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Residents concerned, Chatham County Animal Services investigating after dead cats found in yards

Updated: Jul. 12, 2017 at 8:53 PM EDT
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WHITEMARSH ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Chatham County Animal Services is investigating after residents found dead cats in several front yards in a Whitemarsh Island neighborhood.

Neighbors in Battery Point found five dead cats on separate streets on Monday, but Shelia, who lives in the neighborhood but didn't want to give her last name said her cat, Spice, was injured about two weeks ago.

"She comes in and out when she wants to," Shelia said. "She came home and this entire rectangle on the back of her neck looked like the skin and hair had just been ripped off or burned off. Within the last three or four days, there's been a lot of posting on Nextdoor with cats turning up dead, cats that have been beaten. I just did not feel like this was an animal wound. This is not a cat fight. This is not a dog. This is caused by a human. Something crazy is going on, really crazy, and we just want to find out what it is and get it stopped."

Hilary Schwegler, who also lives in the neighborhood, found a cat that looked like it had been beaten, placed near her front door on Monday morning.

"It was a cat laying on its back with its mouth (beaten)," Schwegler said. "It looked like the teeth were dislodged, and it had blood on its face. Its abdomen was very swollen. These injuries do not appear to be bite marks or anything like that. They're actually straight line cuts. The cat in my neighborhood looked like it was beaten with a solid object, like a bat."

Shelia said that brutality is disconcerting.

"It's very scary because they are like my children, and I have children," she said. "It's just a very uneasy feeling to be in your own home and know that someone is walking around among you that could do something like this. It's just, it's the beginnings of a serial killer. It's very bizarre."

She said she's never seen anything like this in her life, let alone her own neighborhood.

"Never in my life," she said. "Never. I mean, we've had car break-ins, a few house break-ins maybe, but nothing like this. I mean, whoever's doing this is disturbed."

Schwegler collected information from neighbors about where the other cat bodies were found and learned in addition to the five found on July 10, three others were found on June 20, June 23, and July 3. She reported the cruelty to Chatham County Animal Services, and director Kerry Sirevicius agreed this kind of cruelty isn't typical.

"Having a cruelty investigation like this highly unusual in this area," Sirevicius said. "Typically, we live in a very wonderful and pet-friendly community, but the acts that we see going on right now are really suspect. We are evaluating, right now, what has happened to these cats in the community to see if it's connected, but it's pretty menacing what's going on."

Sirevicius said it's early in the investigation, but that this does look like foul play.

"It is always disturbing if anything happens to our animal population because we worry people who hurt animals, sometimes hurt people," she said. "This could be very indicative of something, really, more tragic in this community in terms of someone not being quite right, someone who is mentally ill, so we want to identify who's doing this sooner rather than later."

Chatham County Animal Services still needs to collect a body and send it for a necropsy to determine a cause of death and to have the evidence to be able to prosecute. If there's another dead cat found, Sirevicius asked that someone call Chatham County Animal Services at 912.652.6575, so they can collect it. Sirevicius said they do have several leads and more witnesses to interview.

If someone is prosecuted, Sirevicius said the penalties are severe.

"Our penalties have gotten much graver," she said. "We have now adopted the state laws. Aggravated cruelty could actually be a felony. There are misdemeanor charges, but this sounds like felony cruelty if it truly is as insidious as we are seeing that it might be."

A felony aggravated cruelty to animals offense that carries at least one and up to five years in prison, a $15,000 fine, or both.

Shelia said stopping the cruelty and finding the person who is committing these brutal acts is the ideal outcome.

"That they catch someone doing this, and we can all rest easy that it won't happen again," she said. "Not that it just stops because then you always have the fear that that person is going to start doing it again. I would like for this person to be caught, and we know that they're off the street."

As recently as Wednesday night, Shelia said neighbors found a goose killed, and said several family pets are still missing.

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