Canicross, a sport in which people run or cycle while attached to their dogs, has been hit by what one federation calls an "act of terror." Three dogs died Sunday morning after eating poisoned meatballs that had been placed near the starting point of the second round of France's national canicross championships, the New York Times reports. Veterinarian Bérengère Poletti says the dogs showed symptoms of poisoning including vomiting and trembling as contestants gathered in a parking lot ahead of the race. All three died within 15 minutes. After the race was called off, organizers found more than 50 poisoned meatballs scattered around the parking lot and bushes at the race's starting point.
Poletti says no threats were made before the race in Vauvert, southern France. "I don’t know who did this, what are the reasons, but it’s just horrible," she says. A fourth dog, believed to have either licked a meatball or sniffed the vomit of one of the poisoned dog, was treated in a veterinary clinic and is recovering well, Poletti says. She says veterinarians are still awaiting test results on black pellets found in the meatballs but they believe the poison used was slug repellent, which made the meatballs so toxic that veterinarians would have been unable to save the dogs even if they had been at a clinic. Prosecutors say the case is being investigated as animal cruelty, which has a maximum penalty of five years in prison, CNN reports.
"This weekend a particularly odious act struck our sport," Yvon Lasbleiz, president of the Federation of Canine Sports and Hobbies, said Monday. "Oslo, Palma, and Opale, your masters have lost an unconditional love," he said of the dogs. Canicross has soared in popularity in Europe in recent years, and the French federation received condolences from groups across the continent. "It was an act of terror, and shocks all the people practicing dog sports and in general dog lovers all over the world,” a spokesperson for the Italian canicross federation said. (Read more France stories.)