COVER- Dog, gone: How poison killed his pet

 


"She was the best dog I ever had," says Ande Schneider of Sierra, who died in March after ingesting rat poison.
PHOTO COURTESY SCHNEIDER/KRETSINGER FAMILY

First there was one mouse, then another. Before long, Ande Schneider, a longtime vegetarian and animal lover, found herself purchasing humane traps and taking the captured critters outside. But after 25 such trips outdoors, she began wearying– and wondering if such a serious rodent infestation might pose a health risk to her four young children.

 

"I decided," she says, "it might be beyond my ability." 

Hoping to have the situation handled safely, she decided to call the green-sounding company her landlord recommended. Before long, all the mice were dead. But, unfortunately, so was the family dog.

This is what happened.

 

What's in a name?

There are at least 15 pest control businesses in the Charlottesville area telephone directories. Some have lethal sounding names like Terminix; others describe the service as pest "extermination." That they bring death to critters is no secret. In fact, it seems a point of pride.

Holistic Pest Solutions, however, gives off another vibe. In its full-page phone book ad, Holistic calls itself "green from the start" and gives chemical-nervous households a promise: "The first tool off our truck is a flashlight... not a spray can."

Schneider says she was relieved to have such a high-minded option, but when Holistic co-owner Ty Ashcraft arrived at her house and assessed the extent of the mouse problem, he didn't have any magic wands or herbal tricks. Instead, he suggested placing what he called "bait" throughout the house where mice had been seen and below the house in the crawlspace. It's a standard pest-control procedure, but it didn't turn out the way they planned.

Despite Schneider's concerns about using poison in her home, Schneider allowed Ashcraft to place black plastic traps in a few cabinets and under the stove– places no child or animal could reach. They discussed keeping children and animals away and secured the cabinet doors. Ashcraft next went under the house to place more bait. Schneider says she didn't understand that the bait he'd placed in the crawlspace wasn't contained in the black plastic traps– nor did she fully understand what he meant by "bait."

"I knew it wouldn't be good for [the mice]," she says, "but I really didn't know how it worked."

Indeed, those in the pesticide industry know that "bait" is synonymous with deadly poison, but to the consumer, the word might sound a lot gentler than, say, "hemorrhagic death agent."

Winter arrived early with the epic December 18 snowfall followed by several subsequent storms, and the ground– as well as Schneider's north-facing crawlspace door– were blanketed by snow for much of the next two months. Thoughts of mice and poison were far from her mind until the dog got sick.

 

Confusing illness

When Schneider went to the Fluvanna County SPCA two years ago, she knew she'd be coming home with a puppy as a sixth birthday present for her oldest son, Julian. But she didn't know just how much she and the whole family would bond with the dog, an 8-week-old shepherd-collie mix who soon showed loyalty and intelligence beyond what they had experienced with other pets. 

"She was just like one of the kids," says Schneider. "She went everywhere with us."

Indeed, family photos show Sierra at the beach, Sierra hiking, Sierra on picnics, Sierra licking a beater after a cooking project, even a picture of Sierra sneaking up on a table to reach goodies on a highchair.

The dog became a fixture on walking trips to the Crozet Harris-Teeter, where she'd obediently wait outside for Schneider's boyfriend, Stein Kretsinger, father of her two younger children, while he shopped inside.

But while Sierra was normally a bundle of energy, eager to play with her family– including the four boys ages 5 months to 8 years– the two-year-old dog seemed tired on the morning of Monday, March 8.

"She was really lethargic, laying around," says Schneider. 

By the next day, Sierra hadn't improved, so the couple took her to a veterinarian to have her checked, even though they weren't yet too worried.

"She wasn't acting horribly sick to the untrained eye," Kretsinger recalls, "especially if you didn't know how sparkly and energetic she normally was."

The vet, Dr. Brad DiCarlo, took the animal's vital signs, checked her eyes and ears, then took a stool sample. He noticed it contained a green, waxy substance– one of the warning signs of rat poison ingestion.

Sold under brand names including Contrac and D-Con, rat poison can comprise a variety of agents that kill in different ways, but the most common form of rodenticide works as an anti-coagulant, preventing blood from clotting and causing the animal ingesting it to hemorrhage internally. The effects are delayed, often taking two or three days to kick in, so that targeted rodents won't associate the food with illness and will continue to consume the fatal potion.

Rodenticide can be embedded inside a black plastic "bait trap," a closed container the animal must enter to access the sweetly flavored poison, typically blue or green pellets, or inside of relatively tough plastic wrapping, too difficult for a young child to open, but through which a hungry animal can easily chew.

While Kretsinger and Schneider were aware that Holistic's Ashcraft had put out the black plastic bait traps in the house back in the fall, and that those traps contained poison, they also knew that they had been deliberately placed in locations where neither Sierra nor the children– one of them at that time an eat-everything 14-month-old– could reach them, and, Schneider says, they believed he'd retrieved them all from the house months before. So Kretsinger told the vet he thought it doubtful Sierra could have encountered poison and says that the vet– noting Sierra's still relatively healthy appearance– agreed it seemed unlikely. 

