Charleston dog park to reopen after rat poison scare

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A West Ashley couple wants answers after their rescue dog lost its life following a trip to a Charleston dog park. While city officials say rat poison (Strychnine) was not found at the park, the family's veterinarian hasn't ruled it out.

Bees Landing Dog Park on Ashley Gardens Boulevard was closed all day Monday and HAZMAT Crews tested the area for contaminants.

"A thorough evaluation of the Bees Landing dog park by HAZMAT crews using standard hazardous materials protocols has revealed no evidence of chemical contamination," a release from the city said.

City officials said they acted quickly after hearing from Sarah Harwell about Dixie's death.

“The safety of the people and animals who visit our parks are our top priority,” said City of Charleston Director of Parks Jason Kronsberg Monday morning. “As a dog-lover myself, I know how much Dixie will be missed, and we will not reopen the dog park until we have confirmed there is no evidence of strychnine contamination.”

Charleston Fire Department Chief Karen Brack said the city does not "take reports of this nature lightly."

The park is expected to reopen Tuesday, but that doesn't change how Dixie's family feels about the situation. Harwell believes the dog was poisoned while playing at the park Sunday. The onset of symptoms was so quick there was nothing vets could do to save the dog.

"All of her muscles had gotten rigid," Harwell said. "Her jaw had locked up to the point where they couldn't giver her medication or intubate her after her cardiac arrest."

Harwell said symptoms started at the park, so they drove Dixie straight to the vet. Dixie was dead in under an hour, and that's why the vet isn't ruling out Strychnine poisoning.

"After talking to the vet and how quickly the symptoms came on, we feel pretty strongly her exposure was at the park," Harwell said.

No one can be positive about the dog's cause of death until a tissue sample from Dixie can be tested, and Dr. Scott Snef said Strychnine poisoning is extremely rare.

"I haven't seen a case of Strychnine poisoning in 20 years," he said. "It's just not out there that much. But, it is really ugly when it is, though."

Dr. Snef said the poison is normally used to kill gophers, moles and rats and is not readily available for purchase. He believes if Dixie was poisoned by Strychnine, it was done on purpose.

Officials with the City of Charleston say the recreation department does not use the toxin.

Harwell said she is grateful for the quick response from the city.

"I'm thankful for the city and for Mayor Tecklenburg's office for taking immediate action this morning to close the park and try to find if anything is there that would hurt other animals or people," Harwell said.

Despite the quick action and response from the city, Harwell said her husband vows to never take a pet to a dog park again.

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