Rash of dog poisonings hits county

Official believes actions are deliberate

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— Authorities suspect someone may be trying to kill pets with rat poison in an area south of Steamboat Springs.

Since Sept. 15, five dogs have been poisoned with strychnine, said Cindy DelValle, Routt County animal control officer. One of the dogs has died.

Strychnine is a poison commonly used to kill rats.

Owners of four of the poisoned dogs live along County Road 14A, DelValle said. The fifth case occurred in Stagecoach.

DelValle said it appears the poisonings were deliberate. "We do have some possible leads that we are looking into."

Brent Romick, who lives on County Road 14A, is the only resident so far who has lost a pet to the poison. Romick's dog died at the end of October.

Romick's neighbors, Bill and Pam Schlenzig, discovered last week that their dogs had been poisoned as well. Fortunately, the couple was able to get medical care in time to save the dogs.

The couple's border collie, Ranger, and Australian shepherd, Sydney, were both poisoned with strychnine.

Pam Schlenzig noticed that Ranger was panting heavily the afternoon of Nov. 14. That evening, Schlenzig said, Ranger collapsed.

"He broke into a horrible seizure," Schlenzig said. "He landed on his side."

At first, the couple thought the dog's seizure was because of epilepsy and did not take immediate action.

"After a couple of hours, Ranger got worse," she said. "I found him hidden in a corner lying down. I thought he was dead."

At about 11 p.m., the couple took Ranger to a Steamboat Springs veterinarian. Because of the late hour, the veterinarian did not have the staff to treat Ranger, Schlenzig said.

Armed with doses of Valium, the couple drove to Denver, where the dog was treated at about 2:30 a.m.

"He was a wreck," Schlenzig said of Ranger.

In the morning, Ranger was feeling better, but the couple decided to leave the dog in Denver for further observation.

When the couple returned home that afternoon, they discovered Sydney was suffering from the same symptoms as Ranger. Immediately, the couple took Sydney to a Steamboat Springs veterinarian, and the pet was treated for strychnine poisoning. Both dogs were able to return home by the weekend.

"It is odd," Schlenzig said of the poisonings. "We are relieved they are both OK. They are finally getting back to normal."

A day after Sydney was taken to the veterinarian, a fifth dog was poisoned in the Stagecoach area, DelValle said.

Now, the pet owners in the area are concerned.

"Everyone is on heightened alert," Schlenzig said. "We are pretty conscientious of where we let the dogs go. For the most part, everyone is keeping their dogs in."

On Sunday, Schlenzig and some of her neighbors walked the county road in an attempt to find the poison but were unsuccessful.

DelValle said dog owners should be aware of where their dogs are at all times. "Once an animal ingests the poison, the symptoms occur a very short time later," DelValle said. "Two hours can be fatal."

Symptoms include nervousness, apprehension, stiffness and seizures, she said.

"The seizures will start with some type of stimulus like bright light and noise," she said.

Josie Dean, president of the Routt County Humane Society, said pet owners need to be careful with their pets until authorities can discover the source of the poison. "We want people to be aware this is going on," Dean said, "so people can keep closer tabs on their dogs and cats."

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