Slack family working dogs which died of suspected strychnine poisoning: Layla, Scooter and Marley.
Slack family working dogs which died of suspected strychnine poisoning: Layla, Scooter and Marley.

Grazier’s heartache: Six dead dogs in six weeks

GAYNDAH and the surrounding district in the North Burnett is in the grips of what is strongly suspected to be a strychnine poisoning epidemic, with close to a dozen reported cases.

One grazier lost six treasured dogs in six weeks.

Owner and principal of Gayndah Veterinary Surgery, Nathan Hitchcock, has treated four dogs for suspected poisoning, two of them dying, and is aware of at least four other dogs he hasn't seen which have come down with symptoms.

Only one of them survived after the owner induced vomiting.

Dr Hitchcock saw his first case on September 5 and his most recent case on Saturday night.

His tally of cases doesn't include grazier Ben Slack who, over a six-week period in August and September, lost six dogs: five working dogs and the family's beloved 14-year-old Tibetan spaniel Samson.

Mr Slack said after a weekend away, he returned to find three dogs dead, with a fourth dying a few weeks after that, although Dr Hitchcock said this fourth death was highly likely a brown snake bite.

 

TRAGEDY: The Slack family's beloved 14-year-old Tibetan spaniel Samson, which died of what's believed to be strychnine poisoning.
TRAGEDY: The Slack family's beloved 14-year-old Tibetan spaniel Samson, which died of what's believed to be strychnine poisoning.

Mr Slack bought a fifth dog, but the next day, it was also dead.

A sixth, belonging to his father a few kilometres away from his property, located about halfway between Gayndah and Ban Ban Springs, began having fits after visiting the Slacks' property and died 12 hours later, but not before Dr Hitchcock had diagnosed strychnine poisoning as the likely cause.

"They were all working dogs bar one," Mr Slack said.

He hasn't got any working dogs now, which has impacted on his business.

"I'm not really sure what I'm going to do," he said.

"I've got to start again.

"Once dogs have been working a while, the new dogs follow their lead, but now I've got no other dogs to train the new ones."

Mr Slack said it's "all very strange" and he mused whether someone had thrown out bait in more than one stage, due to the extended time frame the poisoning has occurred.

His first set of dogs died around 12 weeks ago, while Dr Hitchcock's most recent presentation was on Saturday night.

The Coalstoun Lakes dog survived.

 

Gayndah Veterinary Surgery owner and principal Nathan Hitchcock.
Gayndah Veterinary Surgery owner and principal Nathan Hitchcock.

 

Dr Hitchcock said his "suspicion, not proven", is that the dogs have been eating dead birds containing strychnine.

"Which means someone is poisoning birds directly, or someone is poisoning something else which the birds are then eating," he said.

"Strychnine is like that, it persists from species to species... (because) it's not very water soluble, it lasts a long time in the environment."

Dr Hitchcock said this is the first outbreak of strychnine poisoning since his arrival in the North Burnett in late-2002, when he treated two dogs, one in Gayndah and one in Monto.

Dr Hitchcock said strychnine poisoning is a horrible death for pets.

"They die of basically respiratory compromise, because their muscles are too tense to breathe and it overheats them, all that muscular activity just cooks them," he said.

"They're still conscious, they know it's happening, it's very inhumane."

He said symptoms dog owners need to look out for are tremors, salivation and dilated pupils and dogs need immediate assistance if the poisoning is suspected.

Dr Hitchcock said, until the outbreak's cause has been identified, the only safe things dog owners can do is muzzle their dogs while they're out and about.

"It's a bit ordinary, dogs don't like it, but what can you do," he said.

He urged producers baiting feral and wild animals to use 1080 rather than strychnine, as it breaks down easier in the environment.

Dr Hitchcock said he has been in contact with police.

"Something is happening that shouldn't be happening," he said.

"Whether it's legitimate or not, I don't know."