The Mexican city of Hermosillo, in the border state of Sonora, has become the setting for an inexplicable act of cruelty. Since mid-March, somebody is systematically poisoning the dogs of Hermosillo, and not just strays: At least 64 pet dogs and six strays have died of a similar poison in the past couple of weeks.

Authorities were stunned when 10 dead dogs were found or reported in one day.

No one knows who the dog killer is, or whether it’s more than one. The "Mataperros," or "The Dog Killer" uses an organic phosphate compound, possible an insecticide or rat poison.

Officials say the killer even has tossed poison into the gated patios of some homes.

A male caller to a local radio station in Hermosillo claimed to be, along with accomplices, the killer. But he complained about loose dogs, dog bites and dogs spreading disease and uncleanliness — complaints that don't jibe with attacks on pets inside their owners' homes.

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Animal rights activist Carolina de la Torre said it’s likely more than one killer is involved because there appears to be a modus operandi: poison wrapped in a hot dog or meat as bait.

"This is systematic. This can't be the work of one person alone," said De la Torre, who says a total of at least 71 dogs have been killed in the city of about 800,000.

She said the killings appear to be concentrated in three neighborhoods on the city's south side.

"It could range from a neighbor who is bothered by noise (from pets), or even thieves who want to get rid of the dog in order to be able to break into the house," said De la Torre. "Those are the two theories we are looking at."

Animal defenders are starting to fight back – even across the border.

Los Angeles-based actor Raul Julia Levy has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit or culprits.

"When have you heard of anything like this?" Julia Levy said, "We know there are serial killers of humans, but we've never heard of a serial killer of dogs."

While killing a dog is considered a non-serious crime in Hermosillo, punishable by a fine of about $225, the dog killer has introduced poison into people's homes, a much more serious crime involving trespass and risk for the human inhabitants that could carry a four-year sentence.

Hermosillo resident Julieta Robles, 23, lost her 5-year-old female German Shepherd, "Box," to the poisoner two weeks ago. The dog had gotten out of her home, but was wearing a collar and tag.

"When she came home that night, she was disoriented," Robles said. "We tried to help her, we took her to the vet, but we couldn't save her."

"It was a feeling of a lot of helplessness," Robles added, "not knowing who they are or how to respond to a mass poisoning."

The killings started to come to light in mid-March. While an average of about 10 dogs, mainly strays, are found dead in Hermosillo each month, authorities were stunned when 10 dead dogs were found or reported in one day.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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