SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A little girl whose cats were seized by officials. An orphaned boy with learning disabilities who saw his dog taken away - and now sees no point in living. A family who returned home to find their black Labrador puppy gone forever.
They are among residents of public housing projects in the town of Barceloneta whose dogs and cats were confiscated by municipal officials and animal control workers, injected with unknown substances and hurled off a bridge in early October. A lawsuit filed by families who lost their pets illustrates why the massacre of some 80 animals generated global outrage.
"While the raids were going on, children watched the brutality; pets soiled themselves out of sheer fear and trauma, people screamed or cried," the lawsuit alleges. Animals were injected while being restrained with a noose on a stick, and then "slammed" into a waiting van, it says.
When Madeline Maldonado and her husband, Abraham Valencia, returned home Oct. 10, the raid was over. Neighbors said their 4-month-old Lab, wearing a red collar and dog tags, had been seized under laws prohibiting pets in the housing projects. After news reports said the seized pets were at the bottom of a 17-meter (50-foot) ravine, the couple went there and found their dog's corpse, the suit says.
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Thalia Valle, 10, was with her family's three cats when workers of Animal Control Solutions and the city demanded her animals, threatening to evict her and her family if she didn't obey, the suit says. She later saw her pets on the TV news, in a pile of dead animals at the bottom of the bridge.
The US$22.5 million (euro15.4 million) lawsuit, filed on behalf of 16 families on Oct. 19, said Julian Lopez, a 15-year-old special education student, became so distraught he threatened to kill himself. Lopez is an orphan, raised by his grandmother. Her small dog, named Chispi, was among the animals killed.
Barceloneta Mayor Sol Luis Fontanes, named as a defendant in the suit, said the city's responsibility ended after Animal Control Solutions took the pets away in vans. Also sued is the company's owner, Julio Diaz, who said there is no proof his company threw the animals off the bridge.