'It's absolutely horrific,' says vet performing necropsies on mutilated Thurston County cats

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Animals have always been Vicky Smith’s passion.

After a tour of duty in the Air Force, she became a veterinarian.  Now, Dr. Vicky Smith works at Steamboat Animal Hospital caring for pets.  Whenever an animal like the mutilated cats is found dead under suspicious circumstances, Thurston County law enforcement relies on her expertise.

She was asked to examine all of the cats found mutilated in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater.

“Most of the remains have not been fresh and a lot of them have not been intact,” said Smith.

Her examinations show the injuries to seven of the cats are similar, with a killer cutting them from groin to sternum with surgical precision.  Three of the cats, including ‘Olly,’ had their spine or parts of their spine removed.

“It takes some effort. It's not an easily reached piece of tissue so someone has to be fairly determined and have some pretty sharp instruments to do that,” said Smith.

A necropsy can take from two to six hours and includes swabs for DNA, photos and measurements of the cuts.

“We had to do a head-to-toe evaluation and then we do what's called skin reflections because animals don't show bruising on the skin very often, so basically make an incision and peal it back and look under the skin and often you see a lot of injuries there that you can't tell from the surface,” said Smith.

Her examination shows some of the cats had blunt-force trauma, meaning the killer is not just cutting them open, some have been brutally beaten.

“It's very heartbreaking because these animals suffered greatly prior to death,” said Officer Erika Johnson, the Thurston County animal cruelty investigator who has been investigating the case since the first cat was found dead on October 27, 2017.

“The suspect appears to be motivated by anger, control. There's maybe a little bit of interest here to see how everything works but they are also putting these animals out on display for everybody to find so I think it's also wanting to see a reaction,” said Johnson.

She’s hoping DNA results come back soon from the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab on claws she submitted. It’s possible one of the cats scratched the killer while being taken.

Still, she wants people to be vigilant and believes it will take a tip from the public to identify the suspect.

“There's somebody out there that's gonna see something and we need to know about that. The tips that we are looking for are more concrete tips. Not just a hunch. If you've actually seen something or somebody has been talking about this, let us know,” Johnson said.

Dr. Smith is now in the Army Reserves, where she was recently promoted to lieutenant colonel, and traveling the world to help animals. She is asking the public to keep their cats indoors at night because that is when they are being abducted.

"It's absolutely horrific that someone would deliberately do this to cats, it's beyond my capacity to understand,” said Smith.

If you know have any information to help investigators identify a suspect, the reward is $46,000.  Submit a tip to Crime Stoppers of the South Sound by calling 1-800-222-TIPS or go to www.P3Tips.com. It is anonymous.