When Cleo didn't come home one evening, her owner was worried sick. Several hours later, the young cat returned and it was obvious something was wrong.
Elizabeth Parlett couldn't believe it. Her beloved cat had been shot - for the second time in two years.
She rushed her pet to a Blue Cross animal hospital in London for lifesaving treatment. Cleo's condition was serious. The pellet had entered on the right side of her body and passed through it to the left side, causing serious damage to her intestine. She needed emergency surgery to remove the pellet and repair the intestine. Without this, she would have died.
Cleo, who was first admitted for gun wounds in 2013, needed surgery this summer in the same week as ginger moggy Ninja. He had been shot twice, once in the chest and other in his left side.
The pellets had become lodged dangerously close to his vital organs and removing them would have risked his life further, so vets opted to leave them in and patched Ninja up instead.
Shockingly, the number of cats Blue Cross has treated for injuries resulting from being shot by air guns has almost doubled in the space of a year.
Not all owners are as lucky as Cleo's and Ninja's; four-year-old Lily-Bell's vertebrae and internal organs were so badly damaged when she was shot that her owners had to say goodbye.
This rise is worrying. Air gun pellets cause cats a great deal of pain and most need intensive emergency surgery if they are to have any chance of survival. Even for those who do survive, the damage caused to internal organs and bones can mean amputation, and this is not to mention the distress caused to loving owners.
We don't know why the trend for shooting cats is shooting upwards, but it's clear something needs to be done to stop it.
Prevention is better than cure
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it a criminal offence to cause suffering to pets, most definitely including cats. Culprits can be brought to book in cases where there is sufficient proof, and face a six-month prison sentence or a £20,000 fine.
But it's difficult for owners to know who the shooter is, as cats are most often shot while venturing away from home.
Plus, preventing a cat from suffering serious and painful injury or death is better than prosecution after the event.
As the law stands, any adult in England and Wales can buy an air gun without a licence or any sort of police check. Since June this year, however, anyone wishing to use this sort of weapon in Scotland needs a licence.
At Blue Cross, we're watching with interest to see how the new Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 is received and works in practice.
If licensing makes sure that only those who have a legitimate reason to use the firearms can do so and reduces injuries caused to cats, then we'd like to see similar regulations rolled out across the whole of the UK. And, of course, any legislation would need proper enforcement.
Animal charities have a role to play in this too. By educating people about the hurt caused to cats and their owners by air guns, we can help to prevent this type of cruelty.
Blue Cross offers free education talks to primary and secondary school aged children, covering issues such as responsible pet ownership and the law. The charity also treats around 30,000 sick and injured pets every year.
Despite Cleo's double dice with death, Elizabeth says she won't keep her locked inside because it's not fair on her pet, who is used to exhibiting her natural behaviour by exploring outdoors.
Until things improve, cat owners must remain on their guard.