Chapter 33 — Sick Dogs. Sick Pond?

We cannot be certain that the pond is sick, although it certainly looks like a candidate for life support.  If the pond is sick, as it appears to be, we cannot be certain that it is causing the dogs’  illnesses.  But we can be certain of two things:  the dogs have been going into the pond, and they became sick.

Greta had been sneezing occasionally for several weeks, but I didn’t become concerned  until last Friday, when she sat down midway through her walk and snorted and snuffled, as if she were trying to cough something up and it wouldn’t come.  She was reluctant to get up and resume the walk.  Not like Greta.

She ate nothing that day.  On her evening walk, she sat down again and, chest heaving, tried to cough up whatever was troubling her inside.  I finally understood what she was trying to tell me.  She needed to go to the doctor, first thing next morning.

“Respiratory infection,” the veterinarian said.  She hauled out  antibiotics  and some nutrient-packed canned dog food to stimulate her appetite.

Greta is taking her pills, finding that they go down better with a  canola or olive oil coating.  She’s recovering.   She’s gotten her appetite back, and her energy is returning.  The story would have ended there, had we not run into Greta’s Labrador retriever friend Juno down at the park.  He (yes, Juno is male despite his name)  had been to the veterinarian for a skin infection and loss of hair on his back.

Juno’s veterinarian reported seeing several dogs recently with bacterial infections.  What they had in common, in addition to the infections, is that they all had been in the pond at Landon Burns Park.

          So, what makes us think the pond is sick?  Its appearance, primarily, but there is also other anecdotal evidence.  (1) Three large turtles that lived there died this spring.   (2)The Maryland Department of Natural Resources stocks the pond each spring with fish.  The lucky ones are caught.  Most of the others suffocate as the water gets too warm for them to survive.  They seem to have begun dying earlier this year, although that may be because of weather rather than the pond’s condition. (3) Algae has proliferated and clogs the water.  (4) Recently a sickly  green rubbery-looking substance formed in places along the edges of the pond.  (5) The pond’s surface has changed  from dark green to opaque gray. (6) There is runoff from roads and parking lots, channeled through a giant main into the pond with the county’s approval.  Sometimes, you can see oily streaks on the water’s  surface.

          I contacted the county department of recreation and parks.  Dealing with the county government is like trying to put a dent in a pillow—you push, it gives, you stop pushing,  the pillow returns to its original shape.  Trouble is, it takes a lot of energy and time to hold the pressure so the dent stays.  The pillow knows that.  It’s just waiting for you to go away.

I’m not naive enough to believe the county government will care about a few sick dogs.  But the pond is open to fishing, and small children play there.  It  seemed important to raise the questions:  Is there a threat to human health?  Should  fishermen be advised not to eat fish taken from the pond?

I raised the questions in an email to county government two days ago.  To date, I have received no reply.

Can the county Health Department help?  No, said the environmental health specialist on the other end of the line.  The Health Department doesn’t do bacteria in ponds.  It does only mosquito infestations in stagnant ponds.  The specialist is looking for a referral, to see whether there is a state agency concerned with pond bacteria.

I understand that we can’t have it both ways.  If the majority is screaming, “Cut government spending!!!!”  “No additional government jobs!!!!”  there may not be anyone from government around to address the situation when oil companies take shortcuts and a pipeline spews into  the Gulf of Mexico, or thousands of pounds of ground beef are contaminated.  Or when dogs get sick after swimming in  a small pond in a small community.

(c) 2011 by Donna Engle



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