Megan Watkins never wanted a dog until she met Florence, a Tosa mastiff rescued from a South Korean dog meat farm.
Watkins, who manages a Starbucks in Bend, Oregon, hosted a grand opening block party in August. She remembers stepping outside the coffee shop and happening to see Florence being walked by Humane Society of Central Oregon Outreach Manager Lynne Ouchida.
Watkins, an owner of two cats, knew she found her dog.
“I felt instantly connected to her,” she said. “She just had this really tough, sweet, calm energy.”
Watkins offered the dog a puppuccino, a small cup filled with whipped cream that Starbucks employees give to customers’ dogs.
“We say it was a match made over a puppuccino,” Ouchida said.
Florence is one of 28 dogs brought to central Oregon in March from a dog meat farm in Wonju, South Korea. All but three of the dogs have since been adopted, and two had to be euthanized, reported The Bulletin.
Humane Society International, a global animal protection organization, goes to dog meat farms and trades services and goods for the dogs. The group teaches farmers how to grow crops or offers rice and berries in exchange for the dogs.
A total of 250 dogs were rescued from the South Korean farm and sent to Humane Societies around the United States.
The Humane Society of Central Oregon in Bend took 17 dogs, and BrightSide Animal Shelter in Redmond took 11 dogs. The breeds vary with mixes including Labradors, mastiffs, Jindos and elkhounds.
Each dog had major medical and behavioral issues. The dogs had infections, orthopedic issues and broken teeth from being confined in small cages. Many were fearful at the Humane Society shelters and would hide in their kennels.
“These dogs were not raised with human contact. They were not raised in a social environment,” Ouchida said. “They were raised in wire cages. Their interactions with humans were extremely limited.”
Florence had two deformed legs from growing up in a small cage. She had surgery in September, paid for by Humane Society International. She is now recovering with her foster owner, Watkins, who will be able to formally adopt her from the Humane Society after she recovers.
“We came into her life through the worst of it,” Watkins said.
Two dogs from the farm remain at the Bend shelter; Owen, a 1-year-old Jindo, and Addi, a 2-year-old Tosa-Lab mix. Staffers continue to socialize and train the two dogs before they will be put up for adoption.
Jesse, a 1-year-old Jindo mix, is in foster care with the Redmond shelter.
Overall, 23 of the dogs have been adopted.
“This has been extremely successful for the dogs,” said Karen Burns, Humane Society of Central Oregon manager. “Yes, we have had some heartbreak along the way, but I would like to focus on all the positive we have done. These are success stories. These are dogs that are part of someone’s life and family now because of what we did.”
Changing the culture
Bend resident Debby Bever grew up in Taiwan, where it is common to see dog meat at the markets. She never got used to the sight.
“There were dogs at the market all the time,” Bever said. “There would be chicken, fish and then you would see a dog carcass.”
Consuming dog meat is a cultural tradition, Bever said, where some Asian people believe it will keep them cool in the summertime. The tradition is still popular among older generations, she said, but younger people are slowly changing the culture.
With the experience of seeing dog meat firsthand, Bever felt compelled to help the dogs that came to town in March.
She offered to be a foster owner for a Tosa mastiff puppy named Lana. After less than a month, Bever adopted the young dog.
Bever, who owns two mastiffs, said it has been fascinating to see how Lana interacts with her two large dogs. Lana almost immediately bonded with them, while remaining distant to any human contact. Over time, she has warmed up to Bever.
“They just attach to other dogs and don’t want to be by themselves,” Bever said. “All they knew were dogs and mean people.”
‘Part of the family’
At her home in Redmond, Watkins had a ramp, doggy door and outdoor enclosure built for Florence.
“She is part of the family now, and we set up the whole house for her,” Watkins said.
After meeting Florence at the block party, Watkins visited her at the Bend shelter for two weeks before bringing her home. During those two weeks, Watkins convinced her husband, Jason Watkins, they needed the dog.
He agreed, and Florence has fit into their family ever since.
“I just feel very lucky to have her in our lives,” Watkins said.
On the Web
Humane Society International.
New York is requiring universities using cats and dogs for research to offer them for adoption through animal shelters, humane societies or private placements.
The law applies to higher education research facilities that are tax-exempt or receive public money or else collaborate with institutions getting either public benefit.
It first requires a veterinarian at the facility to determine whether an animal is healthy and suitable for adoption once the research is completed.
Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat and lead sponsor, says animals used in scientific, medical and product research across the state are usually euthanized, though some institutions voluntarily maintain adoption programs.
She says beagles are commonly bred for research and used because of their docility.
The Humane Society of the United States says Connecticut, California, Minnesota and Nevada have similar laws.
Willy, an 18-month-old corgi-Chihuahua mix, was on a mission when he entered a South Bend, Indiana, home. His goal? To find three vials with living bedbugs by sniffing their scent.
The dog was accompanied by a canine handler during the demonstration by Rose Pest Solutions at the residence of a Tribune reporter. Willy first found a vial hidden beneath a bed mattress, scratching the area to alert the handler. He then found the other two vials wedged between the cushions of a couch, finishing the entire task in about one minute.
Dogs are increasingly being used by the pest-control industry as a tool in the fight against bedbugs. When properly trained, dogs use their keen sense of smell — about a thousand times more sensitive than a human — to find bedbugs much faster than pest-control technicians and with better accuracy, said Monica Gruss, Willy’s handler. The pair serves clients in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
“The dog’s nose can pick up things that our eyes can’t. We can do a small apartment in about two or three minutes, but a technician would have to go in and tear the bed apart,” said Gruss, who lives with Willy in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
The dogs are rewarded with food when they find bedbugs. Even when Willy is at home, he is allowed to eat only after finding a hidden vial of bedbugs.
