DNA testing has confirmed that a coyote was responsible for the mutilation and death of two cats discovered recently in the Lake Hollinsworth area of Lakeland.
At first there was concern deaths of three cats were due to a criminal act, but a forensic pathologist eventually determined an animal was responsible for two. DNA samples were taken from the carcasses to determine the predator’s species.
“It is my opinion that the cats in question were killed by a coyote,” geneticist AnnMarie Clark wrote in a report issued Wednesday by the University of Florida’s W.R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine in Gainesville.
Clark wrote that the DNA testing was specific for canids and could distinguish between domestic dog, coyote, fox and wolf. According to the report, two samples were tested.
“The sequence matches for this case are 97 percent, which indicates a strong match,” she wrote.
One cat, which appeared to be cut in half behind the front legs, was found March 5 on the 1400 block of Newport Avenue, a police report said. The back half of the cat was found the next day about two blocks away, the report said.
In April, the front half of a cat’s body was found on the 1400 block of Easton Drive, police said. That cat’s owner lives on the 2400 block of Newport Avenue, about two blocks away.
Another mutilated cat was found a day later about a half-mile away on Brook Lane, police said.
Florida’s urban areas are known to have a large population of coyotes, and many prowl at night food. Authorities have warned pet owners to keep an close eye on their animals and not let them roam free in neighborhoods.
Before an animal was identified as the killer, a Lakeland veterinarian analyzed one of the cats and told police it was likely dismembered by a knife or sharp object. Further testing by a UF animal pathologist refuted that opinion.
However, at one point, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person responsible for the cats’ deaths.