updated 1/28/2010 9:12:45 PM ET 2010-01-29T02:12:45

Police on Friday said they seized weapons used by two New Zealand men to slaughter more than 30 dogs owned by a neighbor in what animal welfare authorities said could be the country's worst animal cruelty case.

Inspectors from the nation's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, shocked at the slaughter near the main city of Auckland, said charges would be filed over the killings when forensic examination of the dead dogs was completed.

Police are investigating the incident, looking at firearms' registration and possible charges of reckless discharge of a gun, spokesman Kevin Loughlin said.

Media reports said Russell Mendoza had confronted a neighbor, Rowan Hargreaves, complaining that one of Hargreaves' 39 dogs had killed his fox terrier. Mendoza and another man, armed with a .22 rifle and a shotgun, later returned to Hargreaves' property and shot 33 dogs, including 23 puppies and very young dogs.

"It was a haunting scene of death and destruction, and I struggle to comprehend what took place there," SPCA investigator Sascha Keltie said.

She said bullet entry and exit wounds to some of the dogs indicated they had not died instantly, and blood trails were consistent with an injured dog moving. Another inspector, Vicki Border, said the shooters seemed to be on a "frenzied mission."

SPCA inspectors, who are government appointees, are empowered to file animal cruelty charges under New Zealand law. The men could face up to three years in prison.

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said the case was among the worst his staff had ever seen.

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