Mary Hopper used to have four kittens. She kept them in a cage in her barn in Traer where she houses orphaned animals while she weaned them from their mother.
Two weeks ago Sunday, one of them went missing. When the kitten turned up mangled the next day, Hopper assumed that a wild animal - a raccoon, opossum or fox - had torn it to shreds. She moved the cage to a safer location, out of reach.
"I said I would do everything in my power to make sure these guys have a happy life," she said.
Never did it dawn on her that maybe anything other than a hungry animal killed the kitten. That is, until it happened again less than a week later.
Saturday morning, Hopper went out to the barn to check on the kittens. Two of the three kittens were missing and some fur was still in the cage as if someone had left it there for her to find. The cage's latch was still secure and the door was closed. The sheet she puts over the cage was still in place.
Her horses were spooked.
"I had a feeling something was bad," she said. "I didn't know what it was."
She took the remaining kitten inside and named him Lucky.
When she returned to the barn Sunday, what she saw horrified her: the kitten had returned.
"It was definitely skinned," she said. "My father was a hunter. I helped him skin deer and bears. I know what it looks like."
She showed the kitten's remains to a friend who is does taxidermy. He agreed that the wounds looked man-made.
The kitten's carcass had been sliced in a straight line with razor-like precision, she said. Its tail had been cut off and one its legs severed.
"Most animals just tear the son-of-a-gun to pieces," Hopper said. "They don't do that."
She called the Tama County Sheriff's Office.
In early September, a disgruntled man threatened to kill Hopper's animals. The sheriff's office is still investigating that incident.
The threat spooked her. After several anonymous threats, she unlisted her telephone number and subscribed to a service that traces calls to her home.
When she called the police, Hopper claims a deputy told her he would come to her home that night and watch for intruders, shining lights on the property to deter them from trying anything.
She hasn't slept in days.
But Tama County Chief Deputy Dave Ruopp said Hopper regularly calls police with complaints and rarely wants anyone to come out to address them. He said the sheriff's office tries to provide her the best service it can.
He said the sheriff's office has no record of Hopper calling the night of the incident.
Still, Hopper insists she has gotten no satisfaction from the sheriff's office, even when she reminded them of the September incident.
Ruopp said a deputy went out to Hopper's home Wednesday afternoon and concluded raccoons killed the kittens.
"I am being penalized for being a human being," she said. "I don't want to live here anymore. I won't survive."