CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — Fourteen stock and guard dogs have been poisoned with strychnine in this part of southwestern Idaho since early April and 12 have died.
The poisoning of the dogs, which are used to guard and shepherd sheep and goats, has occurred over several weeks.
“We lost another dog today. The poisoning is still going on,” the dogs’ owner, Casey Echevarria, told Capital Press May 30.
The dogs were intentionally poisoned with strychnine, said Dr. Brent Varriale, a Fruitland veterinarian who examined three of them. He said they had large amounts of green dyed grain in their stomachs, which is consistent with gopher bait that contains strychnine.
The gopher bait was mixed with a significant amount of raw ground meat and the amount of bait found in each dog would have required mixing it with food to encourage the dogs to eat as much of it as they did, he said.
Varriale said he examines dogs that have consumed gopher bait and suffered strychnine poisoning about once every few years and they never have that much of the bait in their stomachs.
The large number of Echevarria’s dogs that have suffered strychnine poisoning this spring, coupled with the large amount of bait found in their stomaches, “tells me it was done intentionally,” Varriale said.
Varriale saved and froze stomach content samples from each dog and contacted the Canyon County Sheriff’s Department, which investigated the incidents but has not identified any suspects.
Varriale said strychnine poisoning is a bad way to die because it causes paralysis so the dogs can’t breathe and they suffocate to death.
“They may not catch the person that did it but I hope it at least ... prevents it from continuing,” he said of the reason he contacted law enforcement. “It’s a terrible way to die.”
Echevarria said the dogs cost him between $1,500 to $2,500 each and although the poisonings have cost his operation a lot of money, he’s more concerned about the dogs’ suffering.
“This does piss me off,” he said. “The way they’ve done it is more cruel than shooting them with a gun. I don’t want publicity for me. It’s more about getting the word out there so it doesn’t happen to (any more) dogs.”
The poisonings have drawn the attention of Idaho’s Humane Society of the United States branch.
“This should be publicized,” said HSUS Idaho Director Lisa Kauffman. “Strychnine poisoning is a really horrible way to go. That is an excruciating death for those dogs.”
Idaho’s animal abuse felony law, which was strengthened this year, does not apply to these incidents, Kauffman said, because production agriculture animals, which include stock and working dogs, are specifically exempt.
However, she said, another state law that has been on the books for years makes it a felony to intentionally poison a production ag animal, including stock dogs, that is worth more than $1,000.
News of the poisonings angered Tim Linquist, who uses shepherding dogs to guard the goats he rents out for weed control.
“It’s a shame anybody would do that to an animal,” he said. “Fourteen dogs. That’s crazy.”