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Mutilated Cats in Valley Trigger Alarm – Animal Cruelty, Santeria or Coyotes?

ANIMAL WATCH-The discovery of two mutilated dead cats lying near each other in his neighbor's yard last Tuesday morning deeply disturbed Arleta Neighborhood Council President Jaime Gallo.

He believes the dead cats were feral. "There are many roaming feral cats in the area," he said. One cat was decapitated, with only the head left in the yard. The other was lying on its abdomen, face down, beside it. The total absence of blood on either the animals or on the ground around them triggered concerns that the felines might have been victims of animal cruelty or religious sacrifice. 

Jaime Gallo called Los Angeles Animal Services, where he was told to contact the Sanitation Department for pick-up of dead animals -- which he did. When the truck arrived, the driver told him he had just picked up two more cats in similar condition a few blocks away.  

The driver commented that he had been picking up bodies of dead animals in Los Angeles for a long time and these did not look like victims of attack by another animal because there were no teeth marks or bites on the rest of their bodies. He warned that this could be an act by a "sick person" and people should keep their pets inside.   

Jaime then went to the LA Police Department’s Mission Station, which serves the Northeast San Fernando Valley, and was told they do not take reports of this type and he should contact the Animal Cruelty Task Force. He said he made numerous calls for two days to the (818) number he was given, but there was no answer and no way to leave a message. That night he saw Senior Lead Officer Tracy Ware at a community meeting and she gave him the correct number-- (213) 486-0450.  

His call the next morning was answered by a member of the ACTF, who advised him they could not conduct an investigation because the bodies were gone and there was no evidence to examine; however, she educated him about the guillotine-precision of coyotes killing prey. 

On June 26, Arleta NC Vice-President Raymond Duran prudently posted the initial information about the incident on Nextdoor for 20 communities under Crime and Safety, as an “Alert!” for residents to keep pets indoors. 

ANIMAL-MUTILATION CASES IN LOS ANGELES 

A former member of the Animal Cruelty Task Force advised me that they receive from 8 to 12 calls per month reporting dead, mutilated animals. And, out of over 1,300 such calls, only three of the incidents investigated were not coyotes. 

In one case were they able to identify an actual suspect and get a conviction. "But, over 99% of the incidents called in have turned out to be wildlife kills," he said.  

However, the latest incidents in Arleta stimulated concerns about Santeria in California -- and especially in the Los Angeles area. There are some interesting facts available on the prevalence. 

SANTERIA IN CALIFORNIA 

July 1, 2015, a headline in the Sacramento Bee read, "Someone is leaving mutilated animals around Sacramento, and no one knows why." The article revealed, "The mystery began several months ago with the discovery of a 120-pound cow’s head at Sacramento’s Reichmuth Park. Around the same time, another decapitated cow’s head was found 3 1/2 miles away at Garcia Bend Park. 

Then, “Multiple beheaded chickens were found in the city cemetery with these bowls of what was described as bloody oatmeal,” said Gina Knepp, manager of Sacramento’s Front Street animal shelter and its animal care operations. Subsequent heads and bodies of goats and other animals were found. None of the animals found were dogs or cats. 

“In most cases, the carcasses...are headless, but strangely blood free," she told Reuters, "but some packages have included bloody dollar bills, oil and seeds that are known to be used in some Afro-Caribbean religions." 

IN OUR OWN BACKYARD 

On August 29, 2017, The Los Angeles Daily News posted an updated version of an earlier article, World of Santeria includes Southern California, about Burbank resident, Charles Guelperin, who is a santero, a priest of Santeria. His home is near Magnolia Blvd. and serves as a temple. He explained, “We do not have churches, temples or synagogues." 

The article describes how Santeria, a blend of Afro-Caribbean voodoo and the devotion to saints among many Latino Roman Catholics, has become so big in Los Angeles that many consider the city the Santeria capital of the country. According to the Daily News, it includes the sacrifice of animals in Guelperin's garage.  

Neighbors had complained two years before because they heard goats baying in his backyard, the report states. Guelperin said they "were upset because we were going to have animal sacrifices. But we explained to police and animal control authorities that this was part of our religious practice, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that we had the right to do. And when a (police and animal control) supervisor came, he said we were within our rights." 

As recently as September 22, 2017, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported, Fire set on Altadena hillside possibly part of Santeria ceremony, not arson, officials say. LA County Sheriff's deputies arrested a 42-year-old Los Angeles woman on suspicion of igniting a fire on an Altadena hillside. The suspect was identified by witnesses. Deputies put out the fire before it could reach the heavy brush area and averted a possible disaster. The fire was believed to have been started as part of a Santeria ceremony." 

COYOTES LIKELY SUSPECTS 

An NBC report, Pet Owners Warned after Cats Found Killed in Westwood, provides some further insight by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal - Los Angeles (spcaLA). The bodies of three dead mutilated cats were reportedly found near Selby Ave. Worried residents suspected animal cruelty rather than coyotes.

"Three cats were found mutilated in recent weeks, and until an official investigation is launched, it's unclear how the cats died. It appears the attacks are not by other animals, but by humans," Angie Crouch reported for NBC on February 1, 2013. 

