Gilroy resident Janet Rey woke up at 4 a.m. on Easter Sunday to her beloved cat, a 1-year-old orange Maine Coon named Coty, howling and convulsing.
“He was having seizures every five minutes, vomiting, and he looked possessed with his eyes wide open, like he was going to kill you,” 68-year-old Rey said.
Rey said Coty’s symptoms were unmistakable: her cat had been poisoned.
Coty’s death is one of several animal poisoning suspicions on the 100 block of Ronan Avenue in northwest Gilroy during the past month. The owners suspect that a vindictive neighbor is killing their pets.
Rey rushed Coty to a veterinarian in San Jose, where he was given seizure medicine but died by 8 a.m.
“All we could do is hold him and tell him we loved him,” said Rey’s daughter, 43-year-old Dawn Appelman.
Appelman, who lives with Rey, said she found an unfamiliar, empty can of cat food in the backyard later that morning (Rey does not feed her cats canned food), confirming their suspicions. Appelman and Rey believe that the can was thown into their backyard with poisoned food in it.
Faviola Bataz, 31, Rey’s next-door neighbor also said that three of her dogs unexpectedly died in the past month, with similar symptoms such as seizing and howling.
About a month ago, Bataz got out of the shower one day to find her 3-year-old terrier mix Pelusa shaking and lethargic. Soon, Pelusa began vomiting and having seizures every five minutes.
“She was howling and shaking like she was drunk, and died within an hour of us noticing something was wrong,” Bataz said. While Pelusa’s death broke her heart, Bataz said she didn’t think much of it – until two more of her dogs suddenly died a few weeks later. Bataz has 11 remaining dogs.
Bataz said she also believes a malicious pet killer has been throwing poison over her fence into her back yard.
“I can’t point fingers yet until I know, so I’m going to set up cameras,” she said.
When a third adult dog died, Bataz reported it to the Gilroy Police, who sent the dead animal for a toxicology exam.
The toxicology report will take several weeks to complete, said Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao. Gallacinao said he could not reveal any further details, because the dog’s death is under investigation.
On Friday, Bataz crouched in her backyard with her remaining dogs – six adult dogs and five puppies less than two months old – jumping on her legs, whining and wrestling with each other.
“I didn’t intend to have all these dogs,” Bataz said. She said that pet owners have anonymously dumped dogs at her home. Over the past two years that she’s lived on Ronan Avenue, she said that “five or six” dogs have been thrown over her fence into her backyard, which is on Lily Avenue.
She said that when she usually discovers them in the morning, whining in her yard, she feeds it and cares for it as if it were her own.
When a dog is dropped off with her, Bataz said that she “doesn’t have time” to report it to animal control, so she just takes it in.
“I can’t say no to these dogs. I have a heart,” she said.
And her dogs keep multiplying. The mothers of the two separate puppy litters died this month, and Bataz said she wasn’t sure who the puppies’ fathers are.
None of the dogs are spayed or neutered.
“That’s probably my bad,” Bataz said. “I just don’t have the time.”
Bataz is afraid that the city will fine her for having so many dogs. City code allows for five dogs and cats maximum combined – but she claims that animal control won’t take them from her because they are full and the San Martin shelter won’t take them because she lives within Gilroy city limits.
It’s true, said Lavonne Gonzales of the San Martin Animal Shelter, animals found within city limits must be taken to the GPD or a shelter in San Jose, while animals found in unincorporated areas of the county are taken in by the San Martin location.
Bataz said her plan is to take the dogs to Monterey County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but said that she hasn’t had time. She is looking for homes for all five puppies.
Gallacinao said he was not aware of any calls made to the GPD – which operates animal control – from Bataz regarding this matter.
“The police department is here to serve, and we would do what we could to resolve the issue had we heard,” Gallicinao said.
“Even if she good-heartedly takes in these animals, she needs to make sure she is in compliance with all the safety standards that are approved by the city,” he said.
The city also requires that all dogs and cats within city limits must be licensed with the GPD. The fee to license is $25 per year per unneutered or unspayed pet, or $70 for three years. The fee is lower ($17 per year) if the pet is spayed or neutered.
Bataz said that she suspects a couple of her neighbors at the apartment complex directly behind her house, Lily Gardens Apartments, have a vendetta against her dogs.
Ruby Garcia, 46-year-old Lily Gardens resident, the apartment complex off Monterey Road that backs up to Ronan Avenue said she can’t stand Bataz’ dogs. Garcia said that the dogs bark all through the night and that no one can walk by their yard without the dogs going crazy.
“It’s so irritating. They run after you when you’re walking by, barking and sometimes they get out on the street,” Garcia said. “I just wish she detained them.”
Garcia, who described herself as a dog lover, said that she’s fine with people who want to keep lots of animals, as long as they keep them under control. Although she said she has never complained to the police about Bataz’ dogs, she has had many conversations with her neighbors at Lily Gardens, who she said agree with her.
“Sometimes I want to get a pellet gun and shoot them, but of course I’m not going to do that,” Garcia said.
Other neighbors at Lily Apartments were either not home, did not come to the door, or declined to comment.
Gallacinao said that a public information request needed to be made to obtain information on whether any residents at Lily Gardens or the 100 block of Ronan Avenue have made calls to animal control, and that he could not provide immediate information.
Calls to animal control were not returned on Monday.
Mallory Kerley, spokeswoman for the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that there are ways for animal owners to help prevent malicious pet poisoning, such as keeping pets supervised, and making sure they are not a disturbance to others.
“Often people who rescue animals have good intentions, but then it starts to get out of hand,” Kerley said.
Rey said her seven cats were detained to a fenced backyard most of the time, but do escape now and then by climbing over the garage. Now that her cat Coty is dead, she said she is keeping the other six cats on lockdown because she is afraid of the “pet killer” she believes is on the loose.
Rey and Bataz said they are still grieving from the loss of their pets, and are horrified that someone out there would kill a beloved animal.
“People don’t understand what an animal goes through when it is poisoned,” Appelman said. “Whoever did this is cruel and sick.”
Animal poisoning is illegal under California state law. Anyone who willfilly kills an animal is subject to a fine up to $20,000 or imprisonment in county jail for up to one year.
Tips from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on how to prevent malicious animal poisoning in your neighborhood.
• Be a good neighbor. If the animal barks or gets into neighbor’s trash cans, try to train it not to.
• Keep your pet in a secure area.
• Keep your yard clean. Remove unfamiliar items quickly.
• Supervise your pet.
• Report any suspicious behavior immediately.
Anyone with information regarding animal poisoning is urged to call Gilroy Police animal control at 846-0350. Parties wishing to remain anonymous may call WeTip at 1-800-782-7463.