JOHNSON CITY - Authorities are searching for an area cat killer who has hanged at least two cats in the past month.
"We need citizens to keep their eyes and ears open, and to let us know if they've seen or heard anyone bragging about doing this," said Debbie Dobbs, director of the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter. "We want to stop any future mutilations of people's pets."
The first indication something terrible was happening came in late January when a woman called the animal shelter to report a cat lying at the edge of her property, in the area of Greenway and Moorland drives.
When animal control officers arrived, they found a white-and-tan cat dead, with a noose still around its neck.
On Tuesday, a second cat was found dead in the same area. The gray-colored tabby also had a noose tightly wrapped around its neck.
"The rope or twine that has choked these cats to death was tied identically around the neck in the same position on both cats," Dobbs said. "Whoever is doing the knotting and noosing knows how to tie these knots. This was done viciously."
Claw and chew marks on the nooses indicate both cats tried to escape.
"When animals are strangled, it's a slow death. I can't imagine it not being painful," Dobbs said. "These were done so tight, I could not get anything underneath them to get the ropes off the cats."
The cats, both somewhere between three and five years old, appeared to be "well-cared-for" pets.
"They had to belong to somebody. The male was neutered, and the female was spayed. They both had flea collars on," Dobbs said. "And if they were someone's cats, they probably were friendly enough to come right up to you. The person probably said, ‘Here kitty, kitty,' bent down, put a rope around them and then strangled them."
Dobbs suspects the cats were likely indoor/outdoor pets and said it's possible someone got mad at them for wandering on his or her property.
"This is the type of stuff nightmares are made of," Dobbs said. "You think about it happening in big cities, but you don't think about it in your own back yard. But it's real and it happens everywhere."
While animal control officers are hoping to catch the person responsible to put an end to further animal hangings, many professionals say the person needs help for more important reasons.
"Those who abuse animals are that much more likely to abuse humans," said Jack Levin, noted criminologist and professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University. "It's especially bad if they're sadistic to domestic animals - pets, cats and dogs, animals in the home."
Levin once conducted an experiment to help support the theory that animal abusers are likely to abuse people as well.
"I took 154 really abusive people, who were officially convicted of animal abuse because it was so cruel," Levin said, noting he used their neighbors, who did not abuse animals, as a control group. "I found the animal abusers were five times more likely than those who did not abuse animals to have committed violent acts against humans. They were four times more likely to have committed a property crime."
Authorities are hoping to find the person responsible for the animal cruelty before it gets even worse.
"We would like to charge this person with animal cruelty, torture, abuse, whatever you want to call it," Dobbs said. "It takes a sick person to do this. I'm afraid of what we'll find next."
Anyone with information regarding the animal cruelty is asked to contact the animal shelter at 926-8769 or the Johnson City Police Department at 434-6125.