A warning to pet owners: toxic algae kills three dogs in matter of hours

A warning to pet owners: toxic algae kills three dogs in matter of hours
Abby, Harpo, and Izzy died tragically early Friday morning after being exposed to little-known blue-green algae in a Wilmington pond. (Source: Melissa Martin)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A hot summer evening in Wilmington was made a little cooler for three dogs when their loving owners brought them to a nearby pond to play and swim Thursday night. Just hours later — all three dogs were dead, their owners’ lives now shattered.

“Our dogs were everything," said Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz. "We had two Westies, they were both therapy certified. And then we had Harpo — he was going to be seven this year. He did a lot of stuff in the community. I mean we just took them here last night and let them play and it ended up in all three of them dying because of something called blue green algae that we’ve never even heard of.”

After playing in the water in a Pond off of Independence Boulevard, the dogs were at home when one of the Westies started acting strange. Martin assumed she had been bitten by something and brought her to the Animal Emergency and Trauma Hospital of Wilmington. Soon after, the other two dogs were there as well. Seizing and showing signs of liver failure.

All three dogs passed just after midnight Friday. In a Facebook Post now shared thousands of times, Martin wrote:

At 12:08 AM, our dogs crossed the rainbow bridge together. They contracted blue green algae poisoning and there was...

Posted by Melissa Martin on Thursday, August 8, 2019

What is Blue-green algae?

Their sudden and tragic deaths were caused by blue-green algae. According to Blue Cross for Pets, the term is used to describe a group of bacteria not visible to the naked eye unless clumped together.

The website, linked in an email sent to pet owners at one local veterinary office, says the blooms are most common in non-flowing fresh water-like lakes or ponds, and is more common during hot weather when there is less rainfall.

According to the website, the algae blooms can produce harmful toxins which stop a dog’s liver from functioning properly. Exposure to this toxic algae is often fatal, as it was in the case of Abby, Izzy, and Harpo.

Dogs can be exposed to the bacteria by drinking it directly or indirectly in instances of licking their fur after being around the bacteria.

“People need to know about this. Like I said, if we had any clue this was ever a thing we would have never come. We had no idea. And once we got to the emergency vet last night they also weren’t sure," Martin said. “They kind of thought maybe that’s what it was but we had to spend time on the phone with poison control. We ended up losing all three of them within just a few hours.”

Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette is working to find out more about the algae blooms.

In a text message, Burdette wrote, “I do know that toxic blue algal blooms are becoming more frequent in the Cape Fear River, upstream of our drinking water intakes, fueled in large part by animal waste runoff from factory swine and poultry farms.”

For more information on the algae, including signs and symptoms to watch for, click here.

To leave a lasting legacy for their dogs

In their immeasurable grief, Martin and Mintz wanted to make other pet owners aware of this toxic algae, as a way to honor the legacy of their three dogs Abby, Izzy, and Harpo.

Harpo was featured on WECT in 2014 during the “Harpo Saves Christmas” Initiative. Martin and Harpo asked residents across southeastern North Carolina to give gifts to those living in senior living centers, a population often forgotten around the holidays.

In a matter of days, people from all over southeastern North Carolina, and even some from other states, adopted all 171 residents at the Brunswick Cove Living Center. On Christmas Eve, Martin and Harpo delivered gifts to those residents.

“I was writing a book about Harpo because he’s a therapy dog, and he’s done so many incredible things. Our goal was to get on Good Morning America or Ellen and have this book and have him. I was trying to finish this book before he got too old to do any of that. Now he’s already gone, so I have to do it for him and not with him. I just want his legacy to continue and our other dogs’ too and for this not to be for nothing,” Martin said.

Now, Martin and Mintz plan to work towards ensuring more people know about the dangers of blue-green algae.

“I want to see signs on every body of water like this. I don’t care if it says private property or no trespassing or whatever. Put some signs up so people know," Martin said. “I would have never considered if there had been a warning of some sort. Just put some signs up. That is my mission. That is what we will be working towards right now is getting signs on every body of water.”

“That’s our three pups’ legacy. If we can touch anybody, if we can help anybody not have to go through what we are right now, we will have done our part,” added Mintz.

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