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Mesa Dog Owners Frustrated by Lack of Answers in Park Poisonings

Since November, at least four dogs have gotten sick and one has died from poisoning after eating laced meat at Carriage Lane Park in Mesa.

The owners of the afflicted canines have had to fight to get a case opened with Mesa's Animal Control Department, which is short-staffed after a series of budget cuts, and they say they've been ignored entirely by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Tom and Wendy Julian's Australian shepherd puppy, Chili, was the first confirmed case of poisoning. After returning from a trip to Carriage Lane Park on November 30, Wendy Julian recalls that Chili "was in the backyard, stiff and foaming at the mouth. She was having seizures."

The Julians took their pet to First Regional Animal Hospital, where Chili stayed for three days. She's fine now, says Wendy Julian, but her treatments racked up about $3000 in bills.

Robert Hammerman, the administrator of First Regional Animal Hospital, says the hospital sent the contents of Chili's stomach to the Michigan State Lab. The results came back positive for Strychnine.

One of the most recent poisonings at the park happened to Reece Ponicki's three-year-old black lab/greyhound mix, Max. Ponicki says Max ran near the canal area by Carriage Lane Park, and when they got home, "Max went to the door like he wanted out. Then he put his tail between his legs and started shaking," Ponicki says. "He stood up on his hind legs, just like a person would, then fell sideways stiff as a board and stopped breathing. I thought my best friend had died right there."

Ponicki took Max to First Regional Animal Hospital, where he stayed for two days and ran up a $3,000 bill. First Regional Animal Hospital sent samples from Max for testing -- this time to Colorado State University -- and again, the tests came back positive for Strychnine.

Among the effects of Strychnine poisoning in animals, says Robert Hammerman, are seizures and respiratory failure. "It absolutely could be fatal in an animal depending on the dosage and the size of the animal," he says.

Both the Julians and Ponicki say they've taken their pets to Carriage Lane Park for years, and the poisonings were the first problems they ever had there. To Hammerman, it's clear that "a sick, twisted person" is putting out Strychnine-laced meat at the park. "It's a shame, because it's a really nice park, and a lot of dogs go there," he says.

To add to the frustrations, dog owners say they've had a very hard time getting anybody to investigate what's turned into a rash of poisonings. Ponicki went to the MSCO and was told it couldn't open a case without a suspect. Wendy Julian says Mesa wasn't paying attention until two more dogs were poisoned last Sunday. "Now it seems they're taking notice of the problem now," she says.

Hammerman says First Regional Animal Hospital contacted Mesa's Parks and Recreation department after seeing "the beginning of what we thought might have been a trend about two months ago," and were told that extra rangers would patrol the parks.

But like most city departments, Mesa's parks department is suffering from budget cuts.

"What the parks originally told us is they were short-staffed and doing their best to increase monitoring, but they're short because of budget cuts," Hammerman says. (The city has posted orange signs at Carriage Lane Park, warning owners that somebody's leaving food laced with Strychnine in the park).  

According to Ponicki, Mesa Animal Control officer Chad Willis opened a case, but so far, there have been no arrests. Calls to Mesa Animal Control had not been returned as of this writing, but if we hear back from them, we'll post an update.

Meantime, a group of concerned citizens has launched a Web site called carriagelanecanines.com to promote awareness of the dog poisonings.

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