"She's doing too well for it to be rat poison," Kretsinger recalls the vet saying. 

Signs of poisoning, he told Kretsinger, were bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, gums or rectum, or excessively labored breathing– a sign that the dog's lungs were filling with blood.

The vet suggested Sierra might have eaten a candle or a green crayon and sent her home, cautioning her owners to keep an eye on her in case her condition worsened.

 

Rodent conundrum

Reactions to rodents range. Some people shriek at the sight of a scurrying animal with a long hairless tail; others aren't bothered by the occasional mouse or rat and simply choose to ignore it or sweep it out with a broom. 

For the phobic or fearless, however, an indoor infestation can become a serious problem, say health experts, due to various bacterial and viral infections that can be transmitted from rodents to human housemates.

Among these are hantavirus, a potentially fatal virus spread when humans breathe air contaminated with mouse urine, droppings, or saliva. Another rodent-carried virus, known as LCMV, can lead to meningitis and cause serious birth defects in a fetus exposed during the first or second trimester.

Infestations in urban areas can be particularly difficult to manage, as officials in New York City recently discovered when a KFC/Taco Bell overrun with rats caused a public relations nightmare that ended only when officials hired a Ph.D. in rodentology for more than $100,000 a year to help train their own health department workers.

While rodent attacks are extremely uncommon, they can be devastating. In July 2009, a three-month-old baby girl in Louisaiana was bitten to death in her crib by rats. A medical examiner ruled she bled to death after suffering more than 100 bites. And in February 2007 in Ohio, a rat mauled a premature baby sleeping in her bassinet. Investigators, who found rat droppings nearby, believe the rodent was attracted by the scent of milk around her mouth. 

Even a single rat bite can be serious, as the animal can carry bacteria that leads to "rat bite fever," an ailment that brings fever, rash, and– in the most severe cases– death.

Rodents can also indirectly cause fatal mayhem by chewing through wiring in the walls, leading to house fires. Statistics posted on the Illinois Health Department website suggest that as many as 25 percent of fires with an unknown cause were actually sparked by rodent activity.

If rodents are a serious problem, getting rid of them can become a serious effort. Balancing the health of a family with the desire to treat animals humanely is even trickier– as Sierra's family would learn the hard way.

 

Bait

For residential clients, Holistic Pet Solutions promises the "safest pest techniques available" and "less chemistry in your breathing environment." But as co-owner Ty Ashcraft explains, the word "holistic" does not necessarily mean chemical-free or poison-free. Instead, it represents a "whole" approach to pest control that focuses first on prevention and non-toxic deterrents, and, as a last resort, standard chemical treatments including rodenticide.

For instance, Ashcraft says, he will seal up holes where mice can enter and counsel families on how to cut down on food sources to make the house less attractive for pests. But if there's already an infestation, he says, preventive measures are too late.

"I glean no enjoyment from killing something," says Ashcraft. "But I see the necessary function."

Although she didn't understand the mechanism of the poison placed by Holistic, Schneider says, the mice were gone within a month, and she says the bait traps in the house were removed by Ashcraft, whom she assumed had also removed the bait in the crawlspace.

Veterinarians say Schneider isn't the only person who's been confused by the word "bait," a common bit of terminology in the pest control industry.

"I think they should use the words 'very potent poison'," says Dr. Nigel Bray, owner of the Animal Medical Center on Pantops, where Sierra would spend some of her final hours. "Everyone would understand that."

 

Packet after packet

Back at home, Sierra remained lethargic but showed none of the serious signs the vet described, Kretsinger says. That day, however, Kretsinger left work early and was out in the yard around 3pm when he made a chilling discovery.

"I saw a bag," he recalls. "I picked it up and saw it was rat poison."

He saw another, then another. Nine in all– each packet about 4 by 5 inches– with most of the poison missing.

He raced to call the vet and immediately drove Sierra back to Pantops, where the vet gave the dog an injection of Vitamin K– which restores the blood's ability to clot and can save an animal's life if given soon enough after ingestion.

"He said he thought she'd have a fine recovery," says Kretsinger, who, now armed with Vitamin K pills, once again took Sierra home to watch and wait.

 

Getting worse

When the couple got back from their second visit to the vet's office on March 9, where Sierra received what they believed would be the life-saving Vitamin K injection, they kept an eye on their ailing dog. The vet had suggested boarding her overnight, but the couple, believing Sierra would be more comfortable at home, declined and said they'd watch her themselves.

They saw none of the most serious warning signs of rodenticide poisoning, and the next morning, March 10, Sierra still seemed okay– if lethargic. She crawled under the porch of the house, Kretsinger says, where she remained for much of the day. Schneider says she periodically checked the dog and believed she seemed well enough that they even decided to hold off on the follow-up vet's visit scheduled that afternoon and to bring her in the morning.

Sierra wouldn't make it to morning.

By midnight, Kretsinger says, the dog's breathing grew more labored. Concerned, Schneider decided to take her to a 24-hour animal hospital in Earlysville, Veterinary Emergency Treatment Service and Specialty. Concern turned to panic on the ride north along U.S. 29 as Sierra's suffering became obvious.

