WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT: A South Australian couple who watched helplessly as their dogs died violent deaths from a common Australian poison are pleading with authorities to ban it.
Bear and Luna, a bonded pair of Border Collie x Kelpies, died on March 11 from what their owners believe was 1080 poisoning, a substance used to kill foxes, cats and dingoes.
One of their owners, who requested her name be withheld, said the dogs had been at her side since she began working from home during the coronavirus outbreak.
Two weeks since their deaths, she's struggling without them.
“Heartbreaking isn’t the right word for it, we need a word that’s more intense,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“Our hearts are obliterated. They weren’t meant to die like that. They should have died old. Not still young.”
Dogs may have wandered into poison zone
1080 was being used in the Picaninnie Ponds Conservation Park at the edge of South Australia’s border with Victoria.
While the South Australian Department of Environment say they have complied with all warning requirements, including signage and notifications in local newspapers, Bear and Luna’s owners say they were unaware of the severity of the poison.
As the dogs were being exercised on the Victorian side of the beach, where 1080 is not used, they likely ran into South Australia and picked up a bait.
Photos taken by the couple show hamburger like patties with seed-sized toxic red granules inside, sitting on the beach, with the area marked with small pink flags, a practice consistent with South Australian government baiting programs.
According to Bear’s owners, similar looking red beads were later found inside his vomit, but when the dog started crying that evening they had no idea why.
Their symptoms, as described by the owners are consistent with reported instances of 1080 poisoning, although test results are pending.
“Bear was was running around with his tail between his legs as if he’d been hurt,” the owner said.
“He was alternating between screaming and crying, and then he started running around in circles as if to get away from something.
“After running around, he ended up running to (my fiancé) and collapsed at (his) feet and had a seizure.”
Bear’s owners attempted in vain to contain him so he could be raced to the vet, but he continued to have seizures and bite wildly.
“When he came to, he ran straight to the pen where Luna was,” she said.
“He used his last bit of life to get back to her."
1080 baits used to protect shorebirds, authorities say
The South Australian Department of environment told Yahoo News Australia that the area where 1080 is used has been set aside for conservation and pets including dogs are not permitted in the park.
They said data shows without baiting nesting shorebirds are preyed on by foxes.
“1080 fox baits are currently being used within the Picaninnie Ponds Conservation Park, which includes the beach, and is part of a decade-long program of targeted baiting in the area,” a spokesperson said.
“Foxes are known to be in the area and are a widespread problem in the Limestone Coast causing destruction of our native wildlife, particularly nesting shorebirds including the threatened hooded plover, but also to primary producers.”
Critics say poison does not meet welfare expectations
Despite its widespread use in environmental protection, critics say the poison, which was developed 60 years ago, is cruel and does not meet current welfare expectations.
Alex Vince, from Coalition of Australians Against 1080 Poison, told Yahoo News Australia that as Australia and New Zealand use a large percentage of the world’s 1080, they need to develop alternatives.
Despite the poison's widespread use, he believes the majority of the public would have trouble identifying its symptoms.
“I think the fact that it does produce such a cruel and prolonged death, which includes hours of suffering, is something that a lot of the Australian public are unaware of,” he said.
“In our work, we’ve found that people don't become aware of it until an event like what happened to Luna and Bear happens.”
Animal welfare expert Dr Clive Marks argues that 1080 poisoning programs remain prevalent because the community is seldom confronted by the “poor” animal welfare outcomes from its use.
Dr Marks believes that because there are no agencies that invest in the animal welfare of pest species, their suffering is considered less important by authorities.
'Snow White's poison apple'
While Bear was taken to the vet, Luna became ill and later died.
Her owners believe she likely died from eating Bear's vomit.
They believed at the time that dogs were allowed on the Victorian side of beach, as they didn't notice signage saying otherwise, however Parks Victoria have since indicated pets are likely prohibited from the area.
Despite the probable restriction, they have seen that other dogs continue to be exercised over the border and into South Australia where the baits were found.
They’ve tried to warn the other dog walkers, but have been largely ignored. Now it’s hard to go back there.
"The best way to describe it is It reminds me of Snow White's poison apple," she said.
"Beautiful, perfect and enticing on the surface, but underneath it hides a sinister, deadly evil."
Bear and Luna’s deaths have left a silence in the house, and their owners say they will now focus on advocating for 1080 reforms as a way to remember them.
“From the moment that they met, they just they loved each other,” their owner said.
“Luna never really played with toys it was always Bear. She loved chasing after him while he was playing with them.
“In every sense of the word they were soulmates, that’s the only way to describe them.”
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