Rose, which has a district office in South Bend, began using dogs to search for bedbugs in 2011. It has eight certified handlers with trained dogs, offering the service in northern Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, along with portions of Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Terry Giffin, canine division manager for Rose who is based in Lansing, Michigan, said the dogs are especially effective for searching apartment complexes, schools and hospitals. The majority of the firm’s clients are apartment complexes that routinely check for bedbugs. The cost to search up to 20 apartments is $375.
“It takes humans about 20 minutes per apartment and they’re going to charge by the hour. Dogs are much more economical,” Giffin said.
Rose’s dogs are typically adopted from shelters. Willy, for example, was adopted last year at the Jackson County Animal Shelter in Michigan. Sandy Clark, the shelter’s lead kennel attendant, said Willy might not have been adopted if Rose hadn’t claimed him.
“He was returned by a family because he was a little bit too energetic,” she said. “But he fit Rose’s profile because of his high-energy behavior.”
For his part, Giffin said the company looks for “young dogs at shelters that are high-energy and food-driven. Some aren’t properly socialized or obedient, but we take them in.”
Not many pest-control businesses use dogs to detect bedbugs because of the cost, Giffin said. At Rose, each dog completes a three-month, $12,000 training program offered by Scentworx in High Springs, Florida. The dogs are trained to pick up the scent of living bedbugs and their eggs.
About 450 bedbug-sniffing dogs have been trained over the past five years at Scentworx, said CEO Pepe Peruyero. He said dogs are going to be increasingly used by the pest-control industry because of their effectiveness. Field studies have shown the company’s dogs are about 95 percent accurate at detecting bedbugs.
“A technician can search a room and find evidence, such as a dead bedbug or fecal matter and say he thinks there are bugs and treat it. But a dog can go into a seemingly pristine room and it can smell a bedbug inside a mattress,” Peruyero said.
Published via the AP member exchange.
As the director of Austin Pets Alive!, Ellen Jefferson gets a lot of urgent phone calls. Agency heads from municipal animal shelters across the country want to know how her nonprofit group, which adopts the sickest, least-loved dogs and cats, helped to make Austin the largest city in America with “no kill” shelters.
In 2011, one of those calls came from San Antonio, Texas.
“I walked into a city that was only saving about 30 percent of their animals,” said Jefferson, who agreed to open a San Antonio chapter of Pets Alive! the next year.
But things were changing. After decades of official neglect and public indifference, the Alamo City had begun to turn around its poor record of saving unwanted pets. In 2004, the old city shelter at Brackenridge Park euthanized more than 50,000 dogs and cats, the highest per-capita rate in the country.
Two years later, then-Mayor Phil Hardberger issued a challenge to significantly reduce the problem with strays. The City Council approved a plan to make San Antonio a “no-kill” city, which commonly means saving at least 90 percent of the unwanted animals.
A new city shelter with space for 22,000 animals opened in 2007 on the South Side. By November 2011, the city was saving more pets than it was killing. And by 2012, the kill total had declined to 13,559.
Since then, in big and small ways, multiple changes brought San Antonio to its first “no kill” status in December.
Money was key. The ACS budget nearly tripled in a decade, from $4.8 million in 2006 to $12.5 million this fiscal year. National animal groups like the Humane Society, the Petco Foundation, PetSmart Charities and ASPCA found money for San Antonio ACS projects.
The ACS embraced animal adoption groups, hired new staff, blanketed area schools and walked door-to-door in the city’s toughest neighborhoods to promote responsible pet ownership. Education became as important as enforcement.
There are critics. Some animal-rights activists say the no-kill threshold should not have taken 10 years after the problems were identified. They still find it unacceptable that 10 percent of cats and dogs — primarily the sickest, oldest, most-injured and ill-behaved — are put to death.
“It is commendable that we are saving more animals,” said John Bachman, co-director of VOICE For Animals, in an email to the San Antonio Express-News. “However, the city’s preoccupation with the 90 percent live-release rate and No Kill distracted from what should be the overall objective — no more homeless pets. That means no more strays on the streets menacing people and getting killed by cars.”
Animal Care Services has estimated that more than 150,000 stray dogs and cats roam the city.
Despite their efforts, ACS officials acknowledge that every month, dozens of healthy dogs also are put to death because other available options have been exhausted. Last year the ACS euthanized 4,448 animals, and something called the “5 p.m. list” — those animals who will be killed _ must still be compiled each day by a staff member.
“What makes that manager’s job so difficult is the awareness that this isn’t the animal’s fault,” said ACS outreach director Lisa Norwood. “This is a people problem.”
Animal shelter experts and city management publications have praised the San Antonio turnaround. Several cities _ Houston, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Baton Rouge and Las Vegas, among them _ have sent people to study the San Antonio experience.
“They’re no longer just animal catchers in San Antonio,” said Katie Jarl, the Texas state director of The Humane Society of the United States. “This is now a sophisticated operation dedicated to keeping more animals out of the shelters to begin with.”
City Manager Sheryl Sculley said she counts the “heartening” change in ACS as one of the five most important accomplishments of her 11-year tenure here.
It was not a quick transformation, said City Councilman Rey Saldana, who had his animal welfare epiphany in 2011, shortly after being elected.
“I was raised on the South Side and just thought that dangerous dogs running in packs was a fact of life. I actually owe it all to my wife,” he said. “She changed me 180 degrees on this. I told the city manager we needed to go door-to-door and talk to people about dogs. We had a terrible problem.”
