WOODLAWN - Police are searching for animal abusers who have tortured and beaten nearly half a dozen cats in Woodlawn over the past several weeks.The felines were discovered with broken bones and burns. One of them was so severely injured, it had to be put down.Authorities say the first reported case of animal abuse was made by a resident in July, when she found a gray cat with a large gash across its back. At first, she thought the injury was caused by the cat crawling under a fence. Later, however, a teenager found another kitten that was burned.

A veterinarian who examined the cat found that all its teeth were broken and its skull was fractured before it was set on fire.

Police say finding the person or people who tortured the animals is important because the animal abuse crimes could just be the beginning.

?A lot of murderers and rapists, it?s been proven, they start with abusing animals,? says Patrick Moore, of Animal Nation. ?So it?s being taken very seriously by the ASPCA and the local police department.?

The Woodlawn Taxpayers Association issued a warning recently, urging residents to stay alert and watch over their pets.

Councilman Oliver Koppell says he is furious. He points to state law, which states that crimes involving animal abuse could land the perpetrators in prison for up to two years.