in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico
Back roads, gorges, and garbage dumps on this tropical island are littered with the decaying carcasses of dogs and cats.
An Associated Press investigation reveals why: Possibly thousands of unwanted animals have been tossed off bridges, buried alive, and otherwise inhumanely disposed of by taxpayer-financed animal control programs.
Witnesses who spoke with the AP said that, despite pledges to deliver adoptable strays to shelters and humanely euthanize the rest, the island's leading private animal control companies generally did neither.
News that live animals had been thrown to their deaths from a bridge reached the public last month, when Animal Control Solutions, a government contractor, was accused of inhumanely killing some 80 dogs and cats seized from three housing projects in the town of Barceloneta. A half dozen survived the fall of at least 50 feet.
The AP probe, which included visits to two sites where animals were slaughtered, found the inhumane killings were far more extensive than that one incident. The AP saw and was told about a scale and brutality far beyond even what animal welfare activists suspected, stretching over the last eight years.
A $22.5 million lawsuit against Animal Control Solutions and city officials—including those who helped round up the animals—was filed on behalf of 16 Barceloneta families whose dogs or cats were seized under rules prohibiting pets at the city projects.
The animals' treatment shows "a cold and depraved heart and has stirred public outrage around the whole world," the lawsuit says.
Julio Diaz, owner of Animal Control Solutions and a co-founder of another company, Pet Delivery, declined AP requests for an interview but told reporters there is no proof his company was responsible for the Barceloneta pet massacre.
"We have never thrown animals off any place," he said.
A police investigation into the Barceloneta killings has not led to charges, but police Sgt. Wilbert Miranda, who heads the probe, said the information gathered so far indicates Animal Control Solutions was responsible. He declined to give details.
Maria Kortright, a lawyer involved in the suit, said it's clear the pets Animal Control Solutions removed from Barceloneta were the same ones hurled off the bridge because the survivors have been identified by their owners.
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