“We had to change our image,” said Kathy Davis, who became the ACS director in 2012 and recently retired. “Before you ask the city to trust you, you have to clean up your own house first. We all knew the goal, but you don’t become a no-kill city overnight.”
Some ACS staff cautioned the public not to fixate on the “no-kill” number, itself a misleading term. With warmer months and the breeding season, the percentage dipped slightly below 90 percent for the total live-release in April and May, a figure that includes all healthy and unhealthy animals. If current adoption levels remain constant, as more animals come to ACS, more will fail to find a home and will be euthanized.
“We will not simply keep animals in the shelter, in a cage, for months, so that we can say we didn’t euthanize them,” Norwood said. “That’s not humane treatment.”
Davis and others track the start of the reform efforts to a San Antonio Express-News investigative report, “Death By The Pound,” in November 2004, by then-Staff Writer Lisa Sandberg, who documented the slaughter at its height. On her first day as director in August 2012, Davis said, an ACS board member handed her a copy of the story.
“It was eye-opening,” she said.
Among the grim facts: Almost nine of every 10 cats and dogs that entered the pound were put to death, many within an hour. Critiques of ACS by outside consulting agencies were ignored. Some staffers reported being traumatized from killing thousands of animals in a gas chamber and hearing their wails.
The city stopped using gas and switched to injections in the wake of the story. One year later, in November 2005, Sculley became city manager.
“I’m a runner,” recalled Sculley. “And I was amazed back then at the number of stray animals throughout the city. I used to always carry pepper spray for the dogs. . Ten years ago, our ACS people were taking one ton of animal carcasses to the landfill each day, in plastic garbage bags.”
In 2006, after hearing stories about children and the elderly being mauled in San Antonio by loose dogs, Sculley convened an ACS advisory board that put together a five-year plan. The goal was to be a no kill city by 2012.
“We had to change a culture about dogs,” Sculley said. “Many people just viewed their dogs as security for their property. Nothing more. I remember that there used to be people who before Spring Break would just bring their dog and turn it in to the pound. . They’d say, ‘We’ll just get another one when we come back.’ And that dog would be put to death.”
Progress was slow. But the numbers did improve.
From 2006 to 2011, ACS increased annual citations from 550 to 5,000, spay-neuter surgeries rose from 8,000 to 52,000 and the department tripled its live-release rate to 31 percent.
Animal advocates such as Bachman say the city must treat its dog population problem like an epidemic and boost spay-neutering to about 100,000 animals per year for several years to achieve zero growth.
The city studied what worked at other animal shelters and identified three areas: strong enforcement, an aggressive spay-neuter program and active partnerships with major animal groups to increase adoptions.
That’s where Ellen Jefferson and San Antonio Pets Alive!, plus groups like the Animal Defense League and Humane Society, have become indispensable. From 2012 through 2015, SAPA took in 26,310 of the toughest-to-adopt cats and dogs _ animals with amputations, behavior problems, the elderly _ and found homes for them.
“The Pets Alive! model is only focused on the city shelter and the animals who are left behind in the normal adoption process,” Jefferson said. “So, if the city is doing a great job at adoptions, then Pets Alive! will really have a small pet population.”
But SAPA needs money, too. It has a staff of 45 yet handles a similar number of animals as its Austin chapter, which has a staff of 100. If SAPA and similar groups do not fully function in San Antonio, then ACS says its no kill status will not be sustainable.
“My goal is to raise about a half million to one million dollars for three years running,” Jefferson said. “There is simply too much work for us to do in San Antonio with the people we have. That leads to a poor adoption process, a poor fostering experience.”
Like many who have dealt with ACS over the years, Jefferson agrees that the institutional change in a few short years has saved tens of thousands of animals.
At the 42,000-square-foot ACS shelter, the buildings are clean and airy, the workers appear busy and motivated. (Dozens of ACS staff have adopted or fostered pets.) Last week, veterinarians were doing more than 70 spay-neuter surgeries a day, yet the clinic was hardly chaotic. Enforcement officers quietly monitored calls throughout the city on big TV screens, yet only one flashed red, meaning a dog bite had been reported.
A herd of happy “community cats” _ they don’t say “feral” much at ACS _ relaxed in the sun on benches. The adoption area was teeming with kids nuzzling puppies.
On a recent Saturday morning, several ACS staffers, volunteers and enforcement officers walked through one of the city’s highest-need neighborhoods, handing out information about free spay-neuter programs and reminding residents that their dogs must be behind fences or leashed, must have their rabies shots and, as of 2015, all dogs and cats must be micro-chipped.
In the 400 block of Peabody, ACS health program specialist Jesse Enriquez, a tall engaging guy who has been doing this more than 20 years, bounded from one side of the street to the other to shake hands with residents.
“Loose dogs are still a problem here,” said Maria Godina, a bit timid at first, in Spanish. “They bother people going to the senior citizens center. I go there, too. They should teach people about their dogs.”
At the corner of Peabody and Creighton, two small kids ran out from a nearby church yard sale and waved happily at Enriquez, who they recognized from talks he has given at nearby Elm Creek Elementary. They flashed the peace sign and he handed them spay-neuter flyers for the church crowd.
At one point, Enriquez stopped in the intersection and held out his arms wide.
“I want you to look all the way down Creighton,” he said, eyeing the modest neighborhood. Some yards had rowdy pit bulls, but they were fenced.
“Now look all down this other side. Not a single loose dog anywhere! We were in this exact spot in 2012 and there were packs of stray dogs,” Enriquez said. “This makes you think that what you’re doing is working.”
