SICK yobs have left youngsters and staff at a nursery devastated after stealing their pet rabbit before torturing it and leaving it hanging from a tree.
The youngsters at Cherry Tree Nursery, which is attached to Manor Residents’ Association, in Kilmarnock Road, Hartlepool, were given Newfoundland lop-eared rabbit Sooty by a farmer and his family from Wingate.
The black-coloured pet, who was regularly petted by nursery children aged up to five-years-old, was kept in a hutch inside a shed within the grounds at night.
But cruel thugs broke into the shed some time overnight on Monday and as well as damaging the door and stealing a red push-along bike, they took Sooty from his hutch.
He was then beaten, tortured and had his fur pulled out before being left hanging by his neck between two branches of a tree in the street.
A member of the public spotted the animal and contacted Cleveland Police.
Today nursery manager Janet Cain described those responsible as “disgusting” and said the incident had left fellow staff members and children heartbroken.
She said: “We’re all disgusted by what’s gone on, I really don’t know how anyone could do such things.
“The children were really attached to the rabbit which we were given by a farmer’s daughter about four months ago.
“I just hope and pray that he was dead before they hung him in the tree.
“It’s just terrible, and the people who did this really need to be prosecuted because it’s absolutely scandalous.”
Janet said Sooty had been out on the grass in his pen during the day on Monday, and then put back into his hutch in the shed before they locked up for the night.
“They abused the rabbit, pulled his fur out and then hung him in a tree in the street,” she added.
“He was hung in between two v-shaped branches.”
She added: “It’s just awful. He wasn’t only loved by the children in the nursery but also by children walking past. We’re all so shocked, and can’t believe it.”
Police officers are now investigating the sick crime and are appealing for any witnesses, or those who may know those responsible, to get in touch.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “A shed was broken into and a rabbit was stolen, which the children who use the centre played with.
“A red children’s tricycle was also taken.
“The rabbit was later found hanging from a tree having suffered numerous injuries.”
An RSPCA spokeswoman said: “This sounds like a very sad incident and the RSPCA takes all accusations of animal cruelty very seriously.
“If anyone has any information about this incident they should call us.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact PC Anthony Wallace on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
To report any animal cruelty, call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.