Necropsies on mutilated cats found in Maple Ridge and Langley have revealed almost all were killed by another animal.
The B.C. SPCA released its findings Friday, quelling fears that a disturbed human was behind the grisly deaths.
Dr. Melinda Merck, a veterinary forensic expert, examined the remains of 30 animals – 20 cats, eight crows, one rabbit, one dog – found in Maple Ridge and Langley since May and determined all were attacked by a predator.
A renowned animal crime scene specialist from Atlanta, she investigated the Whistler sled dog killings and helped build a case against NFL player Michael Vick for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
Merck said predator injuries can appear very similar to an attack by a sharp instrument because the tear is so precise.
“However, other factors, such as the nature and the angle of the skin tears and puncture marks and patterns left by canine molars in underlying skin tissue and bone, can provide more conclusive evidence,” she added.
Coyotes are stealthy predators, usually attacking quickly and silently.
“It is not unusual for them to bite their prey in the middle and run off with half the body in their mouths, which would explain the number of cat bodies which were found in exact halves on lawns or in parks,” she said.
The SPCA is currently working with DNA experts at Simon Fraser University to confirm if the predators involved in the attacks were coyotes or some other animal.
In the past year, 24 cats have been discovered mutilated in Maple Ridge. The SPCA also investigated similar incidents in Mission, Port Coquitlam and across the Fraser River in Langley.
In Maple Ridge, a cat’s head was left outside a school, placed on a porch and in a plastic bag. A tail was found under a missing cat poster, while another was tacked to a fence.
The deaths prompted the SPCA to issue a warning in March urging pet owners to keep their cats inside and suggesting a human might be responsible for the mutilations.
When asked why they if they overreacted and caused such alarm, the SPCA stressed it had to err on the side of caution.
Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the SPCA, said investigators could not initially rule out the possibility of human involvement because veterinary and pathology reports from 2011 and 2012 indicated that the animals had been severed using a sharp instrument.
“We have a responsibility in any of these types of cases where there is a suspicion of humans causing violence to animals,” she said.
“I much rather be speaking to the news about how this was a predator rather than a year from now stating that we chalked this of to a predator, but now we’ve found out the person responsible has moved onto humans.”
The SPCA is still urging pet owners to keep their cats indoors.
“Bad things don’t happen to cats that are indoors,” said Merck, who specialized in cats when she worked as a vet.
“If you can make them happy and fulfill all their needs as a species, nothing happens to them. They don’t get hit by cars, they don’t get taunted or shot at, they don’t get human attacks, they don’t get animal attacks.”
Eileen Drever, a senior investigator with the SPCA, was relieved when she found out a human was not involved, but remains concerned that an animal is going into densely populated areas to find prey.
“We’ve seen so many dead animals over the past week, so it’s really concerning that people continue to let their animals go outside,” said Drever.
“I’m pleased with the investigation, but it’s not over yet because we need to find out what kind of animal is out there.”