"She peed everywhere and let out this horrible scream," says Schneider, choking up at the memory. "I was running every red light."

 

The end

According to Virginia Tech veterinary toxicologist Dennis Blodgett, the late stages of rodenticide poisoning can be painful, depending on the location of the internal bleed. And when an animal hemorrhages into its lungs, he says, pain is compounded by the panic of being unable to breathe.  Sierra, he says, "was probably very anxious because she couldn't oxygenate her tissues."

In other words, she was drowning. 

When Schneider arrived at the clinic on Airport Road, she'd called ahead so the on duty vet was ready to immediately take x-rays of Sierra's lungs.

"They were 80 percent filled with blood," says Schneider, who says the vet gave Sierra just a 30 percent chance of survival.

Because Sierra had already lost so much blood, the vet decided to attempt a dog-to-dog transfusion. While in humans, blood is matched by type and extensively screened, for a first-time transfusion, dogs can receive any other dog's blood directly, says Dr. Bray. Although it was well past midnight, the emergency vet called an off-duty colleague and asked her to bring in her own dog to supply the blood.

But as they waited for the donor dog to arrive, Sierra stopped panting. And then she stopped moving. 

"As they got there," a tearful Schneider recalls, "Sierra died."

 

An inhumane way?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 15,000 children accidentally ingest rodenticides each year. And Virginia Tech's Blodgett says thousands of domestic pets are also accidentally poisoned, although exact figures aren't available. While the vast majority of these incidents aren't fatal for children or pets, new regulations aim to reduce such exposures. 

In January 2007, the Agency established a series of new guidelines, which– in addition to requiring stricter labeling– requires that over-the-counter residential rat poison can now be sold only in tamper-resistant bait stations, as opposed to in the past when loose pellets could be purchased. According to an EPA spokesperson, the agency is currently investigating further restrictions of the poison for consumers– but not for pest control operators.

Poison is an "important tool" for pest control, says Agency spokesperson Dale Kemery in an email.

Naturalist Marlene Condon, however, believes anticoagulant rodenticide should be banned outright for residential or commercial use.

"It's a horribly inhumane way to kill an animal," says Condon, calling death by anticoagulant "an excruciating death." 

Condon says that in many cases, the problem lies in considering rodents to be pests in need of exterminating in the first place.

"They are fulfilling a lot of different functions," she says. "They help to spread plants, and when they feed on seeds, they help to limit plants." In addition, she notes, "they're an extremely important food source to many animals," including birds of prey and foxes.

"That's the reason they have the ability to reproduce rapidly," she says. "If they didn't, they'd go extinct." She adds that when such predators eat the poisoned mice or rats, they are also sickened by their toxic prey.

Human disdain for one of rodents' main outdoor predators is another factor that's allowing their populations to skyrocket, she says.

"If you have an overabundance of rats or mice, usually it's because people kill their snakes," says Condon, noting that, unlike fox or hawks, the snake is only animal that has the right anatomy to invade a rodent's burrow.

Holistic's Ashcraft, however, disagrees that snakes can serve as a viable solution to most rodent infestations.

"They don't eat that many mice," says Ashcraft, scoffing at the notion that customers would appreciate him showing up to their house with a bag of wriggling serpents for pest control– particularly indoors. 

"You find me the homeowner," he says, "who will let that happen."

Ashcraft also decries many animal-lovers' method of mouse control– of trapping them and taking them outside– as actually being the "most inhumane" method.

"You're taking a social creature that's mostly blind– they can see maybe a foot– and dropping him in what is akin to the middle of the Amazon," he says, explaining that mice and rats maintain "mental maps" of their territory, their nest, and their hoarded food. In a new and strange environment, he says, a released mouse is easy prey, and if the released rodent doesn't get eaten, "he'll die of hypothermia or starve."

Condon and Ashcraft agree on one thing: that old-fashioned snap-traps are the most humane way to kill a rodent because death, in most cases, should be instant. But while Condon urges that method as the only acceptable way to cope with an out-of-control indoor mouse infestation, Ashcraft says that, as with using snakes, most homeowners aren't willing to deal with it. A typical infested crawl space, he says, might require 50 to 75 snap traps to control the population.

To reset traps and discard carcasses, he says, "you'd have to be going under there every day."

The limitations of snap traps, Ashcraft says, leaves rodenticide as the only remaining alternative to cope with an out-of-control rodent infestation, and he says in his 16 years in the pest control industry, he'd never before had an accidental poisoning of animal or child.

Where and how he placed the bags of poison at Schneider and Kretsinger's house should have been safe, too, he says. But somehow the crawl space door came open.

 

A mystery and many mistakes

As Kretsinger and Schneider grieved for Sierra, they questioned how the dog could have gained access to a place that should have been inaccessible. The crawl space door– a piece of plywood on hinges– has a latch, Kretsinger says, that requires a hammer to open or close. Neither he nor Schneider had had reason to open it, and they believe Ashcraft forgot to close it when he last visited the home in the fall. Ashcraft denies this is possible.

