When Miss Kitty didn't show up for breakfast one morning this month, her owner knew something was wrong with the 2-year-old stray cat they'd come to care for as a pet.
But when Thomas Shad went looking for the cat, he wasn't prepared for what he found.
"Her head was smashed in. Her head was crushed," he told ABCNews.com. "And her back legs were skinned."
Miss Kitty's gruesome killing was just one of the more than two dozen horrific cat deaths that have upset residents in neighboring upscale Miami-area towns in the last month. While mourning the loss of their pets, many of which were considered members of the family, some wonder if humans will be the next target.
"It's just heartbreaking to hear every day about another one," Thomas Shad's wife, Mary Lou Shad, said. "I'm concerned he's going to start escalating up to children and old ladies."
The Shads, who have two indoor cats that have not been harmed, began caring for Miss Kitty about a year and a half ago when the then-feral kitten started coming to their Cutler Bay house. And trapping Miss Kitty to spay her, the black cat lived outdoors on their property as the Shads worked to turn her into a house cat.
Now, Thomas Shad said, their other two cats are even allowed in the screened-in porch unless her or his wife are out there with them. There have been about 10 cats killed in his neighborhood alone, he said, including his neighbor's the same night as Miss Kitty's death.
All, he said, were mutilated or beaten in some way, some skinned and others gutted.
It's caused a great deal of fear and paranoia, according to Mary Lou Shad.
"When I'm driving I'm looking for dead cats," she said. "I don't need to live like this."
Miami-Dade Police Det. Robert Williams told ABCNews.com that the killings began in early April.
"It's very disconcerting," he said. "You have an individual or individuals out there who are attacking defenseless animals."
Looking for Suspects as Cat Deaths Mount
Williams said police are still unsure whether the killings were committed by one or two people, kids or adults or even if they live in the area. A reward of up to $3,500 for information has been offered by Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers.
"We're hoping someone's going to come forward," Williams said, even if they only have a small detail that can help break the case.
Anyone convicted of these crimes would face animal cruelty charges, which carry sentences of at least one year in prison.
While the killings started in Cutler Bay, the most recent deaths have been in neighboring Palmetto Bay.
That's where the Gleason family is mourning the loss of their cat Tommy, who was found in their front yard Monday morning.
Donna Gleason said Tommy appeared on their doorstep a year and a half ago, shortly after they decided to get a cat for their young daughter.
Tommy was just what they were looking for – good with both kids and dogs. Tommy would sleep in and around the house during the day, Gleason said, and roam the neighborhood at night always making it back in time for breakfast and to play with her daughter, now 6 years old.
On Monday morning, as her husband Ron Gleason worked in the garage, a neighbor came over to tell him that Tommy was dead in the Gleason's front yard.
"His stomach was ripped open," his intestines were on the lawn and he's been partially skinned, Donna Gleason said. "I didn't see it. I didn't want to see it."
The Gleasons, having heard about the rash of cat killings, called the police who sent three detectives out to take photographs and collect Tommy's body. They've told their daughter that Tommy was killed by another animal.
"She doesn't need to know there are evil people like that in the world," Donna Gleason said. "It's hard enough for me to deal with."
Keeping Cats Safe
The killings are so shocking, Gleason said, not only for their brutal nature, but because the two towns don't see a lot of crime.
"You don't know what someone like that is going to do," she said, adding that her husband has taken it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood when he leaves for work early each morning.
"Studies have shown that there is a connection between animal cruelty and then human violence," said Laurie Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Greater Miami Adopt-a-Pet. "It's a scary situation."
Hoffman said they've been working with the county to distribute information on keeping cats safe since they have a clinic located in Cutler Bay.
The best thing cat owners can do is keep them indoors, Hoffman said. She also recommended keeping outdoor lights on at night and reporting even the slightest suspicion to police.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 1-305-471-TIPS.