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Cats dead? Well, maybe

Has a serial cat killer hit Original Carrollwood?

Or has a wild rumor caused homeowners in this close-knit community to go on high alert?

Either way, it's a mystery for Hillsborough Sheriff's deputies, who are investigating reports that up to 17 dead cats have been found shot, stabbed, poisoned or mutilated in people's yards.

The problem is that deputies have not seen the cats.

"Right now all we have are rumors about cats being killed," said John Greene, a community service officer at the sheriff's Fountain Oaks community station. "We are doing the best we can to quell the rumors or find some victims."

Deputies so far have only third-hand information. "And that's been frustrating for us," Greene said.

Greene said it began when an officer with the Carrollwood Civic Association called sheriff's community resource deputy Ann Vaccaro to report what she had heard concerning a string of cat killings.

Greene said Vaccaro visited neighbors and a local veterinary clinic, but could find no evidence of dead cats. Vaccaro is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Before long, the community's crime watch captain, Eric Hyde, began receiving telephone calls from residents who heard the same stories. He sent a mass e-mail to the 937-home community warning homeowners to keep an eye on their pets.

Hyde said he felt a duty to warn the residents, even though he had not seen any dead cats.

"This is a big deal," Hyde said. "We've got people who are riled up, but so far I have not seen a cat. I don't have anyone who has actually given us a cat. At least right now people are taking precautions with their cats."

Chuck Kim, office manager at the Carrollwood Recreation Center, said he is also fielding questions from residents.

"All around Lake Carroll, people have been finding dead cats shot, stabbed and mutilated," Kim said. "What I heard was, there have been nine so far. My understanding is they were being left in front of people's homes."

Hyde said he also heard some were found dead next to egg cartons after they supposedly ate poison from the cartons. He estimated there were up to 17 reported dead cats.

While there's not evidence of a crime, Greene said the sheriff's office takes the rumors seriously.

"We are initiating a directed patrol activity in the area to look out for suspicious activity with people, cats and everything else," he said. "We have no leads, and really no victims at this point. It has all been hearsay, but we are working on it and keeping a vigil watch."

_ Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at