Jackie Winsall, from Gower Park, College Town, is on income support and has been left to foot a £500 veterinary bill for surgery which saved her cat's life.

The mother of three did not discover her four-year-old cat Scully had been shot in the abdomen until hours after the attack took place.

She said: "I fed her at 8am last Thursday and she was alright but when I came back from dropping the children at school at 8.20pm she was howling in pain.

"It wasn't until much later when I picked her up and she had blood on her that I realised she had been shot.

"It's such a shame because she is a very shy and timid cat and rarely ventures outside.

"Several of my neighbours' cats have been shot as well — I think it is a serious problem and I really fear for the other cats round here."

Mrs Winsall has had to phone round several charities to gather contributions to pay towards the vet bill.

"It has caused me a lot of money problems and I will have to use the money I have been saving for our family holiday."

Scully is the second of Mrs Winsall's cats that has been shot in 17 months.

"It wouldn't be so bad but I am still paying off the bill when Pugsy was shot in November 2001. I don't think whoever shot Scully realised how much damage they would cause.

"I realise cats can be annoying and they even annoy me but I just spray them with the hose — they hate that," she added.

The RSPCA has donated £100 to help pay for Scully's surgery and the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) are due to contribute a percentage of the total bill.

Denise Tucker, a vet from Pheonix Veterinary Group in Branksome Hill Road, College Town, where Scully was treated, said: "This is a fairly common problem. We often get cats brought in with other problems and when we x-ray them we find they have air gun pellets lodged somewhere."

An RSPCA spokesperson added: "Unfortunately cases like this are all too common. The RSPCA has seen a 13 per cent increase in its investigations into airgun attacks on animals this year.

"Last year there were 900 cases reported of pets being shot and cats are the most common victims.

"We do believe that the majority of events are carried out by youngsters as incident figures show an increase in attacks during school holidays and when evenings grow lighter.

"For this reason we want the government to outlaw unsupervised use of these lethal weapons by children."

The RSPCA has welcomed the month-long National Firearms Amnesty, which began on Monday (March 31).

This Government initiative allows the public to hand

illegally held weapons or ammunition into the police by April 30 without fear of prosecution.

It is also an opportunity to surrender lawfully held guns and ammunition which are no longer wanted, such as air guns and replica guns.

Since the attack last Thursday, Scully has returned home and is recovering well.

Anyone wishing to report an incident of animal cruelty can contact the RSPCA helpline on 08705 555999.

Witnesses of this crime can also contact PC Carole Sessions, shoulder number 4916, at Crowthorne Police station on (01344) 751703.