Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:21AM - 244 Views

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MEXICO CITY — The fatal mauling of four people by feral dogs in a Mexico City park set off debate Tuesday about the city's love/hate relationship with its dog population, and the guilt or innocence of 25 animals trapped near the scene of the nightmarish killings.

Mexico City's mayor said the government would launch a new program to spay and neuter the hundreds of thousands of dogs who wander the city, sending 25 mobile surgical units to neighborhoods where residents would be encouraged to take advantage of free sterilization for their pets. Animal advocates called for Mexico City residents to rethink a pet-owning culture that often treats dogs as disposable, saying the police failed to enforce a ban on sales of puppies and kittens in the streets.

Police photos of the forlorn, skinny strays captured in the wooded, hilltop park where a woman, her baby and a teenage couple were killed in two separate incidents set off an online campaign protesting the animals' innocence and calling for authorities not to euthanize them. Many people re-posted the images of the dogs, a collection of small- to medium-size strays of various types, staring sadly from behind bars at an animal shelter in the lower-income borough of Iztapalapa in southeast Mexico City.

The hashtag for the campaign became the top trending topic on Twitter in Mexico by midday Tuesday, forcing a public response from Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, who called for animal-rights groups to help study the guilt or innocence of the 25 dogs, and the broader effort to reduce the number of street dogs in Mexico City.

We're not taking any decision. The dogs are in a shelter and we have to check on the health, he told reporters after a midday press conference.

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