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Pet's gruesome slaying angers family, neighbor

The Sheriff's Office is looking for clues in the dismemberment of a Spring Hill family's cat, Socks.

Published June 29, 2005

SPRING HILL - Eugene VanNostrand's cat was killed and cut in half early Monday.

Now he wants to know who did it.

And why.

"Hideous," he said. "Is that the word?"

Sometime between 4:30 and 6 a.m., someone slit the cat's neck, sliced the cat in half and left the bloody remains in a yard across the street from the VanNostrand home near the corner of Whitewood Avenue and Little Falls Drive. The back half could not be found.

"It's so cruel," VanNostrand said. "It's satanic. Or psychotic. Or something."

The VanNostrand family - Eugene, 66, wife, Mae, son Gene, 32 - got Socks six years ago. He was a black and gray tabby. They named him Socks because he had four white paws.

Socks never went far. Sometimes he crossed the street to sit on the porch at neighbor Simon DaLomba's house. Most of the time, though, he just hung out under a pine bush to the left of the VanNostrands' driveway or in the garden on the other side of the yard.

On the Fourth of July, when the fireworks got loud, he would hide under the shed out back.

Inside, the family said, he hid under beds.

"He didn't like confrontation," Mae said.

On Monday morning, Gene let Socks out at 4:30, then left for his job at Publix. That was normal. Socks would do his thing outside before Eugene and Mae got up around 6 to let him back in.

DaLomba found his neighbor's pet's remains in the grass near his grapefruit tree. The cat had been cut in two through the middle.

The neck had sawdust on it from an unknown type of saw blade, according to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report.

"It appeared as though the suspect was considering cutting the feline's neck, but for unknown reasons decided to cut the cat through its midsection," the report said.

Patches of fur led to intestines closer to the road.

The deputy on the scene looked for the back half of the body. So did the VanNostrand men and DaLomba. Nothing.

"What is the reason?" DaLomba said. "What is the purpose?

"And the way they did it . . . ."

It couldn't have been a power saw, Eugene VanNostrand said Tuesday. Someone would have heard a power saw, right? A chain saw, too.

"I'm guessing it was a machete," he said.

"It was such a clear cut. You could look right inside him."

"My husband wouldn't even let me see it," Mae VanNostrand said.

Socks was cremated at the Hillside Animal Hospital on Spring Hill Drive.

The vet there told the VanNostrands that the kind of person who does this is likely to do something similar to another person.

Animal cruelty experts often call it "the link," said Martin Mersereau, manager for the domestic animal abuse division at the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals in Norfolk, Va.

"It's a fundamental disregard for life and suffering that does not know species lines," he said.

The VanNostrands have lived in Spring Hill for 14 years since moving from Long Island. They know some of their neighbors - but not all of them.

"There's a lot of new people," VanNostrand said. "A lot of new homes."

On Monday afternoon, VanNostrand knocked on doors. No leads. On Tuesday morning, he got up early and walked around, just to see who was up between 4:30 and 6. By early afternoon, he was standing on DaLomba's lawn, near where Socks had been found. Across the street some people were unloading a U-Haul truck in front of a rental house.

"They just got here," he said, "so it couldn't have been them."

The Sheriff's Office has no suspects; the VanNostrands are offering a $500 reward for any tips that lead to an arrest.

"There's a sicko someplace," VanNostrand said. "And he's out there roaming around."

Michael Kruse can be reached at or 352-848-1434.

[Last modified June 29, 2005, 11:55:31]

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