An ACS outreach team member, Lyssa MacMillan, herself the daughter of a veterinarian, saw change in the making.
“Overwhelmingly, people are glad to see us out here,” she said. “Some people still think of us as being ‘The Man’ _ dog catchers, cops _ but all of us like this, talking to people, so much more than just rounding up dogs.
“Education is a very difficult thing to measure,” MacMillan added. “It’s not like rabies shots. But San Antonio is now seeing the dog problem as a public health issue. San Antonio is changing.”
Layla was an energetic 4-year-old springer spaniel just reaching her prime. Jack Lundbohm figures she would have been the perfect dog for last fall’s grouse-hunting season.
But Layla died one day last August, after splashing along the shore of Lake of the Woods for nearly two hours. She had been playing with Lundbohm’s 5-year-old grandson, Gus, and not long after the boy took a break from throwing sticks and tennis balls, Layla “was not only dead but as rigid as a bronze statue,” Lundbohm said.
She was the 18th dog in Minnesota to have died from suspected blue-green algae poisoning since the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency started tracking the issue a little more than a decade ago.
Last summer, the state recorded its first two cases of human illness linked to toxic algae.
Sickness and death from blue-green algae are troubling, though rare. But the lake conditions that increase the chances of seeing both are not.
Across Minnesota each summer, sky-blue waters transform into pea-green soup, a sign of possible toxins. It’s happening more often — and farther north — than ever before, suggesting that climate change is a key player.
Biologists in the state say they’re even beginning to see blooms of blue-green algae on northern lakes so remote that you’d have to carry a canoe several miles to reach them.
Wilderness spots far removed from most human interaction have typically been safe from such toxic blooms — until now.
“The fingers do start pointing to climate change and how that is changing how our lakes are behaving to produce blue-green algal blooms,” said Mark Edlund, a biologist with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s St. Croix Watershed Research Station.
The warming temperatures and more intense rains Minnesota has seen under climate change are altering lakes in ways that give blue-green algae a boost. The longer growing season that’s a byproduct of global warming offers blue-green algae warmer temperatures and more opportunities to thrive.
Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are sometimes, but not always, toxic. And they have an amazing track record: They were the earliest forms of life on the planet and have outlived trilobites, pteranodons and woolly mammoths.
“They’ve adapted to living in just about any condition, from hot springs to crusts on the walls of old buildings,” Edlund said.
Scientists still have a long way to go before they understand cyanobacteria toxins, said Wayne Carmichael, a professor emeritus of aquatic biology and toxicology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
“We still lack a tremendous amount of knowledge about the exact toxicity of these, and as you get better and better testing, you find what we call analogs: molecules with similar structure to the compound that we’ve already defined,” said Carmichael, who has studied toxic algae for 45 years. “Are they also toxic? And if so, how toxic?”
Carmichael said while global warming can exacerbate problem blue-green algae, farming and urban development have historically been the primary driver. “That’s where we should be putting our focus. The problem is that’s heavily tied up in politics,” he said.
Meanwhile, scientists are finding more evidence suggesting blue-green algae are unstoppable, at least without drastic measures.
In Minnesota’s lakes, blue-green algae thrive best under warm, dry, calm conditions with access to plenty of their favorite foods: phosphorus and nitrogen. Those nutrients exist in lakes naturally, deposited when aquatic plants and fish die and decompose.
They are also deposited when rainstorms wash leaves, soil and fertilizer into streams and lakes. Over the years, farming, industry and urban development have caused those nutrient levels in Minnesota’s waters to spike. Blue-green algal blooms are especially common in southern Minnesota, where row crops dominate the landscape.
A few blue-green algal blooms were blamed for livestock deaths in Minnesota as early as the late 1800s.
“In the southern lakes in the corn belt, they’re blooming all the time, and it’s land use,” said Adam Heathcote, a limnologist who works with Edlund at the St. Croix lab.
Two southern Minnesota lakes — Lake Benton, north of Pipestone, and Fox Lake, west of Fairmont — have been havens for algae. Dogs died on both lakes — in 2004 and 2009 — when the waters were pea-green and toxic.
Lake Benton’s water in 2004 “looked like opaque paint,” the dog’s owner told the local newspaper. “The water was absolutely consistently green. You could have taken it out and painted your house with it. That’s what the dog looked like.
“It looked almost funny, like something you’d see in a comic book. It looked like she had been dipped in paint.”
On Fox Lake in 2009, it was likely toxic algae that killed Sady, a 3-year-old black Lab. She died roughly five hours after swimming. Photos of the lake show mats of blue-green algae floating on the surface.
Sady had been a wedding gift from a Minnesota Marine to his sister. The next year, the Marine was killed in Iraq. Sady’s death hit the family hard.
“That dog was what we had left of him,” the Marine’s brother-in-law told The Associated Press.
Both incidents were textbook cases of harmful algal blooms: They happened in shallow to medium-depth, nutrient-rich lakes in the middle of farm country. But some of the more recent suspected cases are not so predictable.
Lake of the Woods, for example, has seen a spike in toxic blue-green algae in the past two to three decades, despite major reductions in the phosphorus coming into the lake from paper mills. That change was mandated by the Clean Water Act in 1972, Heathcote said.
“We don’t really have a handle on why these northern lakes are starting to bloom,” he said.
Scientists know cyanobacteria are thriving in Lake of the Woods despite lower phosphorus levels because they’ve analyzed the layers of mud deposited on the lake bottom over time.
