Police in Mexico City have scoured a hilly urban park for feral dogs and tested dozens of captured animals in a hunt for those responsible for four fatal maulings that have set off a fierce debate about how to handle the thousands of stray dogs that roam the massive city.
Authorities have captured 25 dogs near the scene of the attacks in the capital's Iztapalapa district, but rather than calm residents, photos of the forlorn dogs brought a wave of sympathy for the animals, doubts about their involvement in the killings and debate about the handling of the stray dogs problem.
Activists started an online campaign protesting the dogs' innocence and calling for authorities not to put them down. Tens of thousands of dogs are euthanised each year in Mexico if they are captured by animal control officers and not claimed within 72 hours. Many people re-posted the images of the dogs staring sadly from behind bars at an animal shelter.
Officials said they were testing the captured dogs' fur for blood, and examining their stomach contents to determine if they were the killers of the four people whose bodies were found covered in dog bites in two separate incidents in recent days.
Neighbours of the Cerro de la Estrella park found the bodies of a 26-year-old woman and a one-year-old child in the area on December 29, authorities said. The woman, Shunashi Mendoza, was missing her left arm, and prosecutors said that both she and the boy had bled to death.
Then on Saturday visitors to the park found the bodies of Alejandra Ruiz, 15, and her boyfriend Samuel Martinez, 16, who had gone to the park on Saturday afternoon and were found dead from blood loss. The girl called her sister Diana Ruiz at around 7 pm pleading for help, the sister told Milenio Television.
Mexico City prosecutors said that due to the gravity of the wounds they believed at least 10 dogs were involved in each attack.
Dozens of officers returned to the park on Tuesday to capture more of the feral dogs, which live in caves and hollows in the area.
The outcry has forced a public response from Mexico City mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, who called for animal rights groups to help study the guilt or innocence of the 25 dogs, and the broader effort to reduce the number of street dogs in Mexico City.
"We're not taking any decision. The dogs are in a shelter and we have to check on their health," he said.