The decomposing bodies of 13 dogs that had been shot to death recently were found dumped in separate piles on the outskirts of the rural town of Fallon, Nevada, about 60 miles east of Reno.
Officials believe all of the animals came from the same place, deputies said Tuesday. Churchill County Sheriff Ben Trotter said that suspicion is based on the fact that "the decomposition levels are pretty much the same on all the dogs," he told FoxNews.
Four carcasses were found about 5 miles southwest of downtown Fallon on Feb. 9. Another seven were found Saturday, March 2, a few miles north of the others toward U.S. Highway 50. On Monday, March 4, two more were discovered by a KRNV-TV news crew from Reno, Sheriff Trotter said.
The dogs are of various breeds and sizes and include pit bulls, dachshunds, a golden retriever, a border collie, a Jack Russell terrier and a golden Pomeranian.
Fallon has a population of less than 9,000 people and is located where U.S. Hwy 95 crosses U.S. Hwy 50, called the "Lonliest Highway in America" because of its remoteness.
"Maybe we had a so-called rescue center that was over-populated. Or maybe it was a hoarder who couldn't pay for food,” the Sheriff said.
“We've been asking for people's help if they noticed their neighbor's dog population recently dropped off. We have had a couple of leads trickle in and we are tracking them down," Trotter said.
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.
Teresa Summers, Executive Director for the agency, told reporters 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, Summers and others hope the deaths will bring attention to the lack of animal protection laws in this rural high-desert community, which was originally established to house those building a massive government irrigation system in the early 1900s.
"Churchill County is terrible. We have zero laws. The city has some animal ordinances but the county has none," said Sheriff Trotter, who has been trying to change that since he was elected in 2010.
“Any prosecution of the dogs’ killer likely would have to come under state laws prohibiting inhumane treatment of animals,” he said.
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 remarked, "and we have nothing out here to even control that kind of stuff. It's very problematic for my agency."
Trotter continued, “Churchill is the only county in Nevada that doesn't even have so much as a law requiring pets to be kept on leashes...Dogs are really the biggest problem.”
They are asking for information from anyone who may know who shot the dogs and dumped them and hope they can prevent this from happening again or becoming a common way for someone to dispose of unwanted animals.
"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."
Sources: (Fox News, Las Vegas Sun)