At least four dogs were poisoned and three died during a canine cross-country competition in France at the weekend.
The organisers of the French Canicross 30 championships, in which pet owners run with their animals, said the dogs had been killed with poison-laced meatballs.
A number of suspected meatballs are being examined to identify the poison, and the public prosecutor in Nîmes has opened an investigation into animal cruelty.
A fourth dog that was critically ill on Sunday is said to be recovering after treatment.
The alleged poisoning is believed to have happened on Sunday morning in the town of Vauvert in the south of France during the second and final day of the event. As the dogs fell ill and died, the day’s events were cancelled and teams of owners and event volunteers scoured the area for more of the meatballs.
The four poisoned dogs were due to take part in the final race – with the winners qualifying for the world Canicross championships, due to be held in Germany in October – and died within 15 minutes of eating the meat. A team of vets on hand for the competition was unable to save them.
The Federation of Canine Sports and Leisure, which organised the event, said everyone was in shock and described the attack on the dogs as “an abject criminal act”, claiming that “someone put poisoned meatballs on the site”.
“It was very difficult for our team of vets who were there and a major trauma for them. Our vets are there for the races but not for the unimaginable … we are powerless faced with human cruelty,” it wrote.
On its Facebook page, the federation president, Yvon Lasbleiz, described it as “a particularly despicable act”.
Immediately after the incident, the town mayor banned anyone walking in the local woods and countryside while investigators established what happened.
A criminal act of animal cruelty carries a maximum prison sentence of two years and a fine of up to €30,000.
Cécile Gensac, the Nîmes public prosecutor, told local journalists that evidence was still being gathered to “work out what happened”.
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