RENO, Nev. – The bodies of more than a dozen dogs that were shot to death and dumped on the outskirts of a rural town likely all came from the same place, deputies said Tuesday.
Churchill County Sheriff Ben Trotter said that suspicion was "based on the fact the decomposition levels are pretty much the same on all the dogs."
The bodies of 13 dogs have been found, including two discovered Monday by a KRNV-TV news crew from Reno, Trotter said. The carcasses of 11 dogs previously were found in two separate piles just miles apart on the edge of Fallon, about 60 miles east of Reno.
"We have had a couple of leads trickle in and we are tracking them down," Trotter said. "Maybe we had a so-called rescue center that was over-populated. Or maybe it was a hoarder who couldn't pay for food. We've been asking for people's help if they noticed their neighbor's dog population recently dropped off."
The Churchill County Animal Protection Service has been combing records for any clues based on lists of people who were trying to place dogs or found lost dogs, but so far with no luck.
"We are dumbfounded," said Teresa Summers, the service's executive director. "We don't know where these dogs came from."
Four carcasses were found about 5 miles southwest of downtown Fallon on Feb. 9, Trotter said. Another seven were found Saturday a few miles north of the others toward U.S. Highway 50.
They included pit bulls, dachshunds, a golden retriever, a border collie, a Jack Russell terrier and a golden Pomeranian.
Summers said it's not unusual for pet owners to put down an animal they don't want or can't care for, "but most of the time, they dump them in the middle of nowhere, take them out in the desert and shoot them. It's a real oddity for all the dogs to be in the same place."
Trotter and others hope the deaths will bring attention to the lack of animal protection laws in the rural high-desert community, which dates back to the creation of a massive government irrigation system in the early 1900s.
Any prosecution of the killer likely would have to come under state laws prohibiting inhumane treatment of animals, he said.
"Churchill County is terrible. We have zero laws. The city has some animal ordinances but the county has none," said Trotter, who has been trying to change that since he was elected in 2010.
Neighboring tribal police recently removed about 100 cats being kept by a woman on a 5-acre parcel of reservation land in the county, he said.
"Talk about stinking," he said. "And we have nothing out here to even control that kind of stuff. It's very problematic for my agency."
Trotter said Churchill is the only county in Nevada that doesn't even have so much as a law requiring pets to be kept on leashes. He said opposition to the idea is based on part that Nevada considers public rangeland to be open, no fences required.
He said deputies themselves have contributed to that misunderstanding in the past.
"For decades, deputies have been telling people it's open range, that we are a no-fence state. But that applies to livestock, it doesn't apply to dogs," he said. "What it comes down to is, your dogs can run anywhere they want if they don't kill someone's cows or bite somebody. Dogs are really the biggest problem. Cows knock fences down and get out, but they generally obey when we try to put them back."
Summers said a number of rescue groups in the area are available to take in unwanted pets or help care for them.
"There are resources out there. Whoever did this didn't try very hard," she said. "We'd like to have this situation resolved. We don't want people to think that's how people in Churchill County treat their dogs -- just take them out and shoot them."