“Every lake in Minnesota has somewhere between 6 feet and 75 feet of mud that’s accumulated since the glaciers left, 10,000 years ago,” said Edlund, Heathcote’s colleague.
In March, their team collaborated with the Red Lake Nation to collect a sediment core from Upper Red Lake. They drilled a hole in the ice, pushed a tube deep into the mud, capped it off and brought it back to the lab.
The researchers have sliced the long, cylindrical slab in half lengthwise. Edlund guesses that a place on the core where the color changes shows when settlers arrived to the watershed and cleared the land for farming. The scientists will slice the mud crosswise and use radioisotopes to date the sediment.
Then, they will analyze everything trapped inside, including fossilized algae.
“It will tell you what that lake was like,” Edlund said. “What the algae were like, what the nutrients were like. We might even be able to tell you what the fish were like.”
In past core samples, scientists have found rare isotopes like cesium-137, which showed up during the atomic bomb testing era. Blue-green algae species are there, too, and Edlund said that, as water quality worsens in lakes, “we typically will see increases in the numbers and types of blue-green algae.”
Edlund and other scientists from several institutions plan to test a group of Minnesota lakes to better understand cyanobacteria and their toxins. That project, funded by state lottery money, includes some lakes in the central and forested regions of the state where blue-green algae have historically been less common.
At the same time, Edlund, Heathcote and other scientists are taking a deeper look at Lake of the Woods because they want to understand the exact cause of the upward trend in algal blooms.
So far, it appears related to the way nutrients from the bottom of the lake — deposited decades ago by industrial pollution — are suspended upward into the water column, where cyanobacteria enjoy a splendid feast. The algae grow and multiply, forming green mats massive enough to show up on satellite images.
Jack Lundbohm, Layla’s owner, said his grandfather built one of the first cabins along Lake of the Woods’ Birch Beach in the 1940s. “We’ve been going there all our lives,” he said.
The water turns green pretty much every summer, but Lundbohm said he didn’t start seeing that signature surface scum from cyanobacteria until recently.
“The blue-green algae is a totally different beast,” he said. “When it blooms, it’s an awful sight. It floats in the water like a big raft. It’s almost metallic blue and green in color, and when you drive through with your boat it has a very strong metallic odor that you just have to wish you’d never smelled before.”
Lundbohm’s experiences on the lake through the years parallel Edlund and Heathcote’s research into industrial waste on Lake of the Woods and the river that feeds it.
One spring fishing trip, in particular, left an impression.
It was the 1970s. Lundbohm was still in college. He cast his line out into the Rainy River from a dock near the point where it flows into the lake. He guesses he was probably 80 miles by river to International Falls, where a giant paper mill flushed its waste into the water. When he reeled in, his line was covered in muck.
“You could squeeze it out and tell it was paper,” he said. “It was incredible to think there was that much sludge collecting on my line every time I reeled it in.”
Lake of the Woods’ recent blue-green algae spike initially perplexed scientists, because they knew the source of the pollution — wastewater — had been cut off by Clean Water Act regulations.
Now, they have a new hypothesis: Climate change creates more opportunities for “internal loading” of phosphorus — when old phosphorus on the lake bottom is released.
On Lake of the Woods, legacy phosphorus from paper mills, rather than new pollution, is leaking out of the bottom sediment, fueling blue-green algae growth. A longer open-water season and wind storms that follow long periods of calm seem to be the problem’s two primary climate drivers, the scientists say.
Under calm conditions, the lake separates into a warm layer and a cold layer. When the layers remain separate for longer than usual, the colder bottom layer is choked of oxygen, which causes phosphorus from the sediment to leak out and become available to blue-green algae.
Wind storms mix up the lake and bring more phosphorus out of the darkness and closer to the surface, where algae can grab it and combine it with sunlight to grow. The more ice-free days in a lake’s year, the more chances for these processes to repeat themselves.
Edlund and Heathcote hope that learning more about what’s happening on other lakes, especially Upper Red Lake, will help confirm the role climate change has had in increased blue-green algae in northern Minnesota’s lakes.
Heavier rainstorms in the Midwest consistent with climate change in the Midwest are likely making the problem worse. Intense rains are tough for the ground to absorb, which means more rain is running off into lakes and streams, bringing along soil, leaves and anything else in its path. That adds to the phosphorus problem.
Those conditions, combined with the unique skillset cyanobacteria possess, seem to be turning more clearwater lakes green — a change that’s hard to reverse, said Kathy Cottingham, a freshwater ecologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
Scientists already knew that cyanobacteria, unlike other algae, can pull nitrogen from the air to use as fuel, Cottingham said. And they have gas vesicles that allow them to move up and down within the water column, so they can bring phosphorus up from the bottom of the lake, she said.
“I sometimes refer to this as bringing phosphorus to the party,” Cottingham said. “They have a lot of ways of making a living that some of the other organisms don’t have access to.”
Despite its name, the water in the Mud River was clear on the day in September 2014 when Lisa Newton walked Petey, an 11-year-old beagle, and Zeus, a 10-month-old chocolate Lab, along its shore in the town of Grygla, roughly an hour southwest of Lake of the Woods.
Petey, a rescue dog, drank from the river that day. When they got home, he laid down on his favorite napping spot on the entryway rug. Newton’s teenage daughter, Marisa, arrived home a little while later and screamed. Petey was dead, a pool of saliva on the floor.
“Old age,” Newton thought at the time. She buried Petey.
“He got along good with everybody, and everybody in town knew Petey when he would bark and howl,” she said. “He was a really good dog.”
The next morning, Newton walked Zeus, her daughter’s dog, along the same river trail. He played in the river and drank from it.
