Staff at Sunshine Hills Elementary “closed” access to the woods behind the school on Thursday, Oct. 31 after receiving a report that two dogs may have died after ingesting something poisonous in the forest.
However, in an update Friday afternoon, Delta police public affairs manager Cris Leykauf said investigators were able to track down the owners of both dogs and the incidents do not appear to be related.
In a letter sent to parents on Thursday, Oct. 31, principal Jody Billingsley said the school had been notified by a community member that “two dogs in the neighbourhood passed away this week and may have ingested something poisonous” in the woods behind the school.
In response, school staff on “closed the tree-line” behind the school during recess and lunch and have asked students and families who cut through the forest on their way to or from school or to play in the park behind the school to use the sidewalk bordering the property instead.
“In an abundance of caution, we want to take some safety measures while we await further information from police,” Billingsley wrote. “Our communication to students has been the access to the forest areas is to protect their [Halloween] costumes, as we do not wish to alarm them.”
Delta police public affairs manager Cris Leykauf confirmed Thursday police are looking into the matter, and in an update Friday afternoon said investigators do not believe the two dog deaths are related.
One dog consumed a vomit-like substance in the forest near the school on Oct. 27 and died on Oct. 29. The cause of death of that dog is currently unknown. The other dog actually died about one and a half months ago.
Ryan Voutilainen, manager of the Delta Community Animal Shelter, said Delta police are the lead investigators on the file but the shelter and city bylaw inspectors are assisting however they can, including by helping police liaise with local veterinarians. He said from what he understands it appears to just be a coincidence that both dogs live in the same area.
“My understanding is that whatever happened with the other dog, it didn’t even happen in Delta; it happened out it in Hope. They just happened to live in Delta,” Voutilainen told the North Delta Reporter.
Leykauf said police reached out the Delta’s parks, recreation and culture department as part of their investigation into the matter and the parks department sent staff out to check the forest.
“DPD volunteers assisted with this search but were unable to find anything suspicious,” Leykauf said in an email.
Leykauf said North Delta Community Police Office volunteers will continue to conduct foot patrols in the forested area over the next week, adding the administration at Sunshine Hills Elementary has also been updated by police.
Voutilainen said the big message for pet owners in these cases is to always be vigilant, keep your dog leashed so you can better monitor what they’re getting into, and if your animal is sick or ingests anything it shouldn’t, the first thing you should do is get the animal to a veterinarian right away.
“Because in the second case — and I’m not sure in the first one — the dog only made it to the veterinarian after it had passed away,” he told the Reporter Friday afternoon.
“If [people] feel their animal has ingested something, don’t wait for the dog to show signs. Get the dog to a veterinarian right away so they can be examined. That’s always helpful if it does turn out to be something that might be of concern or that we need to be aware of, or the police be aware of or the SPCA. We have more information to go on to determine a cause.”
Voutilainen said there are any number of things the dog could have ingested that might have lead to its death, and that it may not be anything that somebody has done purposefully.
“I know a lot of cases when these things happen, people start thinking well maybe somebody’s laying down poison or those sorts of things. And that may not be the case, it may be something that’s naturally occurring like mushrooms that a dog could have ingested, or they’ve gone into somebody’s driveway at the same time and licked up some antifreeze that you didn’t know about,” he said.
“In this case, because we don’t really know, because no other testing was done as far as I know, it could have been some other issue with the dog itself. It could have been a heart issue that was undiagnosed or something else, because my understanding for the second one is it hadn’t been to the veterinarian for quite some time. … Just like with people, heart issues can happen at any time in their life, and it’s the same thing that can happen with pets as well.”
The woods behind the school are part of Sunshine Hills Park, which includes a playground on the south-west corner, the Sunshine Hills Tennis Club and Sunshine Hills Parent Participation Preschool.
Mandip Kahrod, enrolment co-ordinator and parent volunteer at SHPPP, said parents at the preschool are aware of the letter from Sunshine Hills Elementary but don’t seem to be particularly on edge because of it.
“Most families live locally and there’s many that walk so I think everyone’s vigilant,” Kahrod said, adding the school is fenced off from the rest of the park. “No one seems to be particularly on edge but I think just aware.”
“Everyone’s probably keeping an extra close eye on their kids, and maybe not going through the forest is their first choice. I mean, it clearly is cause for concern, but the kids do get picked up or dropped off and I think as long as we’re all aware we’re just going to keep an eye on things and see how it progresses.”
Many online have speculated that the dogs may have ingested poisonous mushrooms growing in the park, though that has not been confirmed. In late October, the BC Centre for Disease Control issued a warning to wild mushroom foragers and consumers after a rise in poisoning so far this year.
As of Sept. 30, Poison Control had received 201 mushroom poisoning calls, making 2019 one of the most active years in recent history. Comparatively, there were 202 calls in 2018, an increase from the 161 calls in 2017.
Fly agaric mushrooms, also known as amanita muscaria, are the classic red toadstool with white warts seen in cartoons. The species is very common, growing in borreal forests across Canada and the United States during the fall, but is also very poisonous. While fly agarics aren’t always deadly, they can have devastating affects on people and pets, including hallucinations, sleepiness and severe gastrointestinal problems.
“The amanita family contains some of the most deadly mushrooms we know of,” said Brian Starzomski, director of the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. Starzomski added some of the fly agaric’s relatives include amanita phalloides, better known as the death cap mushroom, and aminita ocreata, a.k.a. the destroying angel.
News of two dogs reportedly dying after possibly ingesting something they found in a North Delta park reminded some online of a group of incidents earlier this year in which raw meat was left just off a trail in Watershed Park.
Four times this summer, Delta police were contacted regarding suspicious meat that had been left in the park near the trail entrance by 63rd Avenue, however testing showed the meat was not poisoned and police determined it had not been dumped with malicious intent — either towards animals or people.
Police warned the individual responsible against dumping meat and made them aware of the concern it caused the community.
There is no indication that these incidents are related to the reported dog deaths in Sunshine Hills.
— with files from Kendra Crighton and Nicole Crescenzi