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SPCA Otago animal manager Grace Hepburn (21) said the 3-week-old kittens and their mothers were dumped in a box near State Highway 1.
It was ''a disgraceful act from a irresponsible animal owner'', she said.
A woman who lived down the road stopped at the stand and took the cats to SPCA Otago in Dunedin, Miss Hepburn said.
The mother was a tabby, the other a black cat and the kittens were a mix of tabbies and black cats, she said.
The cats were in ''good condition'' and the tabby mother was wearing a flea collar, Miss Hepburn said.
SPCA Otago was seeking information on who dumped the cats and would prosecute them with deserting an animal without reasonable excuse, the maximum penalty for which was 12 months' imprisonment or a $50,000 fine, Miss Hepburn said.
It was the biggest single dumping of cats in her career at the shelter, she said.
SPCA Otago executive officer Sophie McSkimming said Megan Stuart, of Mosgiel, was fostering the cats until the were old enough to be adopted out.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced yesterday the introduction of a Bill to strengthen animal welfare in New Zealand.
''The Bill will allow us to create enforceable regulations that set out how farm and domestic animals should be treated. It also gives wider powers to deal with people who breach welfare laws.''
A review of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 showed it needed to be clearer and easier to enforce, he said.
''This is important to New Zealanders because around 68% of households have a pet ... The vast majority of New Zealanders who take great care of their animals will hardly notice the changes made in this Bill. However, there will be greater sanctions for the few who mistreat animals.''