"It’s pretty scary. It's yet another reason to keep your cats inside," one resident said.  "It’s just not a safe world for them.” 

Madeline Bernstein, president of SPCA LA, advised that it "was likely the cats were killed by coyotes or other animals," but the organization wants to do a forensic examination on any future felines found killed, NBC reported. 

"With an actual body, an examination can be done where ... you can see if there are puncture marks, slight edges," Bernstein said, adding, "The spcaLA advises animal owners to keep all small pets indoors." 

HISTORIC CAT MUTILATION REPORTS IN SOUTHERN CA 

The New York Times published a riveting and extremely informative special report, Cat Mutilations Spread Fear of Cults in Suburb, examining a rash of 67 incidents in Orange County, CA, in 1989. 

The reports of horrible new nocturnal mutilations come almost weekly, the latest last weekend, when a tiger-and-white striped tabby was found in two pieces. Oddly, no one ever hears any noise, and dogs do not bark. There is never any blood on the ground, just a torn feline carcass on the front lawn when the sun rises over Orange County

Sixty-seven victims have been found in the last three months alone, some of them cut in half with what some say is almost surgical precision, others disemboweled or skinned. 

A resident collected the carcasses of more than 60 cats and had them examined by five local veterinarians. The remains of all but two of them consisted only the head and four legs, the report says. 

The veterinarians' consensus confirmed the theory that these were ritualistic mutilations, and that, "All signs point to something very unnatural, possibly a satanic cult or youth gangs at work." 

Animal control and sheriff's officers--who did necropsies on dozens of cats and consulted with a Federal wildlife expert--say the more likely culprits are urbanized coyotes. 

According to the report, Dr. A. Kelly, the Orange County veterinarian, concluded: 

 Typically, coyote kills show puncture wounds from the canine teeth, chewing and splintering of bones, signs of which were found in the autopsies. She added that coyotes prefer the internal organs and can cut a cat in half because they instinctively go for the soft middle section where there are few bones. The lack of any blood at the scene is not surprising, she said, because coyotes kill quickly and the heart stops beating and pumping blood. (Emph. added.)  

Nevertheless, terrified residents from California to New Jersey have taken to keeping their cats and small dogs inside when the sun sets, the NY Times reports. 

DID A COYOTE KILL...

Following are some basic steps to help you make an initial determination that a coyote may have killed your pet or another animal (including feral cats.)  Feral cats are plentiful as a food supply in Los Angeles, where Los Angeles Animal Services and the City Council does not address -- and plan to soon allow by ordinance -- the feeding of feral cats and colonies in or adjacent to residential and business communities. The food left for the cats, and the rodents and birds it attracts, and the feral cats themselves, augment the urban coyote's diet of domestic pets, garbage, rodents, chickens/fowl reptiles and fruit/berries. Coyotes are predators and, as a pack will also attack and kill large livestock, including horses. 

Wounds and Injuries 

Coyotes typically attack and bite larger animals behind the throat or jugular area to promote immediate bleeding to weaken the victim. Many animal die of shock or suffocation because of the precision of the punctures. 

 Coyotes usually first bite the head and neck area of a small animal to immobilize and kill it or decapitate it, but their goal is to consume the organs and muscle tissue in the abdomen, which provide the highest source of protein. Coyotes do not commonly leave marks on the rest of the body, according to experts. 

Tracks 

Coyote tracks are usually narrower and longer than those left by a domestic dog. Of course, tracks will usually only be visible if the attack occurs in or near an area of soft dirt or sand. 

Scat (Coyote Poop) 

Coyote excrement is called scat. It can be differentiated from most dog poop because it is more solid and may contain feathers or plant matter and often pieces of fur, which are ingested when bones are consumed in order to allow the sharp points to pass through the digestive tract without puncturing. 

Was the Prey Eaten? 

"Coyotes do not attack prey animals for sport or pleasure," Jen Davis points out in "Signs Your Pet was Killed by a Coyote." She writes, "Coyotes attack to feed themselves and their young. If your pet was attacked and then eaten it is likely that a coyote is to blame." 

ASSURE YOUR PET DOES NOT BECOME A VICTIM

The best way to assure your pet is not harmed or killed by a coyote--or in any other way-- is to keep it inside your home and go outside with it at night.  A coyote can easily scale a six-foot fence or wall (and some can traverse eight-foot barriers.)  They have been reported to come over a wall while an owner is sitting with his dog a short distance away and snatch the pet, in high-risk coyote areas.. 

Don't assume your large dog is safe off-leash while you are hiking or even in your yard at night. Coyotes often hunt in pairs or packs, and they may be closer than you think. 

Keeping your pet inside when you are away, always on-leash when taken outside your yard, and always safely confined are the best ways to assure it does not become the victim of any type of attack, theft or any other act of animal cruelty. 

 And call the Animal Cruelty Task Force (213) 486-0450) if you suspect any type of criminal activity in regard to an animal. 

Our deepest thanks to Arleta Neighborhood Council President Jaime Gallo and Vice-President Raymond Duran for caring about the welfare of all Los Angeles animals and posting information to keep them safe. 

Read more: 

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(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.)