“We got back to the house and I put laundry in, and when I came back up, I looked at him and his eyes were swollen shut,” Newton said. She took him outside to rinse his eyes out, but minutes later, Zeus struggled to walk.
“He started stumbling sideways,” she said. Newton phoned her daughter, telling her to call the veterinarian. Newton called a friend to help her get the dog to the vet.
“Within that time, he barely made it into the house, vomited on the floor, fell to the floor and then appeared to have mild seizures,” she said. “I was absolutely terrified.”
Zeus died on the way to the vet.
“It’s really awful to watch an animal or anything go through what he did. He was struggling to survive and to stand and there was nothing I could do for him,” Newton said.
Her daughter was devastated, Newton said. “That was her baby.”
After Zeus’ death, the veterinarian asked Newton to exhume Petey’s body. The dog’s stomach and parts of his liver and lung were sent for testing. Microcystin, a liver toxin produced by blue-green algae, was in Petey’s system, and the vet said that, given the circumstances, toxic algae likely killed Zeus, too.
MPCA research scientist Steve Heiskary has been investigating reports of blue-green algae exposure in dogs for years.
“I can appreciate what the people are dealing with,” he said. Heiskary has two hunting dogs of his own.
It’s often difficult to determine whether a dog has been poisoned by blue-green algae, even after MPCA staff investigate. And some of the few confirmed cases of toxic algae deaths in dogs have happened in waters where there were no visible signs of a blue-green algae bloom. That’s led the MPCA and other agencies to rethink how they inform dog owners about the possible dangers.
The “when-in-doubt-stay-out” advice that the MPCA and other agencies have given dog owners is not foolproof. MPCA officials recommend people and dogs stay out of water that looks like green paint, but Heiskary notes that toxins can linger even after the scum disappears.
“The bloom collapses. They die, they start to decompose. Toxins are released. Is the water safe to swim in a day later? We don’t know. Two days later? We don’t know,” he said. “As a scientist, you like to be more certain. I’d like to be able to accurately convey a risk.”
To complicate things further, blue-green algae is not always toxic, and it’s impossible to know without testing if an algae bloom contains toxins, Heiskary said.
Captain, a 10-month-old Lab-golden mix, died last June after playing in Red Rock Lake, west of Alexandria.
“The water was 100 percent crystal clear,” Captain’s owner, Dawn Stimmler, said. But the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab later confirmed high levels of anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin found in some blue-green algae, in Captain’s body.
Stimmler, who has two other dogs, was with Captain and Liberty, a German shepherd, the day Captain got sick. Liberty normally loves to swim, but was acting odd that day, she said.
“She kept whining and whining and refused to go in the water,” Stimmler said.
The Minnesota Department of Health has been looking for algae illnesses and deaths in dogs for the past few years.
“Dog cases are becoming more commonly reported,” said Kirk Smith, a veterinarian who oversees the health department’s unit that addresses waterborne illnesses. “Dogs and other animals can be sentinels for human disease.”
Two people who fell ill last summer after swimming in Lake Henry in Alexandria and West Olaf Lake near Pelican Rapids are suspected toxic algae cases. Smith said there are likely more out there that health officials don’t know about.
“For most every disease, what we find out about is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
The challenge is determining whether toxic algae is the culprit when there is no diagnostic test for it in humans, said Stephanie Gretsch, an epidemiologist who tracks waterborne diseases at the health department.
“These illnesses are generally pretty mild and they’re also non-specific,” she said. “It could be a harmful algal bloom, or it could be something else in the lake, or it could be something they ate while they were at the lake.”
Are Minnesota lakes with legacy phosphorus pollution doomed to a life of pea-green summers and toxic water?
Scuba divers nominated Bald Eagle Lake, in the Twin Cities’ northeastern suburbs, as the worst place in the state to scuba dive in a 2007 online community forum.
“My 1,800 lumen light could only cut through about 1-2 feet of scum water,” one diver wrote. “Kept imagining the bottom of an unflushed toilet from all the dark brown water and scum.”
Research showed roughly 40 to 50 percent of the phosphorus in the lake was being stirred up from bottom sediment rather than being added by stormwater runoff, said Matt Kocian, a lake and stream specialist with the Rice Creek Watershed District.
These days, the lake is among the clearest in the metro, thanks to a lake additive called alum. The liquid aluminum sulfate makes a chemical bond with phosphorus on the bottom of the lake, preventing the nutrient from leaching out of the sediment and fueling algae growth.
The alum was added to the lake in two phases: once in 2014, and again last month. The Rice Creek Watershed District, which is overseeing the project, has seen drastic improvements.
“We’ve had the phosphorus concentrations cut nearly in half, similarly for the amount of algae on the lake,” Kocian said.
A barge equipped with tanks applied 247,000 gallons — 59 tanker trucks worth — of alum to the 1,000-acre lake in April.
But the project wasn’t cheap. The watershed district split the cost with the Bald Eagle Area Homeowners Association. Homeowners had voted to tax themselves to pay the nearly $900,000 price tag. They wanted to be able to see their feet when standing in chest-deep water, Kocian said.
While the community is thrilled with the project’s success, Kocian said the alum treatment followed years of study to determine how much was needed to be effective.
“It’s not a tool to be used on every lake,” he said. Shallow lakes, whose sediment gets stirred up by carp and other bottom-feeders or wind storms, aren’t good candidates. Neither are lakes where most of the phosphorus comes from stormwater runoff.
