Another Kelowna cat killer? It's almost always coyotes

Coyotes are quite capable of ripping cats apart in such a way that it looks like they were cut with a sharp implement.
Image Credit: flickr.com

Recent findings of severed and mutilated cats in Kelowna have a striking resemblance to stories in past years in this city and around North America.

Since some of the cat bodies are found cut in half by what witnesses say could only have been a sharp implement wielded by a depraved human, rewards are offered and calls go out to find the person or persons responsible.

The body of a severed cat that was recently found in Kelowna has been sent for a necropsy to the B.C. SPCA laboratory in Abbotsford. Results of that may be available late this week.

READ MORE: Severed cat carcass being sent from Kelowna to Abbotsford for necropsy

Historically, severed and mutilated cats have rarely ever been traced to a human perpetrator, says Patrick Nation, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Alberta. He co-authored a study of cats killed over a 10-year period in Edmonton and St. Albert from 2007 to 2017.

“This is a phenomenon all over North America,” he told iNFOnews.ca. “I think in that paper we had references from California and from Florida and from Eastern Canada and from Western Canada. So it’s all over and it matches the ranges of coyotes. Would you have a psychopath or a group of psychopaths that you didn’t know about all over North America doing this? I think it’s pretty unlikely.”

Other researchers he consulted found no information linking like-minded cat killers sharing information on the internet and experts on cults said there was no evidence of cults using cats in their ceremonies. That still leaves open the possibility of individuals killing cats, but across North America, and often around the world, the stories often play out the same way, even when police get involved — arrests are rare or long after the fear dies down, detailed analysis points to predators. 

Just in Kelowna, there was media speculation about a killer on the loose in August of 2004 when at least six cats were reported murdered and mutilated in Rutland, dubbed by the media as "the Rutland Cat Killer." One person was arrested and released but no one was linked to the killings despite a $5,000 reward.

Two years later, also in August, a smaller reward was offered when two cats were found dead in Rutland. Again, there was no answer to the mystery.

It's a recurring theme and in none of those cases was there any evidence humans were involved, although that did nothing to interrupt speculation about a cat killer on the loose. 

Then late last month, a warning went out on the Kelowna/Okanagan Lost and Found Pets Facebook page about several mutilated cat bodies found in the downtown area. Two bodies were taken to the Kelowna SPCA. One had bite marks on it.

One half of another cat was reportedly found with “no blood and no bite marks” while the bottom half was found a couple of blocks away that “looked like it was cleanly cut,” according to social media posts.

That generated more than 500 comments and 1,000 shares. Of course, some of those comments pointed straight to a human cat killer.

“I can’t believe what some people will do. I hope they get help,” wrote the original poster. 

The reality is that cats are often preyed upon by predators, often coyotes, or killed by cars and mangled later by animals.

In 2018, British police announced they got to the bottom of the Croydon cat killer mystery where there were more than 400 reports of violent animal deaths over three years. A study of 25 carcasses, often with heads and tails removed, found them all to have been killed by cars and savaged by wild animals, likely foxes.

In the Edmonton situation, starting in 2007, there were reports of injuries to cats that were described with phrases like “scalpel-like cuts” and “laser edges.”

So Nation did post mortem examinations of 53 carcasses, many just partial bodies. He concluded that none were human caused but were the result of coyotes killing cats or savaging cats that had died from other causes.

“People with untrained eyes, when they make these observations, they are usually standing away from it,” Nation said. “They don’t actually pick it up and examine it closely. Very often they’re standing five or six or 10 feet away and it looks very clean from that far away. Unless you pick them up and look very closely at the edges and know what you’re looking for, it could look as if it’s a clean cut.

“It depends on how closely and how thoughtfully they’re looking at it. You have to have some experience of looking at these things to pick up the clues that it’s not been cut.”

University of Alberta biologist Colleen St. Clair co-authored the study, called A Forensic Pathology Investigation of Dismembered Domestic Cats: Coyotes or Cults?

“Nick and I discussed repeatedly that people come to this conclusion that only a knife could make such a clean-looking cut,” she told iNFOnews.ca. “That’s not true. It’s not consistent with the nature of predators and it’s just not true by what is known about cats. They have this particular weakness in their vertical column. It’s part of what gives them their flexibility. He speculated in that paper that’s why the carcasses separate in two when they’re shaken.

“In our report it wasn’t that people were saying this cat was cut up in little pieces by a butcher. They were never reporting that. They were looking at the single point where they could see flesh had been separated and saying those edges were just so suspiciously clean. What Nick was saying is teeth can do that too.

“You need to look very carefully with good light and need to be highly trained."

St. Clair noted that coyotes not only become very adaptable to city life but can specialize in preying on cats and go looking for them.

“That could explain why there might be a cluster of missing cats or what looks like mutilated cats found in concentrated areas and chunks of time,” she said. “I think there’s a very logical coyote explanation for that as well. That’s something where people had previously said, 'if this was a coyote, why were there so many in 2007' or 'why were they so prevalent in St. Albert, that’s more consistent with people.' But, people are not the only ones who are capable of learning and forming habits.”

Most of the cats they studied were killed towards the end of the summer when, she speculated, coyote parents were teaching their young to hunt.

If there was a surge of coyote killings in Kelowna in June, it could have been triggered by an increased need to feed the young.

“Pups have pretty voracious appetites,” St. Clair said. “They are in the process of being weaned and moving to solid food and, suddenly, the demands to provide solid food on the parents, they have just jumped up by orders of magnitude in the last few weeks here.”

And, as with so much else these days, COVID-19 may be a factor.

St. Clair said she’s never been sent so many pictures of coyotes in urban settings in broad daylight.

That could be the result of there being less vehicular traffic during the pandemic, more people out and about in rural areas and parks who push the coyotes into other areas or simply that more people are home and outside so they’re seeing more coyotes.

All this is not to say that people don't kill cats and other animals, perhaps even in Kelowna.

In July of 2010, there were reports of one cat in Glenmore found in a plastic bag decapitated and with its front paws cut off. Another cat was found closer to downtown that appeared to have been strangled. In the fall of 2019, a kitten was reported to have been strung up and left hanging from a string. That cat died from “blunt force” from an undetermined source, Brian Kijowski, the SPCA’s regional manager for cruelty investigations, said.

That's not to say they were killed by humans, but in these cases there is some evidence humans were involved at some point, perhaps even just collecting parts for removal. 

It's true that some psychopaths who go on to kill humans often start torturing and killing small animals at an early age, St. Clair said.

The most famous of these is Luka Magnotta, who killed a student, cut up the body and mailed out parts of him. Magnotta is believed to have made videos of himself killing cats.

That's why police do take an interest when such stories surface, but the truth is in an overwhelming number of cases, there's not nearly so much drama — just coyotes doing what wild animals do.

One of the cats in Kelowna's most recent cases is already proven to be a predator kill and the necropsy on the other cat may also reveal definitive answers. 

See the full study here.


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