Last spring, veterinarian Virginia Sinnott found herself desperately trying to save the life of a 4-year old Shih Tzu on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The dog had eaten mice poison that her owners had deposited around their house - though they put it in what they assumed were impossible-to-reach areas.
But the small dog sniffed her way to the poison, and soon, she was struggling to breathe. Her owners rushed her to Sinnott, who is currently senior staff veterinarian at the well-known Angell Animal Medical Center (MSPCA-Angell) in Boston. "The animal was bleeding in the space between the ribs and the lungs," says Sinnott, explaining that the poison was designed to cause internal bleeding. "We took that blood off, and began to give her a transfusion. But we couldn't access the blood in her lungs quick enough."
The otherwise healthy dog, she says, died.
It's a heartbreaking but not uncommon scenario, especially this time of year. For many pet owners - indeed, for many Americans - springtime equals spring cleaning: scrubbing corners, ridding the house of mice and rats, planting gardens and perfecting one's emerald green lawn.
But the reality is this: Those rodenticides, insecticides and chemical-based fertilizers (better known as rat poison, ant traps and professional lawn care) can have a deleterious - if not deadly - impact on canines, cats and neighboring wildlife. (It is not lost on some animal advocates, of course, that killing mice in and of itself is a widely accepted cruelty.)
MSPCA-Angell receives upwards of twenty cases per month of pets who have eaten rat poison. Unfortunately, says Sinnott, many pet owners don't realize the connection between chemicals and their pets. "I would say most people don't think about it until their pet gets sick," she notes.
Of course, not all dogs have the same fate as the Shih Tzu: Sinnott and her colleagues at MSPCA-Angell recently saved the life of a 1-year-old homeless puppy: "By the time [he] got to us he was dehydrated and minimally responsive because he had started to bleed into his chest, which caused fluid to build up around his lungs - a "classic sign of a dog that had gotten into rodenticide," said veterinarian Roxanna Khorzad.
Today, the puppy has a new home and a new name, Patrick. But if he hadn't been brought to MSPCA-Angell, Patrick likely would have died.