WILMINGTON, N.C. - All three of Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz's dogs were happy and healthy when they arrived at a local pond and began playing in the water and the mud along the bank, but hours later, all three had died of toxic algae poisoning.
Now, Martin is on a mission to get signs placed in front of bodies of water where algae could be present so that other dogs won't have to suffer the same fate.
"At 12:08 AM, our dogs crossed the rainbow bridge together," Martin wrote in a Facebook post about the incident on Aug. 8. "What started out as a fun night for them has ended in the biggest loss of our lives."
The three dogs, Abby, Izzy and Harpo all deteriorated quickly, though Abby was the first to show symptoms, Martin explained in another post. Martin was en route to the veterinarian with Abby when Izzy began seizing back at home.
The veterinarian told Martin and Mintz to rush Izzy and Harpo in as well, but by the time they arrived 15 minutes later, Izzy was "almost lifeless" and Harpo had begun seizing as well.
"The hardest thing I have ever done is hold these incredible animals and watch their lives slip away. Please pray for us," Martin wrote.
Cyanobacteria, otherwise known as blue-green algae, are microscopic bacteria found in lakes, streams, ponds and brackish water systems (areas where saltwater and freshwater meet), that can cause significant harm to people, livestock, and pets that come into contact with or swim in contaminated water. Though the blue-green algae can form "blooms" which give the water a blue-green, murky appearance, blue-green algae can still be present in water that looks completely clear.
In a Facebook post on Aug. 9, Martin shared photos of the pond where the dogs had been playing and explained that even crystal clear water can possess the toxic bacteria.
"If you search blue green algae, you see pictures of nasty water. That is false!" Martin wrote. "The place our dogs played for their last time was crystal clear except for what appeared to be debris from foliage. Do not let your dogs near standing water. Our westies didn't even get in the water but played in the mud at the edge."
Blue-green algae is so dangerous because it can produce toxins — microcystins and anatoxins, for example — which can cause fatal reactions even in very small amounts, according to the Pet Poison Helpline.
Dogs are particularly at risk because of their affinity for playing in water.Symptoms will vary depending on which kind of toxin exposure a person or animal experiences. Microcystins cause liver damage or failure, and signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in stool or black, tar-like stool, weakness, pale mucous membranes, jaundice, seizures, disorientation, coma and shock. Death will occur after about one day as a result of liver failure.
Anatoxins cause neurotoxicity, which produces symptoms like excessive salivation, muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, paralysis, blue discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes and difficulty breathing. Fatality occurs much more quickly, sometimes happening within minutes of exposure.In both cases, getting veterinarian help as soon as possible is critical to avoid fatal outcomes.
Abby, Izzy and Harpo were unfortunately not alone in suffering this tragic fate, especially not at this time of year.
Concentrations of blue-green algae will vary throughout the course of the year, but the blooms are most abundant during the mid to late summer when the weather is hottest.
Morgan and Patrick Flemming posted on Facebook Saturday about losing their border collie, Arya, to what they are assuming was "a lake toxin like blue green algae" after she swam and played in a lake. Like Abby, Izzy and Harpo, Arya's decline was swift and shocking.
After losing their beloved pups in such a sudden way, Martin and Mintz are "on a mission to put signs at every body of water that can have this deadly bacteria," Martin wrote in a Facebook post.
They have started a GoFundMe to support their endeavor of getting signs in place at bodies of water where blue-green algae contamination may potentially be lurking "so that this horrific incident doesn't happen to any other pet."