Op-Ed

Two more cats died in serial mutilations. We hope one helps crack the case.

Stan Lewis talks about Harley, one of the recently killed cats

Stan Lewis talks about Harley, a semi-feral cat that he and his wife took care of, and became a victim in a string of cat killings.
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Stan Lewis talks about Harley, a semi-feral cat that he and his wife took care of, and became a victim in a string of cat killings.

A gruesome serial killing spree targeting cats in the Olympia area is leaving animal lovers with a gnawing sense of fear, disgust and outrage that the perpetrator might never be caught.

But a cat named Olly offers a posthumous shred of hope when one is needed most.

Olly, one of two cats killed last weekend, apparently fought back against her attacker. She might have snagged evidence under her claws, authorities say, which means maybe — just maybe — she could help bring down the scumbag responsible for eviscerating at least seven cats in similar fashion since October, then displaying them for all to see.

Forgive us for prematurely writing a tidy Hollywood ending to this South Sound horror story. But the marvels of DNA science have already provided potential movie script material to a pair of long local tragedies this spring and summer. The technology was used to identify a pair of unconnected suspects in the deaths of two Tacoma girls: 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian, murdered 32 years ago last weekend, and 12-year-old Michella Welch, slain four months before Jenni was.

DNA is increasingly being used in animal cruelty cases around the country. So why shouldn’t people hope it leads to a breakthrough in the Thurston County cat killings?

Authorities should use every tool at their disposal, especially in light of research linking animal abusers to domestic violence, child abuse, even murder.

As reported by our sister paper, The Olympian, the latest victim in the ongoing pet owner’s nightmare was an elderly tabby named Harley, an outdoor cat cared for by a West Olympia couple for two years. On Sunday, Harley’s body was found by a neighbor in the same butchered condition as the six previous victims: sliced open from sternum to genitals, with spine removed.

Olly endured a similar torture two days earlier, his body found just a few blocks away.

“I feel for the animal owners,” said Officer Erika Johnson of Thurston County Animal Control, “because I’m an animal owner myself and just the manner these animals have died is extremely horrific.”

Johnson is all too familiar with the horrific. In 2016, a three-year-old dog named Diamond was found dead, hanging from a tree on state land near Summit Lake, between Olympia and Elma. Evidence suggested the pit bull mix had been sexually assaulted.

Johnson was involved in DNA collection to try to pin down more details on the crime and the assailant. James Leroy Evans of Grays Harbor County eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree animal cruelty and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Such penalties in heinous animal-abuse cases hardly seem severe enough, though Washington has properly tightened its animal protections in recent years. The Legislature made bestiality a felony and imposed a $125 fine on anyone who confines an unattended animal in a very hot or cold vehicle. Another bill worth considering would create a law enforcement registry for animal abusers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been given a hearing.

And then there’s the idea of expanding DNA collection to people convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty, a proposal that died in the Legislature a decade ago. (A sample is already collected for first-degree cruelty.)

Such a tradeoff in privacy rights is a tough sell in Washington. But this much is certain: Veterinary forensics is a growing field, and biological evidence can be an effective tool — if not often to convict animal abusers at trial, then at least to encourage a guilty plea.

Here’s hoping Olly the DNA-collecting cat helps bring justice to seven South Sound felines and their families, and bring an end to a months-long community ordeal.

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