Attack of the wild dogs in Mexico City?

Authorities have blamed five residents' deaths on packs of . But relatives are asking for further investigation, and animal rights supporters have raised a furor about wild roundups.

Already mired in drug violence that has taken an average of 10,000 lives per year in the past six years, Mexico is now contending with another menace: .

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An alleged rash of deadly canine attacks in Mexico City has appalled residents here – even as doubt grows that the five fatalities announced in recent days were at the jaws of dogs – and provoked a hot debate about pet culture in the country.

The three separate, suspected dog attacks have taken place in a wooded park in Mexico 's southern Iztapalapa borough, according to police reports. Authorities say the bodies were found mutilated by dog bites.

Among the victims are two 15-year-old girls, a 16-year-old boy, and a 26-year-old mother along with her 8-month-old son. All were found in the urban national park known as “Star Hill,” a popular spot for morning joggers, weekend hikers, and young couples looking for privacy.

But swaths of the park are rarely frequented and largely abandoned by authorities. According to news reports, packs of dogs, perhaps left by owners who tired of their pets, live in caves around the hill.

Police rounded up more than 50 dogs and were testing their stomach contents. Twenty-five have since been released, according to news reports.

The news has provoked disbelief among locals, many of whom are strongly skeptical of official reports, and anger from people who live in the area. Authorities only began rounding up dogs after a Jan. 5 incident, although the first victim was reportedly found Dec. 17 and two more were discovered Dec. 29.

“At first, I just didn't believe it,” says David Bandala, a resident, while walking his dog on a recent day. “A gang of assassin dogs? There seem to be pieces missing from the puzzle.”

Although investigations into the attacks are ongoing, relatives of those killed are asking for a more thorough inquiry, while dog advocates have decried the roundup as inhumane.

Judging by the number of pet dogs in the city, which the city health department estimates at about 1.2 million, it might be fair to say that Mexicans love dogs. But the downside of the city's pet culture – including barking dogs left on their rooftops at night and owners who fail to pick up after their dogs in parks – has been thrown in the spotlight. At worst, dogs are often abandoned.

“Even people who buy fancy-breed dogs get bored after a year and they leave them in the street, where they become wild,” says Mr. Bandala.

City sidewalks are often spotted with feces, even though prominent signs exhort better behavior, and many more owners never walk their dogs at all. It's not unusual to see hungry-looking dogs on rooftops and balconies, permanently installed there to scare away would-be robbers.

There are thousands more strays. Sterilization is not especially common, although the city this week highlighted its free sterilization clinics.

Edilberto Alvarez works for the city as a park caretaker and laments that, mornings, the park is littered with droppings. Mr. Alvarez says he and his wife clean up regularly after their own two dogs at home. But he admits that he owns them for protection, and they never come down off the roof.

“We never take them for a walk,” he says. “We just keep them locked up.”

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