The hunt is on to discover who or what is behind a string of dog deaths reportedly linked to a Mexico City park that is a mecca for the capital's most pampered pets.
It is still unclear what exactly caused the deaths of up to 18 pets, but local press reporters and neighborhood leaders are calling the rash of deaths a deliberate attack with poison, probably hidden somewhere in the park.
"This is an issue of violence and injustice," said Lorena Vázquez, whose two dogs are among the pets that perished after being taken for walks in Parque México last week.
Mexico City's poorer barrios are home to many abandoned dogs who roam around in packs. All over the city dogs are often treated as little more than burglar alarms, or left locked on roofs with no shelter from the sun or rain.
At the legislative level, however, the capital is at the vanguard of animal protection in Latin America with severe penalties — on the books, at least — for those who don't treat their pets well.
But nowhere does concern for canine welfare go as far as in the capital's affluent and trendy Condesa neighborhood, particularly in Parque México, where breeds of all shapes and sizes roam happily along its leafy pathways, and a special doggie play area was opened this year.
"Parque México is a place where our dogs can hang out together and run around. A place where they are accepted," said Vázquez, who added that her own dogs were like her children. "What is happening has caused tremendous pain."
Both Teddy, a maltese, and Lucas, a cocker poodle, fell ill after Vázquez took them for a walk in the park last Tuesday evening. In both cases, the dogs began vomiting, moved on to convulsions, and died of a heart attack.
Vázquez said it wasn't until a few days later that she heard similar things had been happening to other dogs in the area.
With the rumours flying and the panic growing, the city authorities met with dog owners from the area on Sunday and promised to take action.
Special patrols began around the park that now displays signs recommending dog owners to keep their animals on a tight leash in order to prevent them unwittingly consuming poison.
"We will work together to provide certainty and tranquility to the residents of the Condesa in the face of the pet poisonings," Mexico City police chief Hiram Almeida tweeted on Tuesday.
The city's prosecutor's office has opened an investigation, beginning with forensic tests on some of the animals that have died to try and identify the precise cause.
A spokesman for the office would not reveal whether the investigation had yet come across any clues leading to who or what might be responsible for the 10 dog deaths officially denounced so far. Local media reported that if a culprit is apprehended they could face jail sentences of up to two years per dog killed.
With the park now heavily monitored, no dogs have fallen ill in recent days. But the dog owners insist that the problem will not be solved if impunity reigns.
"We need to find out who did this," Vazquéz said. "We need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
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