"I say it day in and day out," he says, "telling people to make sure the crawl space is locked and closed." 

Having visited their house on numerous occasions, he says, he knows exactly how the crawlspace door is opened and how it is locked– and says he remembers firmly shutting and locking it on his last visit.

Since the house has been on the market, Ashcraft wonders if a potential buyer or realtor could have opened it, then forgotten or been unable to relock the tricky latch. Landlord David Wildman, however, says the realtor knows of no home viewings between the time of Ashcraft's last visit and Sierra's poisoning.

Ashcraft also believes the crawlspace door can swell or shrink with the weather, and he suggests the severe winter weather might have contributed to its coming unlatched and allowing Sierra access, a possibility that Schneider and Kretsinger doubt.

 However it happened, Ashcraft concedes that the end result was a tragedy.

"I'm sorry for their loss," he says; "I can't express that enough."

Schneider and Kretsinger, however, say he has never offered them condolences.

Both Schneider and Kretsinger also wish the vet had begun treatment with Vitamin K during their first visit– hours before Kretsinger discovered the poison.

"It only costs like $10," Kretsinger notes, "and if there was any possibility that it was rat poison, I don't know why he wouldn't have done that." 

Dr. DiCarlo did not return the Hook's call, but according to his employer, Animal Medical Center owner Dr. Bray, DiCarlo did everything right. "We rely on owners to give a history," he says. "Dogs can't tell us they've eaten something funny." 

Looking at DiCarlo's notes, Bray also says Schneider and Kretsinger didn't follow DiCarlo's advice to board Sierra overnight after the poisoning. Kretsinger says DiCarlo agreed that as long as they were watching her for problems, she would still be fine. "If I'd understood the urgency," Kretsinger says, "I would never have taken her home."

While the couple has expressed frustration with both Holistic Pest Control and Sierra's veterinary treatment, they don't hold themselves blame-free either, wishing they'd pursued more aggressive treatment.

"I have a lot of guilt," says Schneider. "I feel like I let this innocent life down." 

As much as she's devastated by Sierra's death, Schneider says it chills her further to consider the possibility that one of her children could have eaten the poison.

"It was scattered all over the yard where they play," she says, noting that it smelled sweet and looked like "blueish rice crispies" or candy and would have been very attractive to her toddler.

A month after the family buried Sierra, Schneider says the loss of "the best dog you could imagine" has only one silver lining: her healthy now 19-month-old, Bodhi, who could have been the victim.

"Maybe Sierra had to die to save Bodhi's life," she says. "We wouldn't have gone looking for all this poison, and he could have easily gotten into it."

And she hopes Bodhi won't be the only child or animal Sierra ends up saving.

"If telling this story could save a life," she says, "it's worth it."

 


Sierra, pictured here with Bodhi, was "so great with the kids, always patient," says Schneider.
PHOTO COURTESY SCHNEIDER/KRETSINGER FAMILY


A gift for Schneider's oldest son Julian's sixth birthday, the 40-pound shepherd mix was a constant companion to Schneider's older three boys, Julian, 8, Sammy, 6, and 19-month old Bodhi.
PHOTO COURTESY SCHNEIDER/KRETSINGER FAMILY


Stein Kretsinger and Julian dig Sierra's grave.
PHOTO COURTESY SCHNEIDER/KRETSINGER FAMILY


"He didn't understand what was happening," Schneider says of her third child, Bodhi.
PHOTO COURTESY SCHNEIDER/KRETSINGER FAMILY


In all, the family found nine open packets of rat poison scattered around the yard.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO


The crawlspace door, normally locked tight, was somehow unlatched, and Schneider shudders at the thought that her toddler son, Bodhi, pictured here with big brother Julian, could have accessed the poison.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

 

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49 comments

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This is so sad, thank you for sharing so that other's (including our home) might make sure to keep all rat poisens to snake and snap traps in our multi dog household. So sorry for your tremendous loss.

so sorry for your loss. I would hold the company liable. won't bring back your beloved pet but no excuse for there holistic approaching killing your animal. Could have been your child. which you would have not given a second thought for suing them had that been them. Do not let this happen to another family but letting it go as we all so often do. do it in sierra's honor. Take Care

Thanks so much for sharing this story. I now know exactly what company not to use. I would absolutely hold the company responsible. As a dog lover, I know this is hard for you. I'm very, very sorry for your loss.

Terribly sad about the dog, but not that uncommon. I worked at a vet for a while and it wasn't uncommon to have a number of dogs a year die from rodent poison. Usually it was their neighbors' poison too. I think this also reinforces the fact that words like "natural" and "holistic" don't mean anything. It's the modern snake oil salesman vernacular. I have a 24 year old friend with a new liver thanks to "all natural" ginkgo. Be skeptical and remember the Earth is covered in "all natural" toxins.

