MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Renato Franco Penalba awoke one morning to find his pet dog Cookie in agony, skewered by an arrow on his patio.
He raced her to a veterinarian, but the basset-Pekingese mix did not survive.
"I had never seen an animal in so much pain," veterinarian Enrique Rimbaud said Friday.
It quickly turned out that Cookie was not alone.
When Franco Penalba posted an account of the killing on a social networking site, he began to hear of other cases. Rimbaud, who is also president of the animal-protection group Amarte Foundation, says at least seven dogs have been attacked with crossbow bolts in the same upscale district of Nicaragua's capital.
In an impoverished Central American country where strays have long led miserable lives in the streets, the killing of at least seven cherished house dogs has caused an uproar on social media and in the press. Police are investigating and say they fear that people, too, could one day be targeted.
"Our dog was 9 years old. She wasn't the kind of dog who roamed the streets," said Franco Penalba, a 30-year-old business consultant.
Rimbaud said he struggled for hours to save the dog, giving her repeated injections of anesthetics before she died.
"These weapons are very powerful," Rimbaud said. "They do a great amount of damage to muscles, bones, arteries and veins."
Another attack came a 10-minute drive from Franco Penalba's house. Wilbur Arteaga was just falling asleep when he heard his dog cry out. He told the newspaper La Prensa that he went out into his yard to check, but the dog crawled under a vehicle, so he went back to bed.
In the morning, his sister-in-law found the dog dead, again with an arrow straight through his body.
Even police dogs had suffered the same kind of attack.
"There is a guard post in front of my house, and their dog killed with an arrow, too," Arteaga told the newspaper.
Whoever is killing the dogs apparently uses a relatively costly imported crossbow, something few Nicaraguans can afford, and fires custom carbon arrows that police say are not sold in Nicaragua.
"These are expensive weapons, not just anyone can afford them," said Arteaga.
"It is someone with money," said Franco Penalba.
Police say they are investigating, but so far, the only publicly known clues are that the dogs have died late at night and a gray sport utility vehicle has been seen nearby.
Nicaragua has an animal-protection law that stipulates the confiscation of weapons used to attack animals, as well as fines equivalent to about eight years of the suspect's wages.
Police commissioner Roger Paguagua Torres said he is worried that "the suspect might not just stick to animals. Tomorrow, it could be people."
Sociologist Roberto Altamirano agreed.
"It's not in just one or two cases of serial murderers who began killing animals and who later opted for human beings," he told The Associated Press. "This has to stop now."