For Jay Mallari, his dogs were quite literally his best friends.
“My dogs were pretty much my everything. Right now I'm living here by myself," Mallar said.
So when his pack of 8-month-old rescues wandered away from his fenced-in home Friday and didn't return, Mallari began thinking they'd been dognapped.
As news of their disappearance spread, Mallari got bittersweet news from a neighbor on Sunday.
Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.
“He was driving down the road and was like, 'Whoa! This is like dead body smelling,'” recalled Mallari.
Vultures are now overhead where the puppies were found shot to death and dumped in the brush off Montiel Truck Trail, a little less than a mile from Mallari's home.
“These are the kinds of actions a serial killer would almost take," Mallari said.
Amber Recklau knows the heartache all too well.
“It’s ridiculous and cowardly, too, just throwing them on the side of the road,” Recklau said.
Back in 2019, her gate was chained shut and threatening, anonymous signs telling her to “Shut Your (expletive) dogs up” were left on her property. She later found her dog Zeus shot to death and dumped in the same area.
His collar was also missing, just like Mallari's dogs. That's one reason the Lawson Valley neighbors believe the dog deaths are connected.
“The person that did it needs to get caught. Who knows what it could escalate to,” said Recklau.
Mallari's buried his pups on his property so they'll always be close.
“At least they're back here with me now. I was praying they'd come home, but wasn't expecting they'd come home like this," Mallari said.
He's hoping his story will spark someone's memory and they could help Animal Services' investigation so no one else’s dog has to die like his.
“I just want someone to say, 'Hey, I heard some gunshots, man. I don’t know where they came from, but I heard them.’ I just want to know where it happened," he said.
A spokesperson for Animal Services said they're helping the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department with its investigation