Treating a lake with alum to address phosphorus is not the norm in Minnesota. Usually, the efforts focus on identifying the source of nutrients then working with farmers, cities and industry to reduce inputs.
That could mean upgrading treatment technology for a wastewater treatment plant, planting buffers or cover crops to keep more nutrients on the land, or building wetlands, rain gardens or other means of natural treatment to slow the amount of runoff entering surface waters. There are also projects around the state that have found ways to capture and reuse stormwater and wastewater.
It would cost billions of dollars to get rid of excess phosphorus in Minnesota’s lakes, and there’s still a lot that’s unknown about just how effective that would be in curbing blue-green algae.
And just as the Minnesota Department of Health has heightened its awareness of Lyme disease-carrying ticks, heat illness, allergies and other health concerns expected to worsen with climate change, officials say blue-green algae is worth watching, too.
“It’s kind of hard to communicate the risk when we really don’t have a great sense of the risk ourselves,” said the health department’s Smith. “We’re really kind of in the infancy of studying this whole problem, so we just try to get the facts out there.”
Awareness, at least, seems to be growing among veterinarians and dog owners, said Ahna Brutlag, a veterinarian who specializes in toxicology and works for the Pet Poison Helpline, a fee-based service for pet owners. She said algae calls are much less common than cases of the most common dog poison: chocolate.
When dog owners do call about blue-green algae, often it’s because they let their dogs play in water and then noticed a warning sign afterward, she said.
“They’re calling us because they’re frantic,” she said. “They’re looking for immediate guidance.”
Luckily, most of those dogs turn out to be fine, Brutlag said. Those who aren’t show a range of symptoms: drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, refusing to eat, yellow gums.
If the dog has been exposed to microcystin or anatoxin-a, the prognosis is poor. “It’s difficult to get that dog to the clinic fast enough,” she said.
Owners who have lost dogs to blue-green algae say they won’t be taking any chances this summer.
Lisa Newton keeps Flash, her new beagle-basset hound mix, on a leash during walks along Mud River.
Spot, Jack Lundbohm’s new hunting dog, won’t be fetching sticks in late summer on Lake of the Woods.
And for Dawn Stimmler’s dogs, Liberty and Kaiya, swimming at the family cabin is a distant memory.
“They’re forbidden to go in,” she said. “We set up a kiddie pool for them to cool off.”
On the Web
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News.
An AP member exchange story.
Forty-eight Labrador Retrievers were rescued recently from an alleged puppy mill in western Wisconsin, according to a statement from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office arrested the owner, who faces charges of animal mistreatment and is accused of failing to adequately provide food and shelter for the animals.
News reports indicated that several dead dogs also were found on the property in Elmwood, Wisconsin.
Thirteen puppies and 35 adult dogs were taken to the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley for medical treatment, according to the ASPCA.
A criminal investigation is ongoing.
Does anyone really enjoy being administered a shot at the doctor’s office? While we might dread heading in for our yearly flu shot each year, certainly one prick must be better than catching this year’s version of the flu.
For your canine companion, that time of year is here for them. It is an interesting development for pet medicine, as dogs in the United States historically were not threatened by canine flu — not until it found its way to the Midwest in 2015.
What is Canine Influenza Virus?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in the dog world, strains of canine influenza — or CIV — have been limited to international pups — dogs in Asian countries, particularly Thailand, South Korea and China. CIV is thought to have developed directly out of avian and equine influenzas, strains H3N2 and H3N8, respectively.
In 2015, we started seeing the H3N2 variety crop up in parts of the Midwest, clustered in the Chicago area. The AVMA has determined that in the case of H3N8, the entire genome of the equine influenza strain evolved specifically for canine hosts, making it a particularly interesting virus from a medical standpoint.
The first U.S. detection of CIV H3N8 came in 2004, when it was found in racing greyhounds in Florida and nearby states. It has spread to more than 40 states.
The most prevalent strain in the Midwest, seen first in the Chicago area last year, is H3N2, a mutation of avian influenza.
How can we prevent CIV?
Just as our flu is not fatal to the majority of our young and healthy population, canine influenza will likely not threaten Fluffy’s life. But it might make Fluffy very uncomfortable.
According to Dr. James Frank, DVM at Lakeside Animal Hospital, “(Canine influenza) seems to present as a severe respiratory infection with dogs — coughing, running fevers, not eating or drinking and acting lethargic.” Many veterinarians are offering vaccinations for both strains.
So what can you do to keep Fluffy healthy?
Knowing the risk factors is one of the first steps to determining if a dog might be susceptible to CIV.
“If you have a high-risk dog, if you go to dog parks, groomers or if you go to doggie day care, you have better chances of picking it up,” Frank says. “What people should be aware of and weigh ahead of time is that should they pursue the vaccine, they don’t get protection until after they’ve received the second of two shots, which are spaced about a month apart.”
Once the initial influenza vaccinations are done, the immunization becomes a once yearly shot.
So far for 2016, cases of H3N2 are down significantly in our area compared to the level of cases seen in Chicago last year. This could be for a variety of reasons, including preventative vaccination by pet owners last year.
While you’re at the vet looking into the CIV vaccination, remember it’s the time of year for dog owners to be diligent about heartworm testing and prevention.
Heartworms begin in a larvae stage, when they’re initially transmitted to a dog from a mosquito bite. As the adult worms form, they find their way to and set up shop in the dog’s lung and heart blood vessels, causing permanent damage and enormous discomfort. Affected dogs will tire easily, cough and show other signs of distress.
The two pieces of good news here: it is generally agreed that the heartworm risk season does not last all year and preventing the disease is as easy as remembering to pill your pup once per month. With heartworm, it is always better to be proactive with prevention than to try to treat the disease once it has taken hold.
