Banana Joe was crowned the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show this month in New York, sending a nation into aww, but something awful may have happened in between: Cruz, a 3-year-old Samoyed, died at another show right after — and his human owners are looking at foul play. Was it case of activists poisoning a show dog, a hotel pesticide problem, or something entirely different? It's still quite the mystery, according to a story in the New York Times today from Mary Pilon, since no animal autopsy was performed on Cruz, who died in Colorado on February 16.

It's undoubtedly a sad story. Lynette Blue, one of Cruz's owners, has been mourning him on her Facebook page

She has also been posting pictures of the pup at different stages of his short life: 

But Cruz's death also remains a fascinating mystery inside the intricate world of show dogs, a case that pits owners against activists, but yields more questions than answers. Blue, the owner, has not yet responded to requests for comment, but there remain many potential explanations for the death:

Accidental Poisoning

According to Pilon, the veterinarian who treated Cruz said that he "had symptoms that strongly resembled those of dogs that had ingested rodent poison." But the vet believed that it was accidental. On the Facebook page, one person suggested that a hotel may have been responsible: 

Cruz was staying at the New Yorker Hotel during the Westminster show, just near Madison Square Garden. But Cruz's handler, Robert Chaffin, told Pilon that the hotel being at fault seems unlikely: "He said he carefully checked every corner of the room he and Cruz shared in the New Yorker Hotel, specifically looking for rat poison. He said he found the room, and the hotel's accommodations for dogs over all, to be safe." The hotel's president and general manager added that the hotel does not use harmful pesticides and tries to make safe accommodations for their dogs where the pooches can exercise. You can see photos of those areas here

Malicious Poisoning

The most controversial theory, championed by the handler, Chaffin, alleges that Cruz might have been poisoned by animal rights activists, who allege that dog-show competitions are inhumane. According to Pilon: 

Chaffin said he remembered a stranger at the Westminster show who glared at him and made a disapproving remark about Cruz’s vocal cords having been removed to quiet his bark, a process known as debarking.

“It would have been easy for someone to throw something in his cage,” Chaffin said.

PETA's founder and president, while still opposing Westminster, denies that the organization was at all responsible, telling Pilon: "so low to even suggest it." Of course, the possibility remains that someone with the same anger could have been acting independently of any organization. 

Unforeseen Natural Causes

Pilon reports that another possibility includes that Cruz simply had a condition no one knew about: 

One was that Cruz may have had an undiagnosed, rare genetic disorder, like hemophilia. But Cruz had no history of trauma or such blood disorders in his bloodline, Blue said.

But without a necropsy—one did not happen, because Blue was so confident that Cruz swallowed poison of some sort—it's possibly that we'll never get an answer.