Terrible story. I feel very badly for the dog and the children, but the Schneiders should have known better. I can see those packets say "KILLS MICE AND RATS" very clearly. It is obviously poison (whether it's called "bait" or anything else), and anyone with any sense would not allow someone to place poision around a home filled with small children and animals. I don't see how the exterminator is blame. Who is so naive to not know what the word EXTERMINATOR means? I would never hire an exterminator for the very reason this article was written. I don't want poison around my home. I agree with Marlene Condon about banning the anticoagulant agent in the product used, but really, people should not be using toxic chemicals to deal with rodents in the first place. They are dangerous and bad for the environment. I have cats and never have a problem with rodents. I would highly recommend adopting a homeless cat or cats from the SPCA or barn cats through Voices for Animals if you are having rodent problems. This approach offers the safest and most "holistic" approach in the world.

I had a landlord that used this company. After talking with the guy that came out I realized that they were no safer than any other pest control company. Although he did try to give that impression. I replaced them with a couple of good cats and some common sense. My mouse problem was taken care of and my dog had 2 new friends. I did have to remove a lot of dead mice that my cats brought me for a while. It was well worth the piece of mind knowing my dog wasn't risking being poisoned.

It's unbelievable the hook wasted paper and ink on a long story about this. One's eyes glaze over after the first paragraph about what a "friend of the earth" this lady is. Called an exterminator for mice for heavens sake; never heard of mousetraps?

Patrick, you make a good point about the necessity of using common sense and asking questions. While this company's advertising may be misleading, if the Schneiders had asked a few simple questions, their dog will probably still be alive.

Having just lost a beloved family pet I do feel for this family. However, like 'angel eyes'I know there are some common sense solutions. The first is mouse trap and the second is cat.We have an inside cat who spends all day trying to get out so he can get some "fresh kill". Cats are not that efficient as a killing machine but it is better than sowing poison all over the place.

I just can't see how the pest control company would be to blame. The family knew there was poison in the crawlspace. Did they just let their kids and dog run around outside by themselves? You'd think that after a couple of monster snowstorms that the homeowner would have given the house a walk-around to make sure things were all okay, like a crawlspace door.

The loss of the dog is sad, and it's fortunately not a child we're talking about, but I just can't see how some people here are putting the blame on the exterminator.

So sorry to hear this sad story. Thank you for sharing it and be sure to hold the Company liable for the loss of your family member. Your child could be dead.. what would you have done then? Make them liable so they don't do this to any other living being again.

I hope this won't make anyone angry, but cats kill anything they can get their paws on and this is very detrimental to our environment. I grew up with cats and had a very special one in the 1970s that I loved very much. Unfortunately, my last year of college, she was hit and killed by a car. Cats really shouldn't be allowed to roam, for their own sake and ours, as well as that of our wildlife. The notion of cats as great for limiting mice is one we must let go of because our wildlife is struggling enough nowadays to survive. Sincerely, Marlene

When the mice eat the poison you can't control where they die. They could die in your walls, crawlspace or attic - and they don't smell very nice after they die.

Marlene, I'm sorry, but your information about cats is absolutely wrongheaded. Very few cats "kill anything they can go their paws on." Not all domesticated cats are hunters. I have a couple of cats who have no interest in hunting. Absolutely none. Cats who do hunt are rodent specialists. Some of them do catch birds, but they are much better at catching mice, rats, and voles. What many people don't realize is that the mere presence of cats will often keep rodents away. Rather than making cats into the scapegoats, you should be condemning the real cause of wildlife loss: human interference in the form of habitat destruction, automobiles, and pesticide use. Human beings pose the greatest threat to wildlife and the environment, not cats.

jim r...I was housesitting at a friend's house recently and his ancient cat finally died. Literally, the next day, 2 mice were running around the house like it was Mardi Gras. The answer is cats.

The exterminator is in NO WAY responsible for this despite the crunchy granola side story. I feel bad for the dog.

I would just like to say a few things, as we've gotten way off the subject these last few posts. I was the LVT (nurse) on the case of Sierra when she came into the emergency clinic, the veterinarian and I had never left that dog's side from the moment she came in the door. She showed up in such bad shape, and we treated her very aggressively in order to save her life. If the Scneider family reads this at all, myself, the veterinarian, and the staff at VETSS are very very sorry for your loss and this unfortunate story. She was never alone while in my care, and I was holding her head in my hands as she died...the same exact time the donor dog walked in the door. It was so sad and we felt so defeated. You can't attempt CPR in a case like this, nothing was going to save her except more blood and more blood and medications to stop the bleeding. It was horrible and I am very sorry for them. I hope there's a way they can know this.

Dear Jim,

The point of my post was to address the effect of cats on wildlife because I was responding to previous posts about cats. My "information" is based upon decades of personal experience with cats so I do know what I'm talking about. If a cat really has no interest in hunting, that sounds abnormal and certainly unnatural. And they definitely are not rodent specialists. If people landscaped in a more natural manner and coexisted with wildlife as they should, they wouldn't be overrun with rodents in the first place. I've never had a rodent problem wherever I've lived because my yard functions naturally--as it was meant to function. Please come to one of my talks sometime. I don't have anything against cats so it's unfair to accuse me of making these felines scapegoats; I'm just stating the facts.

