PALM HARBOR — Cats die all the time. What happened to Cisco, an amiable black-and-white feline known to roam the streets of the Noell Heights subdivision, was something else.
Cisco was murdered.
That's the view of Penny Soben, Cisco's owner, who on May 26 found out her 7-year-old cat had been discovered dead by a neighbor.
Cisco was lying on a lawn with his abdomen sliced open from chest to tail. His entrails had been entirely removed, Soben said. There were also marks on Cisco's neck, indicating he had been hanged before he was eviscerated.
"All you could see was his spinal cord," Soben said. "There was no blood, no guts, no nothing. Whoever it was took all that stuff with him."
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is investigating Cisco's death as an animal-cruelty case, spokesperson Cecilia Barreda said. But what has animal lovers in North Pinellas worried is that this is the third reported instance of cat mutilation in the area in about two months.
In late April, the Suncoast Animal League informed the Sheriff's Office that two kittens with bizarre injuries had been found in Dunedin. Rick Chaboudy, the organization's executive director, said one cat was discovered in a garbage can with its tail hacked off. In an odd touch, Band-Aids had been applied to the stump.
Another kitten, a male, was found with its genitals partially cut off.
Both animals were rescued, received medical treatment and were later adopted, Chaboudy said. While the incidents took place separated by weeks and in separate, albeit neighboring, communities, fear remains that the gruesome attacks could be the work of one person.
Chaboudy even cited the notion that pathological killers of human beings get started on animal victims.
"This is highly unusual," Chaboudy said. "It's a very scary situation, because this is probably not the first time they're doing something like this. It's just escalated to a higher level. That's where your serial killers come from."
Maria Caceres, who lives next door to Soben, said she worries that the cats at her own home could be in danger, or even some of the neighborhood's children.
"We're very scared that the person lives in the neighborhood," she said.
The Sheriff's Office has appealed to the public for any information about the animal mutilations. In the meantime, Soben has put the brakes on plans to familiarize her two remaining kittens with the outdoors.
"I'm not letting them out at all," she said. "I'm freaked out."
Peter Jamison can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.