Recently three dogs were poisoned, one fatally, while on a walk in the woods with their owners. Do you know what poison does to dogs and other animals? What can you do to protect your dogs? Is there any way you can help? The Masked Biologist tries to help with answers in this week’s Wildlife Matters.
In general, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when killing an animal. First, the method of kill needs to minimize physical pain and suffering. Slitting an animal’s throat might be effective, but it takes a while to bleed out where cervical dislocation (breaking the neck and severing the spinal cord) is much quicker. The second factor to consider is the mental anguish or emotional pain of the animal. If you have ever watched the life leave an injured animal, you know what I mean. They know they are dying and are unable to do anything about it. So, say you want to drown a trapped animal. In physiological terms, drowning may be a quick and humane way to kill an animal, but depending on the animal it’s probably going to experience mental anguish in the process.
And then there’s poison. If you use a neurotoxin on an animal, you are ignoring both the physical pain and mental anguish aspects of death, or you are willfully inflicting them on your victim. That might be why we only poison pests, animals that we are okay torturing before killing—rodents like mice, rats, or gophers. It is somewhat similar to snake venom, but far more destructive, more like what a nerve agent like ricin would do to a human. A neurotoxin is consumed by the animal and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. The central nervous system short circuits and starts to shut down; they lose the use of their limbs, stumbling and falling. Uncontrollable tremors and seizures are next, vomiting, excessive drooling, gasping for air, difficulty breathing, and eventually the animal enters a coma and dies. Depending on the neurotoxin, this process can take several agonizing minutes up to 3-5 hours, but the results are usually immediate and frankly permanent. And the animal is in mental anguish the entire time.
I cannot comprehend why anyone would kill a dog this way. Or any animal for that matter. And yet this has been happening, right here in our neck of the woods. Two years ago, officials started getting reports of pets dying alongside roads, clearly caused by poisoning. At that time, it was happening in Forest, Florence, and northern Marinette counties. It was surmised that the poison was set out for wolves but hunting dogs, beagles, were the first to fall, and the deaths continued to affect pets as well as wolves and other wild animals. It had been quiet, until a couple of Saturdays ago. Two people were out walking the Gypsy Lake Road area in Lake Tomahawk with three dogs. Within 10 minutes their dogs started exhibiting the symptoms I described. Fortunately, one of the women is a veterinarian, and with her quick action, two of the three dogs were saved, but they suffered a lot of physical pain and mental anguish and had to undergo extensive medical treatment. This was intentional, whether the person was targeting wildlife or domestic pets, they purposely put out poison pellets that have an animal attractant in them, based on what I read online.
What can you do? If you take your dogs out into the woods, be alert. I always carry my recall whistle when my dog is off leash. I never let him out of my sight. And, I have trained him with a command that tells him he has to drop whatever he is thinking of picking up in his mouth, even food. It’s the ah-ah-ah command I learned from a friend who trains service dogs. Carry a dog first aid kit in your car, including an emetic to make them vomit. Hydrogen peroxide is what I carry, because it can also be mixed with dish soap to eliminate skunk smell. Program your veterinarian’s phone number in your cell phone, and make sure you have a weekend animal hospital number for weekends. Keep an eye out for dead or dying wildlife, especially scavengers like crows, ravens or coyotes.
Finally, if you know something, tell someone. Whoever did this is probably still doing it, and they probably have bragged about it at the bar or on social media. There is a $3000 reward for information leading to an arrest. If you are hesitant because you don’t want your name associated with a tip or a guilty party, don’t be. You need to call the DNR toll free tip line at 1-800-847-9367. That way, you remain anonymous and won’t end up named anywhere in the process.