Ten cats are missing after hunting hounds charged into an animal sanctuary.
Two groups of hounds chasing a fox and a deer burst on to the 100-acre Greenacres Animal Sanctuary site near Hastings in East Sussex on Tuesday afternoon, disturbing many of its 130 cats during feeding time.
The Celia Hammond Animal Trust, which owns the sanctuary, said initially 60 cats were unaccounted for after fleeing the “terrifying incident”, but most had returned during Wednesday and Thursday, leaving 10 unaccounted for.
The East Sussex & Romney Marsh Hunt, which was trail-hunting in the area, said “a few” of its hounds may have been distracted from their pre-laid trail by live quarry and strayed on to the sanctuary’s land.
Former model and founder of the trust Celia Hammond said: “The hounds came on to the main part of the sanctuary, running all over the sanctuary. There were cats flying in all directions.”
Staff and volunteers attempted to shoo the dogs away and police – who have said they will be investigating any breach of the law – were called.
A spokeswoman for the hunt said: “Although nobody from the hunt witnessed hounds following anything other than their original trail, it is suspected that a few hounds might have deviated from their trail on to the scent of a live quarry which they followed into the wildlife sanctuary.
“The hunt staff immediately removed the hounds from within the confines of the sanctuary with the help of the police, who were also called.
“The huntsmen apologised to the owners right away for any inconvenience caused.”
The hunt was trail-hunting, which involves the laying of a scent along a pre-determined route for hounds to follow.
According to Ms Hammond, it took an hour and a half to clear the hounds from the property.
“They did apologise – in fact they said ‘Would it help to make a donation?’ and (manager Carolyn McBeath) said ‘Absolutely not’. Offering money in this situation would not be appropriate.”
Ms Hammond said she is concerned for the missing cats, which are old and frail.
She said: “There’s no dead bodies as such, they are just not there. So whether they’ve been driven off our sanctuary and have bolted and been chased or whether they had been run down, grabbed and killed, we just don’t know.”
A Sussex Police spokesman said: “The circumstances are being reviewed by a dog legislation officer to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place.
“If so, they will be investigated.”