One by one, over the course of Wednesday morning, each of Rachel Yates’ three dogs became ill. After the first dog was taken to the vet, the next one was sick. Then the third. By the afternoon, two of the dogs, Havana and Snickers, were dead, and the third, Chubbs, was still being treated.
All three dogs had been inside her family’s fenced-in yard on Town Hall Road, in West Bay. They were among at least five cases of dogs falling ill due to suspected poisoning reported in the district on Wednesday. Another two cases were reported on Thursday.
“All three were poisoned,” Yates told the Compass on Thursday. “Two had to be put down, but we’ve got the other one home now, we got him to the vets on time and they were able to flush out his system.”
She discovered the first sick dog when she went out to feed her pets in the yard. “I was greeted by two of them. The other one was lying by the gate. I called her, but she didn’t respond. I went to the gate and she didn’t make any movement or acknowledge me. She was doing this weird laboured breathing, her tongue was out.”
Her family took the dog, Havana, to the vet. “At that point, the other two dogs seemed fine,” she said.
About 40 minutes later, she noticed Snickers was lying in the yard and did not respond to her when she called him. “He had the same symptoms,” Yates said, “lying on his side, and breathing very heavily. He wasn’t responsive, he was like a dead weight.”
She also noticed Chubbs acting unusually, so took both dogs to the veterinary clinic where “they made Chubbs throw up whatever was in his system,” she said. “That’s the only reason he is still here.”
She described the state of the other two dogs, before they were euthanised, as being coma-like.
Rhonda Maydanski’s labradoodle Hershey was also euthanised Wednesday after eating meat “that looked like hamburger” on the roadside immediately outside her condo complex on North West Point Road in West Bay.
“I took the food that I think was the issue to Island Vets. Hopefully they will analyse it and get an antidote,” she said, adding that on Wednesday, while was at the vet, there were seven dogs in there from West Bay “on their death beds”.
She had taken Hershey for a walk around 9am, and said he made a lunge for the meat on the ground. She quickly pulled him away, but not before he’d eaten some of it. About an hour and a half later, while she was at work, she received a call from her roommate who told her Hershey had fallen off the couch and was “staggering and swaying”. Soon after, the dog became unresponsive.
“We were in the vets office for a long time,” she said. “There were several other people in there with their dogs and a lot of them were on ventilators, having trouble breathing.”
After returning home, she went back to the area where she had seen the meat, and collected it in a plastic bag and then delivered it to the veterinary clinic so it could be tested.
“Even hours after I first saw it, sitting there in the heat, there were no ants or bugs on it,” Maydanski said.
While most of the poisonings this week occurred in West Bay, similar reports have been made in Savannah and Breakers.
Island Veterinary Services, which treated seven poisoned dogs on Wednesday and two on Thursday, issued a notice on Facebook warning pet owners, “Please be aware that there has been island-wide dog poisonings and we are not sure of the cause. We suspect that the dogs are ingesting a toxin off of the ground. Please keep your dog inside from your yard, search your property well, and don’t let your dog eat anything unknown off the ground.”
Island Veterinary Services’ Dr. Joyce Follows said symptoms of the poisonings included dizziness, staggering, blindness, confusion, tremors, unconsciousness and difficulty breathing, and she advised anyone whose dog is showing any of those symptoms to bring the pet to the nearest veterinary clinic as soon as possible.
“I want to make sure everyone knows what to look out for,” she said, stressing that the sooner an animal is brought to a vet for treatment, the higher the likelihood of survival.
Follows said the clinic had sent several samples overseas to try to determine what kind of toxin the dogs had ingested.
She said, of the nine dogs seen at her clinic, four had survived, one had died from the poisoning, and four others were euthanised.
Follows added two other veterinary clinics had dealt with similar cases.
Over the years in Cayman, there have been many reports of dogs being poisoned by the herbicide paraquat, which was banned locally in 2015. Follows said the symptoms seen in the poisoning cases this week do not seem similar to the paraquat cases the vets had encountered previously.
“We think this is something different, but there are so many things it could be,” she said. “We just don’t know, but we’re trying to get answers. We’ve sent samples off island and we’ve asked government what is allowed on island.”
Poisonings were reported on North West Point Road, Town Hall Road, Conch Point Road, and beside the Kaaboo site in West Bay this week.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said it had received just one formal report of a poisoning – the one at the Yates home – which it is investigating, but acknowledged that it was aware of the several other incidents that had been reported over social media.
“The RCIPS continues to monitor the situation in the district, as we seek to deter any criminal activity and offer advise to pet owners, alongside our colleagues at the Department of Agriculture,” the police said in a statement.
The Compass has also reached out to Department of Agriculture, and was advised that the department would issue a written response on Monday.