A rescue worker believes that two kittens found covered in blue and green ink may have colored as part of a blood sport where dogs attack small animals for betting purposes.
The kittens, believed to be between four and five weeks old, were found on Monday by police in West Yorkshire, UK, according to South West News Service.
Officers were investigating another animal welfare issue involving a dog and drug-related offenses when they came across the colored kittens.
The animals were then taken to the Bradford Cat Watch Rescue Centre.
BWCR spokeswoman Katie Jane Lloyd said the staff was shocked when they first saw the colored kittens."Here at BCWR Kittens, we often consider ourselves to be unshockable, we have dealt with most situations but this is a first," she told SWNS. "This is a dreadful act of cruelty and who knows what untelling damage this may have caused."
Lloyd said when the kittens arrived at the Centre they were shell-shocked, lethargic and had breathing difficulties.
Since arriving, the kittens, now named "Smurf" and "Shrek," have been given numerous baths to remove the ink.
"On the body we can give it a good clean, without doing too much damage," Lloyd told the Telegraph and Argus newspaper. "But we have to be a bit more careful around the face area - around the ears, eyes, nose and mouth."
Lloyd said the cats are having a hard time feeding and believes they both have mouth ulcers and respiratory problems as well.
As awful as the cats look, Lloyd is more concerned about potential damages the ink might cause to their internal organs. Permanent ink is known to be toxic and cats lick their fur to clean themselves.
"We have sought veterinary advice and I have just contacted the poisons unit to ascertain what would be safe to use on them to try to remove the ink," she said.
And Lloyd believes "Smurf" and "Shrek" may not be alone. She suspects the kittens were colored for a cruel sport known as dog-baiting, where kittens are thrown into a ring of aggressive dogs. Bettors guess which creature will be killed first. The kitten victims are colored in advance of the match to make it easier to determine the "winner."
"This is not just a couple of idiots coloring in kittens. This is serious barbaric cruelty," she said. "If these kittens were not rescued I am sure they would have been dead within an hour of two."
However, Lloyd admitted to the Telegraph and Argus she had "absolutely no evidence" about the dog-baiting theory.
West Yorkshire Police were not immediately available to comment on whether an investigation is under way.
Rescuing these two kittens has taken so much work that the Centre predicts a $5,800 vet bill this month alone.
The organization is asking for donations to offset the cost of care.