The man approached one of the Cranbourne West Lost Dogs Home’s animal transport team as she was getting into her vehicle in the shelter’s car park at around 11:30pm on Monday, January 11.
Detective Senior Sergeant Glen Cruse from the Casey Crime Investigation Unit told reporters that she wound down her car window to speak to him because she initially believed he might be a police officer.
“He asked her to get out of the car, hand over her mobile phones which she complied with,” he said.
The man, described as white, between 40 and 50 years old, tall and wearing camouflage “tactical-style” clothing, took the terrified 23-year-old woman hostage and marched her back into the shelter at gunpoint, tying her her up before asking his bizarre question.
He was carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle.
According to a report from Victoria police, “The man pointed a firearm at the woman, who works at the home, before he walked her into the animal welfare property and tied her up.
“He asked the victim where the cats were before he left the room and didn’t return.
“The woman, who wasn’t physically injured, was able to free herself and raised the alarm.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Cruse said the woman had found the incident “very traumatising”.
“I guess the circumstances are a little bizarre, but really concerning that someone has confronted someone like that in the middle of the night, dressed the way he was, armed with a firearm,” he said.
A spokesperson for the shelter has since released a statement that said management and staff were “shocked and extremely concerned” by the incident.
“Our main priority is the welfare of our staff,” the statement said, “and we are providing all the support possible to the animal transport team member who was a victim in this horrendous ordeal.”
They stressed that none of the animals were harmed during the incident.
A major manhunt from Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team, Air Wing and the Dog Squad proved unsuccessful but a man is now understood to be helping police with their enquiries.
ABC News reports that the Casey Crime Investigation Unit detectives are currently interviewing a 44-year-old man from the nearby suburb of Langwarrin in connection with the incident.
Police say the offender appeared to believe – incorrectly – that animals were being killed at the shelter.