MIAMI - Along a quiet street in Cutler Bay, neighbors awoke last week to a startling discovery: mutilated cats left on display in the yards of family homes. Some skinned, others sliced across the stomach -- the bodies were left like talismans in some horror movie.
In all, city officials and police say, there have been about 20 cats reported found maimed and killed in Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay. Miami-Dade police, with the assistance of the county's animal services, are investigating the mystery but have made no arrests.
"We take a very dim view of this,'' said Detective Bobby Williams, a Miami-Dade police spokesman. "We find it very disturbing an individual would do something like this to defenseless animals.''
''We're looking into whether or not these cases are linked,'' he said.
The rash of cat deaths, first reported last week, prompted Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn to issue this warning on Monday: "Residents should keep their cats inside their homes until it has been determined who or what has caused these deaths and there is no longer a threat to the feline population of the village.''
On Tuesday, the Humane Society of the United States announced a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in what they said were "serial cat killings.''
''This is particularly gruesome and egregious,'' said Jennifer Hobgood, the organization's Florida director. "If you speak to the investigator, the phrase he used is that the cats are being left like `little trophies.' ''
A police report from a woman who found two cats in her yard in the 19700 block of Whispering Pines Road describes two mutilated cats: "Both were sliced open and one was posed.''
Such was the case for Chris Quarles, whose 11-year-old cat Jack was found dead last week. A Miami-Dade school counselor, Quarles said it seems as though the killings were methodical.
''He was skinned from the belly all the way down and had cut marks on his back leg,'' he said.
"The police said some cats were missing up to a week and then showed up back at their [owner's] house dismembered and killed. Somebody is thinking about what he's doing.''
His cat was found dead Thursday, within a day of about 10 cats being found in the same neighborhood.
Said Cutler Bay Mayor Paul Vrooman: "There are human victims in this and families' hearts are broken and they are going through grief as their pets are being killed.''
The scene was similar in Palmetto Bay, where Alicia Glatzer's husband found the body of one of the family's cats, Sarah, in the yard.
Part of her face was missing, her belly had been skinned and her intestines spilled onto the grass. Though it seemed unlikely, they thought the cat had been struck by a car. Then they heard news reports about the injuries inflicted on other cats nearby.
''We have two other cats,'' Alicia Glatzer said. "My concern is every day when I walk out whether I'll find another dead cat outside.''
Barbara Wiesinger, 68, said she found the bodies of several cats in her Cutler Bay neighborhood before finding her 15-year-old calico, named Cami, a few houses away. Gone was part of the cat's face.
''Your mind can't wrap around the why of it, or even the how,'' she said. "How did they get them and what are they going to do now?''
Authorities ask anyone with information to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Or they can call Miami-Dade Detective Dominick Columbro at 305-234-4237 or Miami-Dade Animal Services Investigator Fernando J. Casadevall Jr. at 305-884-1102, ext. 240.