JUSTIN, Texas — Two dogs were found shot to death and mutilated in Denton County after escaping their family's backyard during a storm last month, and authorities are searching for the suspects.

The dogs – JC, a 7-year-old Golden Retriever, and Nessa, a 2-year-old Labrador mix – had escaped the yard after getting scared by thunderstorms on the night of Dec. 14, according to a news release from the Denton County sheriff's department on Tuesday. The dogs were later found dead on Indian Trails Drive, near Sam Reynolds Road, in Justin.

They had been shot and mutilated, according to the sheriff's department.

The two dogs were the cherished family pets of Joi and Aaron Bouchard. They live in a residential neighborhood in a house that they had filled with three loving dogs and three cats. There is now a hole with two pets that are gone. "You don't want dogs in your face, you probably shouldn't come to my house. They are all part of the family," said Aaron.

When the dogs went missing, they immediately tried to find them. Like many pet owners, they've had animals slip under fences before and in the past they have easily found them. "We drove around and looked and did the usual calling, which has always worked," said Joi. "And it didn't."

They searched for hours, even going to nearby animal shelters the following day. But two days later, they received a call from the Denton County Sheriff telling them that their dogs had been found shot to death and mutilated. "I went and identified both dogs," said Aaron. "I've seen a lot of dead animals hunting. But nothing like that."

The Sheriff's Department is investigating it as an animal cruelty case, and they do not believe there's any chance that whoever shot the animals was acting in self defense.

"We want to bring this to a close and hopefully have somebody behind bars," said Capt. Orlando Hinojosa with the Denton County Sheriff's Department.

A witness reported seeing a pickup truck with three men in it in the area of Indian Trails and Sam Reynolds about 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 16. Authorities are working to identify the three men in the pickup truck.

They were described as two white men and a black man, each 25-30 years old. One of the men was reportedly white with long black hair and a beard. The other was reportedly white and heavyset with long blonde hair, while the third was described as black and possibly bald or with short hair.

Crime Stoppers is offering up to $1,000 for tips leading to an arrest in the case. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-388-TIPS.