"I miss him so much," Lorena Vázquez said of her beloved dog Lukas who died of a heart attack after a walk in a Mexico City park. "Now I just want to see justice done and find out who or what was responsible so nothing like this ever happens again."
Up to 18 dogs reportedly died suddenly after being walked in Parque México in the city's swanky and cosmopolitan Condesa neighborhood over the course of the week spanning the end of September and the beginning of October. Four additional dogs have since perished, according to local media.
With the uncertainty continuing, the playground of some of the country's most loved and pampered pets is now infused with gossip and fear, while police efforts to find the so-called Mataperros, or Dog Killer, are getting nowhere fast and beginning to look like a witch hunt.
Photo by Nathaniel Janowitz
A group of the owners of the deceased pets met with investigators on Friday for a rundown of the leads found so far.
"The truth is that there is nothing concrete yet," Alexander Segovia, whose pitbull was among the first to die, told VICE News.
Segovia said police told the owners they have yet to find anything untoward in their revision of around 240 videos of the area from surveillance cameras and the mobile phones of passers by. "There are lots of videos and very few officers on the job," he said. "They have to eventually show suspicious people."
The meeting came the day after the authorities revealed that tests on rat poison police found when searching the home of a 63-year-old retired chemist did not match the substances identified in the dead dogs. Segovia said the police had obtained a search warrant after three witnesses said they'd heard the suspect both identify herself a the Mataperros and threaten to do it again while at a street food stand.
The woman herself gave an interview to the newspaper Gráfico outside her home in which she insisted she was innocent. "The police shouldn't go after old ladies like me, they should go after people who are criminals," Ana Guadalupe Vela Conn said.
Vela explained that it all stemmed from an irritated exchange she had at the food stand with the owner of an unruly doberman. She recalled saying "This is why they are killing dogs in the Condesa..see if your dog doesn't show up dead."
At Friday's meeting police also told dog owners that they have an artist's impression of another potential suspect — a younger woman who was seen putting down something in a street near Parque México that could conceivably have been poison.
"The suspects continue to be suspects," Segovia said, insisting that doubts about both women will only be cleared up if they do not appear on the many hours of videos still to be watched.
Meanwhile, the US-based organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has offered a $5,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the capture of the poisoner.
Anybody who were convicted of killing the dogs could face up to four years for each dog killed, and up to six years if the judge took the animal's suffering before death into account.
With the case apparently so far from any resolution, the idea of the Mataperros now hangs over the Condesa, a neighborhood that is otherwise largely immune from the security crisis that stalks residents of many other parts of Mexico, including some areas of the capital.
While police presence is minimal is some of the city's most dangerous barrios, officers stationed next to the park confirmed to VICE News that they were working in shifts to watch for suspicious activity 24 hours a day in response to the dead dogs case.
"There's a lot of gossip in the park," said a professional dog walker called Angel as he exercised nine dogs in his charge. "Thank god nothing has happened to these guys, I'd be in a lot of trouble."
Angel said he was both confused by how many women were under suspicion, and pointed to widespread rumours that the deaths were caused by rat poison put down by the authorities or the managers of the many restaurants in the area.
Segovia, the dog owner who lost his pitbull, ruled out the possibility of an anti-rat offensive gone wrong because the police investigation had discovered that the dead dogs were killed by a mixture of common rat poison and strychnine, a highly toxic pesticide that has been banned in Mexico for a decade.
"Strychnine is not easy to get. It is not used by the authorities or by restaurants to kill rats," he said. "It shows that this was not a mistake."
Guillermo Islas, a stained glass artisan who has worked in Parque México for years, told VICE News that he believed the deaths could stem from an underlying tension between the dog owners and other users of the park.
"There's always been a problem between the two groups," Islas said, adding that the tension had increased since the completion of a special doggy playground in the park earlier this year. "Many people were angry when they built this dog playground here, and nothing for children. Where do the children play?"
Islas said he chose not to bring his own dog to the park because he thought there were too many there already.
Meanwhile, dog owners who do use the park remain nervous, and angry.
"No one knows when another dog could die. It could be tomorrow, it could be the next day, a month from now," Victor Cervantes said as he walked his two dogs keeping them on tight leashes. "But if I see someone suspicious, putting down food, and find out they're poisoning dogs…"— Cervantes took his glove off and made a slicing motion from his neck across his torso.