Sincerely,
Marlene

Marlene, I would wager I have more "personal experience" with cats than you do, but that's not really the issue. You are not stating fact, but opinion. Not all cats are enthusiastic or competent hunters. Domesticated cats are opportunistic eaters. Free-roaming cats survive for the most part by scavenging, not by hunting. Yes, cats are carnivores; they are predators capable of killing and do kill small animals. However, there are many studies showing that cat predation does not have a significant impact on wildlife populations, unlike habitat destruction or pesticide use by human beings. Rather than actually offering helpful advice to people about keeping rodents away without using poison(since you seem to have all the answers), you paint an alarmist and inaccurate picture of cats' effect on the environment. What are you trying to accomplish? Your bias is quite obvious and not convincing in the least.

This is very unfortunate, but villianizing Holistic Pest Solutions is not the answer. If they were concerned about their dog, why not just walk down to the crawl and LOOK to make sure there was no rat poison down there? The rats had to go, there's no question. The family is ultimately responsible for their animal and should have caught this problem earlier. I never saw a story about Morgan Harringtion from The Hook that was as long and dramatic as this story about a dead animal. Priorities, anyone?

My point about cats includes the need for common since. Not all cats are great mousers. In my case I made sure and went with a breed of cat that are. Russian Blues. Yes they are pure bred and not rescue but they live with 3 rescue cats and 2 rescue dogs. They also are house cats and don't go outside for their safety and the safety of the wildlife I like to be around. Besides habitat destruction and human behavior are far more detrimental to wildlife than house cats.
This is a very sad story but something can be learned from it. It's very important to research and question. Green is a big selling point these days and people are going to use it to sell. There are many natural solutions out there that don't involve poison. It may take a little more work but it will be worth it in the end.

I am sorry for the loss of a beloved pet. But this was a terrible accident. Personally, I would never put poison anywhere in or near my house because you know what can happen.

I do not believe the vets did anything wrong. As to crawl space door, there is no way to tell if it was the pest company, a family member or something else altogether. So continue grieving, but quit looking for a scapegoat.

what is the acceptable number of pet to die from rat poising? what is the appropriate saftey procedures to avoid collateral damage?

Please read the American Bird Conservancy information on the damage cats do to wildlife. No question we humans are worse. There are many other reasons for keeping cats indoors too (ticks, poison ivy, FIV, coyotes, cars, stinking up yards with marking territory, cat fights and on and on).

Everyone is entitled to their opinions. I'm not here to argue people who are inaccessible or judgemental. We ourselves are ultimately left accountable for our choices or questions left unasked. I know I have a role in the mistakes leading to my dog's death, I believe everyone involved did, and it haunts me daily. It's a shame when someone's story is shared that negative personal beliefs are based on some unknown facts or details of the circumstances... like my kids are highly allergic to cats, or I did indeed catch 25 mice myself in a no kill trap. I thought The Holistic company, already hired by my landlord, was the safest most effective solution. Period. Misleading information, lack of communication and procedures dominate this unfortunate event. We've all learned from this. Sierra's story, however worthy or not to you, was important enough for other people to convey it to the community. The blame game should shift to awareness and prevention. Thanks to all the people who gave support, and especially all those at VETSS.

Ande,

Again we are so very sorry for you and your family. Everyone has their own opinion, and not everyone values animals in the same way. I am glad, in a way, that this article was written because people do not realize how much damage rodenticides can do to animals that are not, in fact, rodents. So this hopefully at least helped to educate more people about this unfortunate toxicity. Sierra was obviously very important to your family, I hope you and your children are doing alright.

I'm really sorry for your loss Ande. Sierra was a beautiful dog. May her loss not be in vain, and instead help others realize something they wouldn't have otherwise.

Condolences to the family on the loss of Sierra.

Exterminators always use either poison or inhumane glue traps. Not good for you OR your pets, and really bad for the environment. For instance, what happens when your pet or a wild animal eats a poisoned mouse or rat?

Barring allergies, cats are the way to go. They do a remarkable job of keeping homes pest-free-- even the cats with no hunting instinct act as a deterrent.

I am a cat person but still your pets are like your children. I had many cats at one time and the neighbors decide that I had too many and they poison some of them. Quite a few belonged to my children whom they loved dearly. My neighbors used rat poison and somthing that had to do with a car. They suffered for a week and I couldn't do anything because I did not know what exactly what was going on until it was too late. They couldn't eat or drink and then they when they did drink it came back up. My family had to bury them in the back yard. It was terrible and we cried. The Animal Control people came over and we explained to them what was going on and they went to their house to talk to them and tell them to stop. It finally did, but it left a lot of memories. When it was over they had killed 6 cats. They are a part of you and look up to you for guidance but when it comes down to this they don't know. I want it to stop. It needs to stop right now. Think about all the memories you had with Sierra. It just like losing a child because you love them and take care of them just like children. I have to go now before I get too emotional. I am so sorry for your loss. Take care of your children. You might decide to get another dog someday but it won't replace Sierra but it will just give you the piece of mind that there are animals that look up to you for love. Get rid of all the poisons first and then decide if you want to get another dog then you won't have to worry that it could happen again, but first get rid of everything that is bad in your house.

