Toxic algae kills dog: 'The poisons can come in through the skin'

DEXTER, Ore. - Jerry Benedick and his black lab Axel spent Tuesday on the Middle Fork Willamette River, just downstream from Dexter Reservoir.

"He swam in the water while I fished," Benedick said. "He was fine, everything was good."

Benedick stopped at a store on the way home. While inside, he heard Axel barking.

Concerned someone was messing with Axel, he went outside to investigate. Benedick found Axel collapsed in his kennel.

"He couldn't stand up, and he collapsed," Benedick said. "I ended up just taking him to the emergency vet."

Sixteen-month-old Axel didn't make it.

"A young healthy dog came in, and earlier that day he had been just fine," Dr. Ingrid Kessler at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital said. "He went swimming in the Dexter Reservoir where we know we have a blue-green algae problem, became very sick and later that evening lost his life."

The Oregon Harmful Algae Bloom surveillance program issued an alert for toxic blue-green algae in Dexter Reservoir July 3. The warning remains in effect.

Beyond public health alerts and signs posted in parks and near the water at boat ramps and swim spots, Kessler said the water itself might not warn you or your dog to keep out.

"The water does not taste bad, it doesn't taste differently, so your pet will still drink it," she said. "The poisons can come in through the skin if the dog goes swimming.

"It only takes a small amount of poison to kill a dog," she said.

Bennedick wants to get the word out to warn other people to stay out of the water. "It was probably 4-5 hours after being out of the water that he was pretty much gone," he said.

Bennedick said he didn't see any warning signs, and he hopes public health and land management agencies will post more signs.

"There's kids that swim in that part of the river. Everybody that goes up there, probably half of them have dogs," he said. "I'd hate for this to happen to a kid."

Kessler urges dog owners to be vigilant.

"This is the first case this year, and of course we're hoping to avoid seeing any others by getting the word out," Kessler said. "Anyone who takes their dog out for a swim first of all should enjoy their day, but if afterwards their dog is in anyway differnt than normal, if it seems disoriented or weak, if suddenly there are some muscle tremors or even seizures, they should seek veterinary help right away.

"Take that sign very seriously because it could be a fatal poison."