Police are warning animal lovers in Godalming of a rogue taxidermist at large, who appears to be going around stuffing people's pets when they're not looking.
This unusual spate of incidents began two months ago when the local constabulary received a complaint from a man who said that his tortoise had suddenly become much more listless, unresponsive and immobile than he was used to.
"This feller reckoned he'd tried all the usual tricks," said spokesman, PC Gary Tremeloe. "Shouting 'walkies', coquettishly tempting it with lettuce, gently kicking it up the arse - none of these things worked. Eventually he sought solace in the arms of a vet who opened up the shell-shocked reptile and found that it was full of sawdust."
The phantom stuffer has upped his game
This proved to be the first of many such instances as people from all over the district came forward with similar tales of previously healthy pets who had been mysteriously preserved in the night. But in recent weeks the phantom stuffer has upped his game, growing ever bolder.
"Oh yes, now he's started stuffing animals when they're on the move," said Sergeant Tremoloe. "Folks have been taking their doggies out for a stroll and this villain nips in when they're distracted, stuffs the poor pooches then he's off. The bemused owner is left shocked, distressed and faced with the prospect of dragging his rigid pet back home again on a long lead."
So, having been presented with such an unusual felony, what have the police been doing?
"We've been having a right old laugh about it," said Chief Inspector Tremoloe. "But apart from that, we've also had a go at profiling the criminal, like what the proper police do. At first we thought this might be the work of an unsuccessful taxidermist - someone who perhaps couldn't cope with all those complicated taxidermy exams and wants to wreak his vengeance against the world. Or something.
"But then we noticed some of the unusual materials that he's using - wadding, polystyrene and foam rubber - and now what we think we're looking at is a failed upholsterer."