A veterinarian said her office has recorded eight cases where dogs have died within the past two months from being poisoned.
Dr. Brenda Bush could not state whether the poisonings were accidental or deliberate, but she suspects the deadly herbicide paraquat was the cause of at least some of the deaths.
Mrs. Bush said the poisoning cases that have come into her office occurred all over Grand Cayman, including Bodden Town, Sound Sound, East End and North Side.
‘As of October 22nd we’ve seen eight cases — all of them died,’ she said. ‘In one of the cases the owner actually wanted us to send away to verify (paraquat poisoning) as a cause.’
There is no proof in any of the instances that the dogs died as a result of malicious poisoning attempts.
‘In the past we have had the owner finding the bait, but not in these cases,’ Mrs. Bush said. ‘It’s very coincidental that we’ve seen that many animals scattered around (in areas) where we don’t have a history of the owners using the chemicals in their yard.’
Some of the eight dogs were owned, and others were strays. Animal Control Officer Maggie Baldino said it’s entirely possible the animals might have been accidentally poisoned by paraquat or something else.
‘For example, owners legitimately have used paraquat on their properties and the dog comes along, licks its paws, eats the grass,’ Ms Baldino said. ‘The radiator could have leaked and the dog comes along and drinks that up. People put out rat poison because they’re having rat problems; animals come along and eat that.’
Ms Baldino urged dog owners not to let their pets wander, and to make sure they’re secured if they’re kept in a yard.
Intentionally poisoning animals in Cayman is a crime. Under the Animals Law (1999 Revision) cruelty to animals, causing avoidable pain or suffering to any animal, and causing unnecessary suffering in killing an animal are all offences. Fines of $500 and jail terms of up to six months are possible upon conviction.
Mrs. Bush said veterinarians generally see tell-tale signs of paraquat poisonings when people bring in dogs that are extremely short of breath and eventually asphyxiate. She said the chemical causes massive kidney failure followed by lung failure, killing the animal slowly.
‘It’s a very slow, terrible death,’ she said.
When her practice opened in 1994, Mrs. Bush said paraquat poisoning in animals was much more common.
‘Back then, we saw paraquat poisoning like crazy,’ she said. ‘(The chemical) has a pretty weird history in the Caribbean. In some countries it’s actually called West Indian love potion because a lot of people would supposedly take it after being jilted by a lover.’
Paraquat is highly toxic if ingested, and can be fatal to humans if it is swallowed in sufficient quantity. There are no known antidotes if the chemical has spread far enough within the body.
Diluted paraquat can be used for aerial spraying and is far less dangerous than the pure substance.
‘If used correctly, paraquat is quite a safe and effective herbicide,’ said Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Crichlow. ‘It’s just unfortunate that it’s sometime abused.’
Paraquat is sold by the Department of Agriculture and can be sold by private businesses here in Cayman.