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Late last May, the body of a dog was found in a playground on Sharett Street in Kiryat Tivon, just meters from its home. The dog, Sean, had disappeared the previous evening. The next day, eight dead cats were found, including a mother and her four kittens, scattered in a yard on the same street. Several days later, a neighboring yard turned up five more dead cats.

At first the killings seemed to be confined to this one street, presumed to be a settling of scores among neighbors. The cause of death, poisoning by organic phosphates, only bolstered the hypothesis that there was a single killer.

But a few days later, at the other end of town, a mutt named Sheleg was poisoned to death by the same substance. Dr. Yair Ben Zioni, the veterinarian who fought to save her life, said that Sheleg died of asphyxiation within minutes, after foaming at the mouth, convulsing and vomiting.

The poisonings continued to spread to other streets in Tivon, and the number of pets killed reached 60: seven dogs and 53 cats were poisoned in the course of two months.

The horrific sights of dead cats and dogs lying in the streets and neighborhood parks still send shivers up residents' spines. And suspicion is rife - there's the neighbor with "a criminal past regarding cats, since reformed," the "cat haters" from the local council's sanitation department, and even the straight-laced neighbor with a split personality who reveals his dark side when night falls.

"We're definitely dealing with a psychopath," says Michaela Shingler, who had five cats poisoned and another seven disappear in the past two months. Shingler said that most of the cats hang out in the yards and gather several times a day at set times and eating spots.

"This criminal murderer had an easy time of it. He took advantage of the cats' gathering, spread the bait around, inserted the phosphate, and the cats ate," she hypothesized. Shingler shuddered at the thought of what could have happened had a child playing nearby touched the poison and then stuck his hand in his mouth.

Amos Birnboim, 52, of Kiryat Tivon also used to feed cats in the yard, and had eight of them poisoned since May. Like Shingler, he is pained by the thought that the animals' final minutes were excruciating.

The animal welfare organization Ahava filed a police complaint, but maintains that despite contacting them five times, the police failed to investigate and closed the cases on the grounds of "perpetrator unknown."

Ahava's legal counsel, Tamar Ullman, says she complained to the public security minister against a police officer who she claims declined to take down a complaint of pet poisoning, on the grounds that "if there is no suspect, you cannot file a complaint."

Zvulun regional police commander, Jamal Hakrush, said that only one complaint had been filed, and that an investigation was launched. "We view these matters gravely and will be happy to receive from the public any information leading to a suspect's arrest," he said.