Report of ‘animal serial killer’ prompts 10,000 calls, emails to Tacoma Animal Control

Report of ‘animal serial killer’ prompts 10,000 calls, emails to Tacoma Animal Control

Downtown Tacoma from the bridge next to Stanley and Seaforts. Wikimedia Commons

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Thousands of people across the country have called Tacoma Animal Control in the past few weeks, most of them with identical messages:

“Over the past 12 months, dozens of animals, including birds, squirrels, and cats, have been killed in the East Tacoma neighborhood adjacent to the Portland Avenue Reservoir by a psychopath who likely resides in that area. Please take these killings seriously, investigate these crimes, and make an arrest!”

There are so many calls — some 10,083, as of Wednesday, said Joe Satter-Hunt, Tacoma Animal Control supervisor — it’s interfering with Tacoma Animal Control’s work.

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“It’s just clogged up our system,” Satter-Hunt told The News Tribune.

There’s no evidence to show a human is killing multiple animals in the Tacoma area, which is why there’s no investigation, he added.

“This story is extremely overexaggerated, and it’s really gotten the nation in an uproar,” Satter-Hunt said.

The calls started coming in several weeks ago, after In Defense of Animals, an animal welfare organization based in California, posted a campaign to catch an animal serial killer in Tacoma.

The campaign page included photos of a dead bird and squirrel and a severed cat paw and states, “A coyote did not do this, but instead a human psychopath is responsible.”

The webpage adds Tacoma Animal Control and law enforcement aren’t “taking these killings seriously” and encourages people to reach out to law enforcement and ask them to act.

“It’s important that the person responsible be caught and prosecuted for these senseless killings,” Eric Phelps, Community Cats Campaign director for In Defense of Animals, said in a statement to The News Tribune. “Incidents of animal cruelty that go unpunished only embolden the perpetrators to continue to kill. Law enforcement agencies agree that people who torture and kill animals are usually just warming up and often move on to commit acts of violence against people.”

The concern of an animal serial killer stemmed from a call in March 2019 in East Tacoma about three cat paws found in a yard and one in the street. The dismemberment was on par with a coyote attack, animal control officers determined.

The In Defense of Animals campaign page claims animal control told the resident who made the call to “throw away the cat’s feet into the trash.”

That’s not the case, Satter-Hunt said.

The neighbor who made the call later reached out to Phelps at In Defense of Animals. The neighbor felt it wasn’t a coyote that someone was leaving dead or dismembered animals on her property and that she was receiving little support from animal control officers.

Officers have since been called multiple times to the same address, most recently Jan. 18, for claims of animal killings and brutality. Officers reported the caller was receiving photos of deceased animals via phone and suggested blocking the number and filing a harassment claim with police.

Determining if a case is animal cruelty becomes difficult with only a photograph of an already deceased animal that could have died from other animal attacks, Satter-Hunt said.

“It would be a cruelty situation if you did have a live animal,” he said.

Tacoma Animal Control only works with domestic animal cases and referred the photos of wild animals to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Representatives from Fish and Wildlife were not immediately available to answer questions.

Satter-Hunt said he’s disappointed that In Defense of Animals started the telephone and email campaign.

“They did no investigation, no research,” Satter-Hunt said.

Phelps said they tried to reach out to Tacoma Animal Control.

“In Defense of Animals thoroughly researched these incidents before asking our supporters to act,” Phelps said in a statement. “We examined all the accounts of animals being killed, which included dates of specific incidents, photos, and even videos. We spoke with a neighbor and health care worker in the neighborhood who both corroborated the complainant’s stories of animal killings.”

Emails shared by In Defense of Animals show Phelps reaching out to the Pierce County auditor’s office in December 2019, which shared contact information for Tacoma Animal Control. Phelps said emails were not returned from Tacoma Animal Control and “knew we had to act.”

“We are waiting to see if Animal Control will investigate. If not, we will weigh the option to offer a reward for the arrest and conviction of the person responsible — even though we know who it is — to see if other neighbors came forward with more stories of dead or dying animals,” Phelps said in a statement.