Four dogs have died after eating poisoned meatballs at a cross-country event in southern France in what authorities have described as an ‘odious act’.
Three of the dogs died before the start of the popular Canicross race in Vauvert last Sunday, which sees the pets and their owners go head to head in a long-distance run.
Police closed the area to the public, but tragically two more dogs have since been poisoned after their walker is said to have taken them through the barricades.
One of the pets died on Tuesday, bringing the total number of deaths in the grim saga to four.
The twisted poisoner is still at large, and is believed to have mixed the poison with the meat while wearing gloves to avoid detection by police.
A Husky called Togo (pictured), was rushed to a veterinary clinic in Montpelier after sniffing the poisoned dogs vomit, and was thankfully saved
The poisonings took place at the French Canicross championship, which sees the pets and their owners go head to head in a long-distance run (stock image)
In the first attack last Sunday, four dogs were poisoned during the race championship, which took place on a vast course in the Chemin de Beauvoisin sector.
Three of the four pooches, named as Oslo, Palma and Opale, sadly died within minutes of each other after eating the meatballs, according to Midi Libre.
Palma’s owner, Yannick, told La Voix Nord that the three animals were down within 15 seconds of each other, and that his beloved pet had died in his arms.
The fourth dog, a Husky called Togo, was rushed to a veterinary clinic in Montpelier after sniffing the poisoned dogs vomit, and was thankfully saved.
The event was cancelled as the full scale of the shocking incident emerged early on Sunday morning.
Yannick says his wife ‘saved dozens of dogs’ as the horror unfolded, warning other runners arriving at the event not to get out of their cars.
On the site, the remnants of pellets vomited up by the dogs are said to have been recovered by police.
The poison had cruelly been mixed with meatballs, and tests have since been performed.
DNA analysis of the recovered poison has been taking place at a specialist laboratory in Lyon since Thursday.
Investigators are not holding out much hope of identifying the perpetrator via this method, France 3 Regions reports, as the poisoner probably wore gloves.
Three beloved dogs, named as Oslo, Palma and Opale, sadly died within 15 minutes of each other after eating the poisoned meatballs
Investigations are still ongoing, with detectives combing through hours of CCTV footage to identify any suspicious activity.
‘All the videos from the city’s cameras are being analyzed, it’s a huge job because they have to be analyzed one by one in order to identify a possible suspicious vehicle,’ they said in a statement (roughly translated).
The area has since been cordoned off, but on Tuesday, according to investigators, ‘a resident went to walk his dogs on the spot, despite the many prohibition signs installed on the spot’. One of the pets did not survive.
If found, Nîmes prosecutor’s office would charge the perpetrator with acts of cruelty to animals, meaning they could face up to five years in prison and a 75,000 euros in fines, according to France 3.
Togo the Husky was saved by vets. Investigators are desperately trying to find the perpetrator of the heinous act
The dog sporting group la Fédération des Sports et Loisirs Canins (FSLC) condemned the attack as ‘an abject criminal act’ that had left the team ‘traumatised’.
The groups’ vets, who were on the scene and who desperately fought to save the three dogs’ lives, had been ‘powerless faced with human cruelty’, it said.
Its Vice-President, Émilie Nelson, has claimed that ‘a dozen’ meatballs were discovered in the park containing ‘black grains’.
It has still not been ascertained what the poisonous substance was, but analysis of the samples continues.
Ms Nelson described the day as ‘nightmarish’ and said the attack on the dogs was ‘extreme violence’ which could have also hurt children.
Federation president Yvon Lasbleiz called the incident an ‘odious act’ and paid tribute to the deceased sporting dogs.
‘Oslo, Palma, and Opale, your owners have lost an unconditional love, a companion who offered comfort, security and shared a common passion.
‘You had become an integral part of their family. We know how much they will miss you, the love they had for you; we understand their pain so well.
‘May the good memories give some comfort and peace to those who shared your life.’
The Canicross race on Sunday was a qualifying round for the German world championships in October.
The sport involves runners leading their trained dogs around lengthy courses and has become increasingly popular in France in recent years, in both competitive and club settings.