Blue-green algae toxicity claims life of one dog, second escapes

·5 min read

Renfrew -- Larissa Novossiltze spent most of last week crying and trying to make sense of the tragic series of events that eventually led to the death of her one-year-old dog and near loss of her second best friend and also took to social media to warn others of the deadly toxins found in bodies of water containing blue green algae.

“Blue-green algae toxicity is fatal,” she said in a social media post. “If you are in the area of Crozier Line and Highway 60 or Northcote Rink Road or any waterways that flow around this area, please keep all children and animals out of the water. Please keep out of the water.”

The events which led to the death of one pet and the serious illness of the other began over a week ago. May 31 was a typical day on Ms. Novossiltze’s farm, located about 10 kilometers west of Renfrew off Hwy. 60. Part of a typical day included her dogs taking a little stroll down to a shallow creek on the back of the farm and going for a swim. But she had no idea the dog’s playful chance to cool off would expose both pets to an element of the water with tragic results.

As she said in her posting on Facebook last week, “Saturday evening Birdie had swum in the creek behind our farm as usual. Twenty minutes later she was stumbling around the house with a drunken gait. We put her up on the couch to rest and 15 minutes later she was in a coma.

“We rushed her down to Ottawa and all tests were coming back normal. Her respiratory rate started to expire overnight and they had to intubate Birdie as she was not breathing on her own. We then had to make the decision that no one wants to make. Her diagnosis was severe brain stem lesion due to unknown toxicity. We have an extremely clean farm as we have so many animals, so the toxicity diagnosis was really confusing us. She died Sunday, May 30th at 2 pm. She was one year old.”

Ironically, the family celebrated her birthday just days before they had to deal this tragedy. The family released a short video taken at Birdie’s birthday party and she is watching very intently someone bringing down a paper plate filled with wieners and a one-year candle.

Heartbroken, the family barely had time to deal with their grief when, the next day, one of three dogs that called the farm home, suddenly appeared looking tired and weak.

“Yesterday morning, On June 1st, Frankie came up from the creek and 10 minutes later he fell down our front stairs and stumbled towards us.

“We realized then that Frankie was going to die if we didn't get him help ASAP. We were confused as to what was happening...Again! We brought him to Pinnacle Animal Hospital and within five minutes Dr. Amy Verney was on duty.”

Vets Act On A Hunch

Ms. Novossiltze explained to the doctor the factors leading up to the death of Birdie two days prior to Frankie’s exposure to the toxins. Dr. Verney acted upon both a hunch and ability to recall a similar situation about 20 years ago. She said several dogs had died around the same time and the one thing they all had in common was exposure to blue green algae toxicity near Guelph.

Dr. Verney and her team began medical intervention, based on her working theory the dogs had been exposed to the algae, and they were working against the clock. Almost immediately taking charge of the dog, his heart began to fail at a rapid pace and Dr. Verney did not hold out a great deal of hope for Frankie’s recovery.

The veterinarian team performed numerous flushes of his system, applied charcoal ingestion and using a powerful combination of medications. Dr. Verney and her team were able to stabilize him. The dog was transferred to the Animal Emergency and Specialty Hospital for overnight observation. A representative of the hospital notified the family at six o’clock in the morning Frankie had recovered and was ready to be discharged.

Frankie Comes Home

The family is thrilled to welcome Frankie back to the farm and they insist the main reason their dog was able to return home is because they had the great misfortune to see first-hand how quickly and deadly the toxins can set in, so they wasted no time rushing him to Pinnacle Animal Hospital.

A combination of Dr. Verney’s knowledge and treatment of dogs exposed to the toxins and the fact Frankie was in the vet’s office within minutes of exposure to the algae toxins, went a long way to saving his life.

“He would not be alive without Dr. Verney’s critical thinking and snap judgment,” Ms. Novossiltze wrote on her personal FB page. “Thank you, Dr. Amy Verney. You really are our true life hero.”

Local Health Unit Weighs In

The Renfrew County and District Health Unit is responsible for inspecting and testing of beaches in the local waterways and recreational-based water facilities.

Over the last number of years, Blue-Green Algae blooms have occurred on water bodies in Renfrew County. The health unit advises people to be on the lookout for algae blooms and if they suspect possible algae, they are encouraged to act under the assumption that toxins are present. Call the Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060 if you suspect a bloom is present. David Tantalo, Manager of Healthy Environments at the health unit, said unfortunately, hot conditions are ideal for Blue-green algae to not only appear, but to rapidly increase in numbers to form a large mass called a bloom. "Blue-green algae are microscopic plants that live in water and can be very dangerous. RCDHU received an unconfirmed report of an instance where a dog died and another was seriously ill from possible ingestion of blue-green algae toxin," he said. "It is strongly recommended to avoid using the water for drinking, bathing or showering. People, pets and livestock should not drink or swim in the water when blooms are present." Mr. Tantalo went on to say above all else to use common sense and avoid any contact with blooms if possible. For more information on blue-green algae, visit https://www.rcdhu.com/healthy-living/safe-water/,

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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