Last week the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) confirmed they are investigating a series of dog deaths and illnesses in the Governor Francis Farms neighborhood.
Joe Warzycha from RISPCA said he received a package of reports last Thursday from a private investigator who looked into the matter.
“There is an investigation involving alleged poisoning,” said Warzycha. “A handful of dogs in a close proximity had similar medical conditions.”
Warzycha said the reports detailed six cases of potential poisonings dating back to 2004. The report said there were two cases in 2004, and one case in each 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2011. Captain Joseph Coffey of the Warwick Police Department said the private investigator was acting on his own, and decided to look into the case individually. The police had not received any reports of the dogs’ deaths prior to being informed of them by the investigator.
According to the reports, all of the dogs that fell ill had one common denominator: their owners had an altercation with the same person.
“All of these people had confrontations with the same person. After the confrontation…relatively healthy animals suddenly became very ill and died, or became very ill and recovered,” Warzycha said.
According to sources from the neighborhood, all of the dogs live near the rear of the farms near Narragansett Parkway and all had similar symptoms, including vomiting and bloody stools. According to the reports, some of the dogs experienced paralysis of their hindquarters.
Dr. Susan Littlefield, a veterinarian at Greenwich Bay Animal Hospital in East Greenwich, said those symptoms could be caused by any number of things. Narrowing it down to a specific source, she said, could be nearly impossible.
Three of the six dogs that experienced the symptoms later died from their sudden illness. Those whose dogs fell ill all claimed to have come into contact with the suspect, or walked their dogs near or on his property.
A resident of Governor Francis Farms who wished to remain anonymous said her husband and their dog had an altercation with the man eight years ago. The woman’s husband walked their dog along the boundaries of the man’s yard, and the man subsequently jumped in his car and followed them home, harassing them along the way.
“We know it’s the same man,” she said. “He’s crazy.”
Although the woman’s dog did not fall ill, she had heard from others about their encounters with the man, and their dogs’ subsequent health problems.
Additionally, four of the six people who came into contact with the man (and whose dogs later fell ill) also received anonymous threatening letters.
Warzycha said the letters threatened to provide dogs with “treats” that would make them quickly move their bowels all over the house. The letters were all signed by a clearly fictitious name. Warzycha called the contents of the letters “disturbing in nature.”
Warzycha said the private investigator’s report also included roughly 20 police reports filed by the suspect regarding complaints about neighbor’s animals.
“The circumstantial evidence is great,” he said, but acknowledges there’s not enough concrete evidence.
“There’s not enough to knock on this guy’s door and arrest him,” he said. “But it’s worthy of me looking into it more. It bothers me. I would love to be able to put a concrete case together. Everything points to this guy.”
But Coffey said there isn’t enough evidence to peg a particular person.
“There is no evidence of a suspect in the poisonings,” he said. “At this point, we’re not investigating any criminal activity.”
He also said the police would need a complaint from a citizen, which, up to this point, they have not received.
“We’re not going to investigate what a PI (private investigator) has as a hunch,” he said. But, he added, “We’re monitoring it closely.”
Despite the abundance of circumstantial evidence, there were no witnesses, though neighborhood sources purportedly saw the man sneaking into people’s back yards.
Warzycha said no formal complaint was ever filed with the RISPCA regarding the poisonings, though he was notified about the activity earlier this month by the investigator.
Now RISPCA will move forward with their own investigation. Warzycha plans to speak with all of the people involved in the six cases. He plans to ask them about their daily habits with their animals, like if their dogs were left unattended or outside alone. Obviously, said Warzycha, if they dogs were constantly monitored, it would have been harder for someone to poison them than if they were left unattended.
He also said it’s going to be difficult to confirm the dogs were poisoned – even if the poisoning happened recently, Warzycha said a simple blood test isn’t always enough to prove the dog was intentionally harmed.
If RISCPA’s investigation finds the necessary evidence, they will move forward and partner with the police for the persecution of the subject.
“We will generate probable cause and put our case together,” he said.
Should an arrest be made and the suspect found guilty, he could face penalities under Rhode Island State Law, 4-1-5, “Malicious injury to or killing animals,” a felony, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 or up to two years in jail.
“It certainly doesn’t look right,” said Warzycha of the possible poisonings. “Two or three is a coincidence, but six is more than a coincidence.”