When a dog appeared to have been purposely drowned at Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey recently, the reported crime sparked outrage and triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The "puppy killer," residents said, must be brought to justice.
Then, when someone reported that a decapitated dog was floating in the water at the mouth of Ballona Creek, some pet owners began fearing that a serial dog killer was on the loose.
Animal rights groups and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors responded by offering $20,000 in reward money for information on whomever was responsible for the acts of cruelty.
But the case of the canine killings took a bizarre turn this week after authorities announced that neither of the deaths was what it appeared to be.
Animal control officials said Wednesday that the decapitated dog in the creek turned out to be a dead and bloated raccoon, whose head was still attached.
And on Friday, the Sheriff's Department said the dog found at Mother’s Beach was not actually drowned. It had been hit by a car and was already dead by the time it was brought to the beach, authorities said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Ramage said investigators learned of the animal's true fate when a transient came into the Marina del Rey station Thursday night looking for his dead dog.
The homeless man said the dog had been struck by a car and he decided to take it to the beach to wash the carcass because he wanted to stuff the animal, Ramage said.
The homeless man said he tied the dog’s collar to a shovel to keep the body from floating away. He did this because he said he needed to leave the beach to retrieve some of his belongings in another location.
When the homeless man returned, the dog was gone, he told authorities.
"You can’t make this stuff up," Ramage said Friday.
The Sheriff’s Department has now closed its investigation, he said.
"There was so much panic in the community -- we had people calling us up and crying," Ramage said. "So many people thought we had a serial dog killer on our hands."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had offered a $5,000 reward in the Marina del Rey drowning case. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk on Friday called on police to keep the case open until the results of a necropsy confirm or refute the homeless man's story.
"It's possible that this dog's death was a tragic accident, but a necropsy will show whether this dog drowned or was hit by a car," Newkirk said in a statement.
The white and brown dog was found staked to the ground with a collar and shovel on March 16. The Sheriff’s Department was notified after the animal was spotted by a group of lightweight boat paddlers.
The group was near Mother’s Beach when they noticed a blue-handled shovel sticking out of the water. When they got closer to the shovel, they found the animal tied to it.
Sheriff’s officials initially thought the mixed-breed dog had drowned as the tide came in.