A hedgehog sparked a rescue operation when it was found stuck down a drain and covered in rubble.
The RSPCA believe the creature could have been shoved down a pipe as a joke after it was called in to help.
The charity was alerted after the animal was spotted in Frederick Place in Houghton after it was spotted by Jobcentre staff, with animal collection officer (ACO) Rowena Proctor sent to the scene.
She said: “The drain was only about 1ft deep and was a tiny oval shape.
"The covering from the top had been removed, the hedgehog was inside, and he had been really squished in with rocks and stones on top, jamming the lid down.
“Thankfully the staff from the Jobcentre spotted this and gave us a call.
“This was a wicked thing to do if this was deliberate, the poor hedgehog could have been seriously injured or even killed. He was really lucky.
“It’s not yet clear whether this was a deliberate act of cruelty or whether the hedgehog had got himself stuck inside the drain but it would seem to me that he had been forced inside in some sort of sick joke.”
ACO Proctor wasn’t able to remove the little critter on her own so requested the help of a fire crew from Tyne and Wear Fire Service.
Watch manager Dave Curtis said; “A crew from Rainton Bridge were called to the Jobcentre at Houghton by the RSPCA after staff had discovered a hedgehog jammed into a drain.
“When the crew arrived they found the creature had well and truly wedged itself in.
"We were able to clear some debris from the drain but the hedgehog did not want to come out. Its defence mechanism of rolling into a ball also left no room to manoeuvre.
“Eventually we were able to get two hands around him and with a lot of gentle rolling, we were able to free our captive and pass it over to the RSPCA.”
The adult hedgehog was taken to a nearby rescue centre for treatment for ringworm.
ACO Proctor added: “Aside from ringworm, which is fairly common in hedgehogs, he is doing well and we are hopeful to release him again soon.
“I’d like to thank the fire crew for helping us free this little guy, we’re always incredibly grateful for their help when we’re unable to rescue an animal in trouble ourselves.”
Anyone who spots a trapped animal or an animal in distress is asked to contact RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency hotline on 0300 1234 999.