Heartworm season generally lasts from March/April through November, which is the active and breeding season for mosquitoes. During this time, it is important for dogs to be on a monthly heartworm preventative.
Who is at risk?
Remember, both indoor and outdoor dogs should be tested and put on preventative medication, as even a dog who only goes outdoors occasionally is still considered at risk for the disease. Since mosquitoes do not limit themselves to the outdoors — they can and will find a way into homes — heartworm prevention is an important part of every dog’s yearly health profile.
How do monthly heartworm preventatives keep my dog safe?
You might not know that heartworm prevention works differently from a vaccination. When you give Fluffy his heartworm medication, it actually works to help him clear out any parasites that may have snuck into his system during the prior month. Stopping the heartworm larvae from maturing into adult heartworms is essential to keep heartworm disease out of your pup’s system.
“While canine influenza isn’t a deadly disease, heartworm is both deadly and sneaky. Remembering to give the medication is key,” says Frank. “Everyone has their own system at home to keep themselves on track. It is a very good drug when given correctly.”
What can I do?
Staying up to date on all of Fluffy’s vaccinations and check-ups will greatly reduce your chances of contracting anything this year. Your local veterinarians can answer your questions, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Also, look for brochures and information available at clinics and online for further reading.
In a study that could eventually spare more dogs from euthanasia, a University of Florida veterinary professor found that DNA analysis of canines labeled as pit bulls at shelters often had little genetic link to the breeds that spawned the generic pit bull classification.
A team headed by Dr. Julie Levy of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s Maddie’s Shelter Medicine program found that shelter workers often mislabel dogs as pit bulls. That can be a death sentence in cities or counties that ban pit bulls.
The label can also make it difficult for shelters in general to find people to adopt the dogs, leading to euthanasia.
“In Florida the impact is greatest in Miami, where it is illegal to own a pit bull, so they can’t be adopted out. That shelter will adopt them out to other counties but usually those counties often have a lot of pit bulls, too,” Levy said. “They start out with a difficulty in that they are the most common type of dog in a shelter. They come in in high numbers and they don’t go out in proportion to which they come in.”
The term ‘pit bull’ is loosely used. Dogs derived from the recognized breeds of American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier are often labeled as pit bulls because they may have some of the physical characteristics of those breeds.
But the UF research found the dogs classified as pit bulls are typically mutts with many different genetic lines. Sometimes, the percentage of Staffordshire DNA was at or near the bottom.
The researchers took DNA from 120 dogs assessed by 16 shelter staffers, including four veterinarians, in four shelters in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Marion County. Three of the shelters were government run.
Alachua County Animal Services was not included, Levy said, because it does not have a full-time veterinarian — something the research team wanted.
Blood was drawn from each dog to develop a DNA profile. That profile was then compared to the classification of the dog given by staff.
Dogs that had DNA from pit bull ancestors were identified just 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on the staff member who judged them. Dogs lacking any genetic evidence of the breeds were labeled as pit bull-type dogs as much as 48 percent of the time.
The results mean it’s difficult to label a dog based on looks, yet dogs are banned or euthanized based on exactly that.
“Sometimes they look like a pit bull to us but they are a lab mix. It’s just the kind of random way that genes arrange themselves. They can create an image that doesn’t look anything like the parents,” Levy said. “It’s kind of a fallacy when we look at a dog and say, ‘Oh, that’s a shepherd mix.’ We really can’t say that. It just looks like a shepherd, but it might not have any shepherd at all.”
Breed-specific legislation, such as the pit bull ban in Miami, is controversial in the canine world. Ban supporters say pit bulls are responsible for attacks and maulings, and are fought. Opponents contend problems arise not from the breed, but from the way owners treat the dog.
Dogs labeled as pit bulls or pit mixes are common in Alachua County and are routinely adopted at both Animal Services and by rescue groups such as the Alachua County Humane Society.
Humane Society operations director Chrissy Sedgley said breed information is not mentioned on the dogs’ kennels. It is cited online because that is a direct feed from Animal Services, which lists the breed on rabies certificates.
“I feel a lot of dogs are mislabeled. We’ve tried to move away from that and focus on their age and their personality. When people ask us what we think, we tell them that it is just a guess. We know there is no true way of knowing without a test,” Sedgley said.
She added that only occasionally does a prospective adopter turn down a dog labeled as a pit bull.
“It definitely happens but we are so fortunate to live in a progressive town. I’m from South Florida where there are restrictions,” she said. “When people from down there move here and see all the pit bulls in our shelters, they are surprised by it.”
While adoptions of dogs classified as pit bulls are allowed here, they still face bias.
Levy said some apartment complexes won’t rent to pit bull owners and some insurance companies charge higher rates for homeowners with the dogs, or won’t insure them at all. Some government-subsidized housing bans them.
The study was prompted through the shelter medicine program’s work with Animal Services to help find ways to better market dogs awaiting adoption.
Labeling dogs gives us little useful information about their personality or behavior, Levy said.
“If you get a new dog and tell a friend, usually the first question they’ll ask is ‘What kind?’ We are hard-wired to imagine what a dog looks like. Then we might take it one step farther and want to think that the breed will tell us how it will behave and its personality, and that’s even more unreliable,” Levy said. “We might read a horoscope and look for coincidences that match with the horoscope, but it doesn’t mean the horoscope really knew what was going to happen. Talking about breeds is a fun pastime that we are stuck with.”
Reported by CINDY SWIRKO for The Gainesville Sun.