SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean police said Friday they were investigating accusations that four men killed a missing sheepdog before eating it in a case that has infuriated many and caused debate on the country’s dog-eating culture. The dog’s owner said her heart was ripped by the loss.

The four men admitted to butchering and eating the dog but said they found it dead on the side of the road, said Choi Won-kyu, a police official from the rural city of Iksan.

Choi said a witness claimed seeing the dog hurt but alive hours before the men allegedly butchered it at a village hall about a kilometer (0.6 miles) away. Security camera footage from the hall shows the men arriving with the dog, apparently dead by then, in the back of their truck, Choi said. The dog’s owner had reported it as missing two days earlier.

Police are trying to find other witnesses and looking into security camera footage of buses that pass the area to determine whether the dog would have been alive or dead when the men found it, Choi said.

“(A police officer) told me that the dog has been burned to death. I asked what that meant, and (he explained) the dog was eaten,” the dog’s owner, identified only by her surname as Chae, told a television reporter.

“I cut (the dog’s) umbilical cord and raised it for the next 10 years. It never even growled at home … My heart has been ripped.”

Although the popularity of dog eating is fading somewhat in South Korea, an estimated 2 million dogs are still slaughtered every year for food.

The message board on the Iksan police station’s website was flooded with hundreds of comments calling for the men to be sternly punished. Other commenters said South Koreans should stop eating dogs.

If the dog was already dead, the men still could be charged with embezzlement of lost property, which is punishable by up to a year in prison or a maximum fine of 3 million won ($2,700), Choi said. If they killed the animal, they could be charged under an animal abuse law punishable by the same prison term or a maximum 10 million won ($8,900) fine.