Nancy, I remember a case a few years ago where an Albemarle County man went to jail for shooting his neighbor's cat because it climbed up on his car. Seems like your neighbors broke the law too.
Holistic Pest Solutions, with a name like that of course people would assume they used nonlethal or humane methods of control. Also, the poison bait packets they used is available from local stores. I have used it myself to control rodents that were getting in, being careful to place it only where nothing else could get at it, like basement crawl spaces. So these folks got charged no doubt a hefty price for something they could have bought at Lowe's themselves.
After reading about how it kills, have second thoughts. Maybe they need to come up with a poison that takes effect quickly without prolonged suffering.
I agree that in the house natural predators like snakes are not a practical solution.But the best way to keep rodents and other pests out is to make sure they have no way to get in. However, thats hard to do with mice, as they can squeeze through the tiniest of holes. On the other hand,I regard mice as a pest, but rats are a menace.
This sad event points out the need for extreme care anytime pesticides of any type are used. Of course the best solution is to avoid them altogether or only as a last resort. Snap traps for rodents, window screens and swatters for insects work pretty well I have found.

Oh a man gave me the best advice about mice. Stuff any entry/exit holes with steel wool--it really works.

Deleted by moderator.

Holistic Pest was honest about using poison, but not about how it was applied. That's especially troublesome because professional exterminators are rarely allowed to use poison outside of enclosed bait stations within any part of an occupied structure. Right now you can buy the same stuff off the shelf at a grocery store in little packs that are horribly easy to spill, but as of mid-2011 that will also be illegal -- consumer products will have to be solid blocks distributed in bait stations. There is really no excuse for someone in the business to have placed the poison without using the proper equipment to prevent non-target species from consuming it.

Really, Hook? I offer up an account of my experience using Holistic Pest Control & you delete it? Are you in the hands of Big Pest Control?
So much for freedom of speech.

We have hired Holistic Pest Solutions twice, although for fleas and termites, not for rodents. I agree that the name is somewhat misleading, although my understanding of the company's practice was that they offered the least toxic options for pest control, but that "least toxic" is not a synonym for "harmless." With the flea treatment in particular, we were concerned about the effect of the chemical on our dogs and our pet bunny, we followed the recommendations given to us by HPS, and our pets were fine. I'm sorry about the sad loss of Sierra, but I feel like HPS is being maligned unfairly. Is it right to destroy a small local business over one tragic accident? Would we all be better off if our only options for exterminations were the big companies that don't give a damn about your pets or the environment?

I have used Holistic Pest Solutions and continue to use them. They are honest, fair and Local. I have owned dogs all my life and am sorry for the loss. Dogs however get into things, its the responsibilty of the owner to ensure access to poisons are avoided. To blame an honest and trusted buisness owner is simply unwarrented.

I am more likely to use Holistic Pest Solutions after reading this article. Just like the owner is quoted as saying in the story, they first try non-poison methods like sealing holes and glue traps. If the non-toxic methods don't work, they poision the little bastards. First they try non-toxic, then if that doesn't work they do what they need to to get the job done. The pest company acted cautiously and responsibly with the poison and kept the family well-informed of the location of the "bait." Why not just go check the crawlspace door?

As an animal lover, I found this extremely sad--horrific to think that a family lost their beloved dog, and that the animal suffered so needlessly. The information about rodenticide was helpful, and has further convinced me never to allow poison in my home. However, I feel this situation amounts to little more than a tragic accident; I'm bothered by how the excess verbiage and appeal to emotion stack the deck against HPS and the vet, and I feel the writer could've presented a more thoughtful, nuanced, balanced approach. I've dealt with Ashcraft before and found him intelligent, careful, and knowledgeable about his field; I'm certain he feels horrible that this happened, and would echo that even a single accident in 16 years is one too many. I wish the Hook had stopped to consider how this indictment might negatively effect two small, locally-owned businesses. The subject of animals stirs intense emotions in many of us--at the expense of rational analysis. I found myself very close to getting swept up in a tide of sympathy and outrage before stopping to acknowledge that the bias of this article could impact the livelihood of HPS, the vet, their hardworking employees and families. While this consequence is justified if negligence or wrongdoing has occurred, but in this case I don't think we have enough evidence that either organization should be held liable. And yet the negative press garnered by this article could have far-reaching and long-lasting implications.

Rat terriers are good for mice, and so are springer spaniel / German shepherd hybrids that think they're rat terriers because they grew up around them! And so are cats.

I've used HPS in the past, and they really do bring a holistic approach- they look for standing water, food sources, and points of infiltration rather than just spraying. This is a tragedy, but you cannot blame them.

