Off-leash debate turns toxic?

Herbicide is identified as the agent that has killed or sickened at least 16 dogs

The owners of some of the 16 or more dogs believed to have been poisoned at Southeast Portland's Laurelhurst Park between July 3 and July 9 think the poisoning is related to the city's controversy over off-leash dogs.

And Sgt. Brian Schmautz, spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, says they may be right.

'Obviously, we won't know until we have a suspect and know what his motive was,' Schmautz said Wednesday. 'But we've been hearing anecdotally that many of these (affected) dogs were possibly off-leash and that the substance may have been left in places, like bushes, designed to target off-leash dogs.'

Veterinarians who treated some of the dogs suspect that they were poisoned with meat laced with the highly toxic herbicide paraquat. Results of tests done on several of the eight dogs that have died so far were not available at press time.

Paraquat, which is used for weed control, can be legally purchased and sold in Oregon only by people or businesses with special licenses from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Portland Parks & Recreation does not use the herbicide in city parks, according to its spokeswoman, Carolyn Lee.

The police bureau has assigned a detective to the case and issued a Crime Stoppers request for help in apprehending whoever is responsible. Animal abuse is a crime in Oregon. Crime Stoppers, the Oregon Humane Society and community fund-raisers have contributed to a reward for information about the case.

As of midday Thursday, eight dogs had died or been euthanized at Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Northwest Portland. Portland police said they had received reports of another eight dogs that had not been hospitalized but were believed to have ingested poison at the park.

Hospital spokeswoman Devon Jahn said the hospital has heard from local veterinarians about an additional four or five dogs that died recently under similar circumstances. However, a police bureau spokesman said Thursday that those deaths had not been reported to police.

Neither Dove Lewis nor the parks department had received any reports of injuries or deaths to animals other than dogs as of Thursday.

Earlier this week, the owner of one of the surviving dogs said that she believes her dog was poisoned intentionally.

'I believe it's connected to the off-leash issue,' said Shannon Kimmel, whose 4-year-old yellow Labrador, Willie, is recuperating at home from burns to his esophagus. The dog had found and eaten chunks of what appeared to be meat in the park July 4 while Kimmel's husband was walking him off-leash.

'It's a horrible way to get dogs out of the park,' Kimmel added.

Kimmel said that Willie's esophagus was burned 'like a kid swallowing Drano.' The dog now has a feeding tube in his side that goes directly into his stomach and a body sock to keep him from chewing on it. The family has already run up $2,500 in veterinary bills and will not know for some time how well Willie's throat will heal.

While some of the owners of the dead or sick dogs acknowledge that their pets were off leash when they apparently were poisoned, they said that leashes would not necessarily have kept the dogs from harm.

At least one of the dogs that died was on a leash when its owner saw it grab something from the bushes and swallow it.

If swallowed, paraquat can cause burning of the mouth and throat, followed by symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea that may not occur until days after exposure. It is highly toxic to animals and humans.

Dr. Jonathan Akins, the manager of toxicology and environmental safety for Syngenta, a company that manufactures paraquat, said he contacted Dove Lewis Thursday after reading about the apparent poisonings.

The chemical, he said, is available to specialized agricultural retailers and growers 'and really no one else. You can't buy it at Home Depot or Lowe's or Target.'

People vs. pets

Earlier this year, Laurelhurst Park was one of three neighborhood parks identified by Portland State University graduate students as having the highest number of illegally off-leash dogs. The others were Southeast's Mount Tabor Park, where an official off-leash area was closed in 1999, and Southwest's Gabriel Park, where off-leash activity has not been confined to the park's small official off-leash area.

A June 17 Tribune story about the PSU study and the local controversy about off-leash dogs resulted in numerous letters to the paper, many of them complaining about both the dogs and their owners.

'I'm disgusted with all the off-leash dogs I encounter on walks and in parks,' wrote one reader, who declined to be named for publication. 'Their owners don't care if they poop all over the place, and they don't care if we feel threatened by their dogs. They need to obey the law and realize that not everyone loves dogs. There are lots of unhappy folks out here who want the damn law enforced!'

The pro-leash law Web site, which had posted the Tribune article, added a message on Monday condemning the apparent poisonings.

'The recent poisonings at Laurelhurst Park, if they are intentional, are shameful and cowardly,' the message read. 'If someone is poisoning dogs, please stop immediately, and do whatever you can to keep more dogs from being hurt. The dogs are not the problem. You don't want this on your conscience. This is not the way.'

Thursday morning, the Web site's owner, who declined to be named for publication, told the Tribune that he had received about a dozen hostile messages, many of which contained obscenities, since the apparent poisonings became public knowledge. However, he said he also had received many messages thanking him for having a site that promotes enforcement of the leash law.

Thursday morning, there were no dogs in Laurelhurst Park, where the parks department now has posted warning signs about the apparent poisonings.

Contact Janine Robben at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..