SPRING HILL — An unusually high number of small pets have gone missing from homes in Weeki Wachee Woodlands and Weeki Wachee Acres this summer. Most recently, a litter of four kittens, birthed by an unknown feline in a back yard, has disappeared.
The culprit or culprits remain a mystery. Suspects range from coyotes to mammoth nonnative snakes let loose, to the possibility that human snatchers may be trapping cats and dogs for sale as pets or for research projects.
While a neighborhood search has been ongoing, mainly through posters taped to power poles and e-mails among pet owners, none of the pets have been recovered.
Suzanne Foster, who lives on Stone Hedge Street, has spearheaded the hunt and communications. She counts at least 31 pets missing in the area.
"I am really dumbfounded," Foster said.
Foster's parents, Sharon and Larry Green, a short block away on Mission Way Drive, have lost four cats and a litter of an estimated four kittens.
Sharon Green is a sucker for stray cats and feeds and nurtures them. The Greens' care goes further. The couple pays for feline veterinary exams, plus spaying or neutering for those that show up.
Not many cats have crossed the threshold of the Greens' home, as the animals' apparent abandonment has made them wary. But since pets have begun disappearing, the Greens have managed to entice cats they named Garfield and Precious into their abode.
"We have two that we're not letting out anymore," Sharon Green said.
The Greens' next-door neighbor lost a cat; a couple of doors down, four cats went missing, Sharon Green reported. Directly behind the Green residence, a small black-and-white dog disappeared, his picture posted on another power pole in the neighborhood.
Several posters went up in search of Lucky, a long-haired chihuahua owned by Corey Daly and Jessica Wheeley, the dog last seen July 16 at Ramona Drive and Susquehana Trail.
Daley said the dog was let out late that afternoon for a usual bathroom mission and never returned. A reward is offered.
A reward also is tendered for finding Piglet, a white-breasted, gray-striped tiger cat, microchipped, last seen July 30.
Hope for finding the lost pets probably isn't good.
"It wouldn't surprise me if coyotes were taking pets," said Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We have coyotes predating right down from Hernando County to Lee County."
But Sharon Green said a coyote couldn't likely jump her yard's fence, and the only digging she and her husband discovered underneath it was done by a raccoon.
Also, in her efforts to locate a culprit, Foster said she intermittently has gotten up at 1 or 3 a.m. and ventured outdoors. She's seen and heard nothing.
"Aren't coyotes supposed to howl?" she asked.
Morse also suggested the possibility of alligators, but Foster said no waterways exist in the neighborhoods, just east of U.S. 19 and south of the Forest Oaks development.
Foster said she heard from a neighbor who had learned of another neighbor allegedly having recently released to the wild a ball python, an albino python and a boa constrictor.
"My gut feeling in the beginning," Foster said, "was that someone was trapping (the pets); then, after hearing about the snakes, I'm not so sure."
Perplexity reigns. Foster noted that no buzzards have been circling, no swarms of flies gathering, no odors emitting, so animal remains apparently have not been left in the neighborhood.
Morse urged anyone who knows of the release of exotic pets — an illegal act — to notify the commission at myfwc.com or call toll-free at 1-888-404-3922. The caller may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward. Morse said calls will prompt investigations and, if proved, criminal charges.
Also, Hernando County Animal Services director Liana Teague urged owners of missing pets to call her office at (352) 796-5062 and bring a photo of the pet to Animal Services headquarters on Oliver Street, adjacent to the county fairgrounds in Brooksville.
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.