Pet owners and protesters demonstrated in a northern Puerto Rico city on Monday, as outrage grew over the killing of dozens of animals seized from residents of housing projects.
The crowd tried unsuccessfully to meet with Barceloneta Mayor Sol Luis Fontanez, who ordered last week's seizure of the cats and dogs that were apparently later thrown from a 50-foot- (15-meter-) tall bridge. Some protesters yelled "murderer."
Fontanez, who pledged to resign if his government is found responsible, blamed a contractor hired to collect and euthanize the pets.
"My government acted according to the law," he told The Associated Press.
With the help of television news broadcasts, a few animals rescued with broken bones and other injuries were reunited with their owners. Dozens more were buried in a mass grave.
On Monday, the contractor denied responsibility and accused housing project residents of lying to get revenge for repeated raids to clear stray animals.
"There are five people that went and saw their dogs there," said Julio Diaz, owner of Animal Control solutions. "It's their version against mine, and at some point they will have to prove it in court."
Puerto Rico police chief Pedro Toledo said anyone found responsible could face cruelty charges that carry six-month to three-year prison terms.
"Depending on the evidence, charges could be filed for each dead animal," he said.
Residents said that during the confiscation, animal control officers threatened to evict those who did not comply with a no-pet policy. Fontanez said the seizure was ordered in line with federal regulations for government-supported housing.
But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington said it does not have a no-pet policy and would not authorize a mass confiscation.
"We're not only tremendously upset but deeply disgusted at the idea of anyone doing this to innocent animals," department spokesman Brian Sullivan said. "We're waiting for answers like everyone else."
Diaz said municipal workers conducted the raids and delivered the animals to his employees for transportation to a shelter. But he denied that they were the same dogs and cats thrown off the bridge that night.
He added that some of the bodies were badly decomposed and appeared to have been dumped well before the raids.
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