BILLINGS – Authorities in Yellowstone County are getting calls from concerned residents that normally healthy dogs are unexpectedly falling ill and sometimes dying, according to Sheriff Mike Linder.
And that’s exactly what happened to a Lockwood family when their healthy 2-year-old Great Pyrenees died suddenly one morning.
Now they’re looking for answers and wondering if something malicious is going on.
“We were devastated when this happened to our dog,” said Phill Bauer.
Bauer’s heartbreaking story of his dog, Boo, unexpectedly dying, is another in a long list of cases recently reported to law enforcement and seen at Billings area vet clinics.
“We heard of another animal that had passed away, and it was poisoned ground beef,” he said.
He says Boo was perfectly healthy, active, and obedient.
“For what it’s worth, she was perfect," said Bauer.
Roughly a week ago, she was in their Lockwood yard one morning, and when Bauer returned home from taking his daughter to school. He says Boo was already gone.
"My wife comes up to me and tells me that Boo had died, and I was sitting here kind of going, did I actually just hear that? So, I went outside, and sure as heck there she was lifeless, laying on our back porch.”
Linder says his agency is currently working with Billings Animal Control and area vets to keep everyone in the loop. But whether there’s something criminal going on remains to be seen.
“I am not aware of any physical evidence of poisoning or other criminal activity at this time,” said Linder in an email Friday.
He says deputies are following up on reports and have sent some samples from a recent dog that has died to a lab for testing. He also says in one case, deputies found a dog food that was out of place at a residence and that will be sent in for testing as well.
But in the meantime, he says people who live on the property that might be accessible to someone walking or driving by should be vigilant and watch out for pet food and treats that are out of place. If someone finds strange activity, they should immediately call the police and let them know.
This week, Billings Animal Control took to social media to alert the public of incidents involving healthy dogs suddenly falling ill with symptoms of vomiting, bleeding from the mouth, lethargy, and sudden and unexplained death.
“It's absolutely heinous. I mean, the thoughtlessness behind this is just crazy,” said Bauer. “Animals are part of your family.”
The post coincides with local vet clinics also getting an alert about these sudden deaths to let animal medical staff know they may come in contact with it.
“They wanted us to be aware,” said Dr. Sarah Bruggeman with Billings Family Animal Hospital.
She says while she hasn’t seen any of these cases come into her clinic, she’s heard about it.
“But you hear most of the time that they hide a poison or a toxin, in a food. So, you know they'll (pets) tend to want to eat that, and then we won't see anything because that's been ingested,” she said.
She also cautions pet owners to watch for signs of abnormal behavior in their pets, stumbling, disoriented and excessive drooling to name a few.
“Don't leave them out unsupervised,” she said. “Check the yards before they go out.”
And Bauer has the same message for others. He says he is still not sure that Boo was poisoned because he’s waiting on toxicology results to know for sure. But he adds her death was just too unexpected.
“I'm skeptical of poisoning because my dog was perfectly healthy, very young,” he said.
He’s hoping others will keep an eye out with home surveillance and just stay attentive.
“Keep an eye on your dogs at all times. Do not leave them outside for an extended amount of time without keeping your eyes on them.”
Linder says anyone who may have any information about this matter, should contact the sheriff’s office at 256-2929.