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Mutilations Alarming Cat Owners

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Claire De Longe was awakened from a sound sleep last month by the shrill scream of her Siamese cat Sebastian.

“I knew that something terrible had happened to him,” she said. “I knew that he was being killed by someone or something.”

De Longe stumbled out of bed and into the back yard of her Miracle Mile home, but without her contact lenses she couldn’t see anything in the early dawn. Four days later, a neighbor arrived with the bad news: Sebastian’s remains--his paws and tail--had been found on her front lawn.

Since that grim day, the carcasses of 15 other pet cats, including another owned by De Longe, have turned up on the Westside. Authorities say that the felines, all of which were mutilated, were discovered from Willoughby Street south to Olympic Boulevard and from La Cienega Boulevard west to La Brea Avenue.

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But who or what is responsible for each of the incidents isn’t clear. Animal experts suspect that a coyote has attacked most of the cats in the neighborhood. Yet at least some of the carnage may be the work of people.

Either way, pet owners are alarmed. Officials at the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say that they receive dozens of calls a day from residents who want to know how to protect their cats.

“I’m really worried,” said Kate Naples, who lives in the area. “My cats are outdoor cats and I don’t see any way of keeping them inside. They have their own door and come and go as they please.”

A county veterinarian issued a report last week showing that at least three cats had fallen victim to an animal predator. “There was evidence of puncture wounds and irregular fractures that could only be explained by an animal chewing on another animal,” said Dr. H.J. Holshuh, a pathologist with the Los Angeles County Comparative Medical and Veterinary Services. Four residents, meanwhile, have called the SPCA to report coyote sightings in the neighborhood--including one case in which the coyote had a cat clenched in its jaws.

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“I’m frustrated and frightened for my animals,” said Wendy Werris, who saw a coyote behind her apartment building on Sycamore Avenue. “I’ve been keeping my cats inside for the last week. They think I am punishing them because they’ve never been confined before.”

Officials say that it is not unusual to see coyotes in heavily populated areas, particularly in the summer, when the drought brings them out of the hills in search of water and food.

Still, the coyotes appear to be just part of the problem. Cori Whetstone of the SPCA said the remains of three cats found near Melrose Place and Orlando Street were not consistent with the way coyotes kill cats. Usually, a coyote eats the organs and intestines of a cat but leaves behind the hard, bony parts such as the paws, legs, skull and tail.

“They were exactly the opposite of what you’d expect to find in a coyote kill,” said Whetstone, a sergeant in the SPCA’s investigative unit. In one instance, officials found a cat with a deep circular wound around its neck, as if it had been strangled.

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Accordingly, the SPCA has posted a $4,050 reward for information about anyone responsible for killing cats. “Even if it is only one cat that is not a coyote kill, that bothers me,” said Michael Burns, a supervisor with the city’s animal regulation department. He also is looking into the circumstances of at least five other cat mutilations in other parts of the city.

Authorities say that it can be difficult to tell the difference between a cat killed by an animal and one killed by a person.

Indeed, animal regulation and SPCA officers are often fooled by carcasses that have precision cuts. “There is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding about the way a coyote kills,” Holshuh said. “The cuts can be very clean, almost surgical. It is often impossible to see tears in the flesh or puncture wounds without doing a necropsy,” or animal autopsy.

Burns said his office plans to start setting traps to catch coyotes within a week.

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Still, he said he fears that will only amount to a partial solution. “It can take a long time to track a coyote, but it takes even longer to track a person who is doing this sort of crime,” he said. “These are some of the most difficult crimes to investigate because there is very little evidence left.”


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