.
"I then spent the entire night in a heavy state of shock and trauma, and now… I just feel this heavy weight of grief and anger at the senseless taking of Vinny's life. I'm struggling to get past the [idea] of seeing him get shot right in front of me," he says.
"I'm angry that the shooter gloated 'good!' [after] learning that Vinny was a pet, and most of all, I feel terribly guilty that in the few seconds between seeing the man with the gun and the shot being fired, I didn't interrupt what he was doing.
"I just didn't comprehend what was about to happen until it was too late."
Geoff has now started a Facebook group, 'Justice For Vinny The Cat', in a bid to spread the word about the alleged shooting. At the time of writing, the group has more than 530 members.
The footage of Geoff's exchange with the alleged gunman, uploaded to YouTube on Friday, has already amassed close to 7000 views at the time of writing.
Speaking to Newshub, Geoff says he hopes three things will transpire from Vinny's death - the man's prosecution, the loss of his gun license, and a guarantee from the Taumarunui Golf Club that no more cats will be shot on the land.
"It's been a horribly traumatic experience. I just can't stop thinking of my little loyal friend having his life so unfairly cut short, and for no reason other than this man feeling big from killing defenseless animals who are harming no one," he told Newshub.
"He was about as reckless as you could get with a firearm. Shooting Vinny was illegal, and shooting near a residential area is illegal. I firmly believe he knew both actions were wrong, which is why he rushed back to his car and drove away.
"He didn't expect a witness. That was his third mistake, firing a gun without realising someone was standing 15 metres away. He had no situational awareness."
A police spokesperson confirmed to Newshub they had received a report in relation to the matter and an investigation has been launched.
"There's nothing further we can say at this stage," the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for SPCA also confirmed the organisation is aware of the incident, but said the investigation sits with police as it "appears to mainly be a firearms incident".
"SPCA will provide police with assistance, should they need it."
Geoff says he has received a plethora of supportive messages on social media in the wake of Vinny's death, and hopes the overwhelming response will put additional pressure on police to prosecute the alleged gunman.
"I think that with Taumarunui being a small rural town there is a good chance the matter won't be taken seriously enough for justice to be done. My feeling is that the prosecution effort will need to be backed up with intense public pressure for something to be done," he says.
However, he told Newshub that police officers have visited to take photographs of the scene and get a detailed statement.
Wilful ill-treatment of an animal is a crime
Under the Arms Act, using, discharging or carrying certain firearms - except for some lawful, proper, or sufficient purpose - can result in imprisonment for up to three months and a maximum fine of $1000. Careless use of a firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon - related to discharging a firearm, etc, with reckless disregard to the safety of others - carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine up to $4000.
Under the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2010, a person convicted of the wilful ill-treatment of an animal can be issued a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or a maximum fine of $100,000. Reckless ill-treatment of an animal carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment or a fine up to $75,000.
The Act defines ill-treatment of an animal as "causing the animal to suffer, by any act or omission, pain or distress that in its kind or degree, or in its object, or in the circumstances in which it is inflicted, is unreasonable or unnecessary".
Nothing in the Act makes it unlawful to hunt or kill an animal in a wild state, or any wild animal or pest - in accordance with the provisions of certain wildlife conservation acts. However, it is illegal to hunt or kill any animal that is not wild - such as a domesticated, pet cat.
Maliciously killing a cat is a criminal misdemeanour in New Zealand, punishable by a fine of up to $1000 or up to a year in prison. Cats have the right to trespass, meaning they are able to roam on properties other than that of their owners.
Newshub has contacted the Taumarunui Golf Club for comment.