Dog poisoning June 2015

Published on: 25 May 2015

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IT’S EVERY dog owner’s nightmare: your pet is happily sniffing around your local park when a scent catches his nose and before you can do anything, he’s wolfing down something smelly he found in the undergrowth.

But it’s not an innocent morsel. Within minutes the dog has lost his bounce. A few more, and he is unsteady on his feet.

You soon realise that what he’s eaten is poison. As you rush your pet to the vet, you start to wonder: Is someone with a grudge against dogs setting poisoned bait to try to kill them?

This is an invented scenario. But many dog lovers will have heard something like it from people they meet in the park.

Cat owners have often heard similar tales: about felines coming home desperately ill after eating something unknown.

Sometimes the tale concerns kidnap, not poison. A white van is seen on a corner: a hand stretches to a passing cat, grabs it and the van screeches off.

What’s the truth behind these tales? South Bristol Voice asked a man who ought to know: Mark Coombs, one of three Animal Health Enforcement Officers
who have responsibility for the dog wardens service at Bristol City Council.

“You do get a lot of rumours,” Mark said. “Social media allows them to travel quickly. There was  one a couple of years ago that spread very quickly – it was said on Facebook that the authorities had found 30 dead dogs in the disused Bishopsworth swimming pool, left by a dog fighting ring.”

That one is definitively not true – Avon & Somerset police, among others, issued a denial, but it did not stop extensive discussion by worried dog owners on Facebook. But what about dogs being poisoned?  Mark said that Bristol City Council has never had any confirmed cases of intentional dog poisoning.

Nor is there any record of white vans driving around looking for cats – or dogs – to steal in the area.

One variant which is very persistent is the claim that dog thieves make a mark near the entrance of a house where dogs live – supposedly so they can return to steal them later.

Even after official denials, many pet owners remain to be convinced – as the discussion on Facebook following the Bishopsworth dog baiting denial shows. 

“I’m not saying that there isn’t anyone out there poisoning dogs,” said Mark. 

“But there is more danger to dogs from getting harmed by the parvo virus, for example, which they can catch from unvaccinated  dogs and dogs kept in poor conditions. 

“If residents are concerned about this they can find more information on the RSPCA’s website.”

The animal health enforcement officers work with the police, and with the RSPCA and local vets. If any systematic attempts were being made to kidnap, poison or otherwise harm our pets, these organisations would know about it.

This isn’t to say that dogs and cats never get stolen. Pedigree animals or those that can be
easily sold, or used for hunting, are sometimes stolen. Dogs and cats do fall ill from poison – possibly after eating bait left for vermin.

But the message from the dog warden service is clear: while every case is carefuly investigated, most of the tales about pets falling victim to poisoners and criminals are just that – tales.

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