A helpless pet owner watched as her pet rabbit was mauled by a police dog.
The dog was being used to find suspected thieves who had run through gardens in York to escape police.
But the canine stopped in Melissa Richardson’s garden and grabbed George the rabbit instead.
The bunny died as a result of his injuries. Officers have “apologised profusely” for the incident, saying the dog “simply acted on its natural instincts”.
Miss Richardson, 20, who has owned George since she was just seven, said: “I went into the garden and the dog was in the bush with the rabbit. The officer was telling the dog to get off and come to him.
“When I got there the rabbit crawled out and I picked him up. I was crying all night. I’m kicking myself because I was going to put him in the hutch an hour before.”
North Yorkshire Police said officers consoled her immediately after the incident. The head of the force’s dog section, Sergeant Simon Whitby, also visited their home on Wednesday to apologise in person.
He said: “We all feel terrible for the girl and her family and we have apologised profusely for the distress this has caused.
“The poor rabbit was completely out of sight when the dog handler checked the garden during the search for one of the suspects. The police dog simply acted on its natural instincts and grabbed hold of the rabbit.”
Miss Richardson, a support worker, lives with her grandmother Carol and has three other rabbits.
She said police had offered to buy her another but it would not replace her pet.
Officers were investigating the theft of power tools from a car on Tuesday afternoon when a group of youths were spotted and ran into nearby gardens.
Two 18-year-old men were arrested and released on conditional bail pending further inquiries.
A 19-year-old local man remains in police custody.