Three newborn puppies froze to death after being dumped in a dustbin as temperatures dropped below zero.
The tiny pups, thought to be Staffies, were no more than 24 hours old and still had their umbilical cords attached when they were found on Monday afternoon.
They had been put inside a pet carrier and covered with a bin liner before being abandoned on top of a black and orange bin in Basildon, Essex.
Astonishingly, the dogs were still alive when the RSPCA was called to the heartbreaking discovery, but all perished within hours.
Inspector Rebecca Benson said: “Despite the best efforts of veterinary staff who nursed the puppies and hand-fed them throughout the night, none of the babies survived.
“The extent of their frostbite was too much for them and they were too young to fight it. They didn’t stand a chance.
“This case has been an emotional rollercoaster and I’m deeply saddened that someone could do this and that it wasn’t possible to save these innocent little pups.
“I’m now seriously concerned for the puppies’ mother and any potential litter mates.
“I believe whoever dumped these pups knew they were alive when they left them.
“These puppies were barely two days old when they died and yet they’d already suffered such horrific cruelty and pain. It’s heartbreaking.”
The member of the public found the pups – two females, one fawn-coloured and one blue and white, and one blue and white male – wrapped in a black blanket and cream furry Primark jacket.
They believed they were already dead and called the RSPCA.
Inspector Rebecca Benson added: “When I opened the bag there were three tiny puppies inside. They were all extremely cold to touch and their bodies were stiff.
“Once we got to the vets I couldn’t believe my eyes – the puppies started breathing and were moving their little legs.
“We spent hours slowly trying to warm their little bodies up. I couldn’t believe they were still alive – the tips of their tails had frostbite and they were as cold as ice.
“Once they had warmed up they started to feed. They were trying to move, trying to suckle and were crying.”
Inspector Benson has launched an investigation and is appealing for anyone who can help the investigation to contact the RSPCA’s appeal line on 0300 123 8018.