Too, "holistic" derives from a Greek root meaning "whole." It's not a misnomer or "snakeoil salesman vernacular" as someone above suggested. They analyze each pest case as a whole interrelated system, taking into account the structure of the home, the surroundings, factors such as food sources (as stated by Mike above). This differs from a one-size fits all approach, but doesn't imply their solutions are invariably organic or non-toxic. It's unfair to place the onus of a word definition on the company who bears the name and thus understands its meaning. If a vague explanation of their methodology or a careless execution of it contributed to this tragic situation, then further investigation is warranted, but the accusation that their name alone somehow led to the confusion is pretty invalid.

It is a wonderful part of our human nature allows us to trust professionals in all avenues with the people and things so dear to us. When we put confidence in someone else to take care of our children, our pets, our bodies, or the safety of our home, we trust that these people have chosen their vocation for a reason and are not just telling us something to get our business or something else from us. And I don't think that Sierra's family was trying to malign Holistic Pest Solutions as giving them a false impression. It's harder to grow an organic apple on the east coast than the west coast; the details of pest management in all applications are a delicate science and don't work the same in all places. As far as blaming the family for not checking the door -- I myself have a small dog who almost died when she was a puppy from ingesting a pair of my underwear when I "left the door" of my hamper open for her to get what turned out to be something that almost killed her. It is impossible to anticipate everything that an animal will do and all possible scenarios. And a family that brings their dog everywhere they go, and trains it to play in the yard without running away is anything but neglectful. I commend Courtney for writing the article and Ande for telling Sierra's story (as well as for single-handedly taking out 25 mice--I'm sure not easy to do when you are 7 months pregnant). Whether or not people choose to continue to trust a certain company or not should not be the issue. Mistakes happen and I'm sure all the professional involved are pros for a reason. I hope that sharing Sierra's story it has helped your family heal from what is just a life cut too short.

HollowBoy,
One sad thing about the Albemarle County case you referred to, is that the cat the man shot was not the one getting up on his car, anyway--and, the jail time was minimal. Didn't he get to do a couple weekends?

Stein, sorry to hear about this, she was beautiful in body & soul. Glad that the kids did not get into it--like antifreeze, it isn't an easy death.

WE've used Holistic and their staff has always been nice, trusworthy, and answered any and all questions we had. You have to be diligent in asking questions and know what you are buying. While we don't want use of poisons in our home we appreciated other methods first and only placed the poison where our children couldn't get to it. It was worth getting rid of the mice-and we're allergic to cats so that is not an option. This is a local business that has friendly staff, don't ruin them over this. Sorry for your loss.

There is no question that this was truly a tragic story. However, I (like others) feel that the article unfairly demonizes the pest control company. As a pest control technician myself, I honestly cannot see anything that Mr. Ashcraft did wrong. He used tamper-proof stations in the house, and bait packets in places that should have been inaccessible. The fact that the crawlspace door -somehow- came open was not only unfortunate but also unforeseeable.

The fact is, rodents can be very dangerous to a household. Not only do they carry disease, they also can ruin a pantry worth of food in a very short amount of time, costing the homeowner hundreds of dollars, and can keep the homeowner up at night with their (surprisingly) noisy escapades. And, yes, there has been rare instances where they have attacked people and pets. There is no doubt that they are a pest species -- which doesn't mean that the pest control industry feels they have no "worth" to the environment as a whole and that every single rodent through the world needs to die. It simply means that they are a part of nature, that nature should stay outside, and that when nature does venture into the home steps need to be taken to get rid of them.

However, these are living beings, which means they have just as much of a desire to live as we do. Which means that any methods of disposing of these animals have to seem as non-threatening as possible -- and, when it comes to sensing danger, rodents are wily little critters. "Bait" (which is, admittedly, just another word for "poison") is a very good way to do this, because it disguises the danger as food. Yes, they can be dangerous to other animals and people as well, but that's where the pest control technician and the homeowner both come in. I myself have placed hundreds, if not thousands, of these bait packets in my career. I always make sure to put them in inaccessible places, and warn the homeowner not to let children or pets near them.

The fact that the crawlspace door came open is a tragedy, but one which Ande herself wisely regards as ultimately unforeseeable. Sometimes an accident is just an accident, and instead of looking for a scapegoat to claim is "responsible", I think that we as a society would be better off taking it as a warning. I, myself, plan on using bait packets even more carefully in the future.

As for using a cat, as many have suggested, there is no doubt that cats make excellent rodent-repellents. However, cats aren't a piece of equipment you put in a corner and forget -- they are living things that also have to be cared for, that have to mesh with other members of the family (including other pets), and that cost money with food, vet bills, etc. A lot of people simply aren't willing to "invest".

I have had to treat my home in the past and it is not that hard to understand directions given by a pest control person. If they tell you to keep your animals and children away from it then how is that hard to understand. You keep them away from it. DUH!! I mean do you leave your medicines and household cleaners laying around for your kids to play with or eat? Some of the statements that are being made by the family that lost the pet contradict one another. First she was concerned about poison being used in her home but yet she didn't understand what bait was. And how can a door be blanketed with snow for several months during the winter and the home was treated in the fall...how could the pest control person leave the door open. That absolutely doesn't make any sense. Sounds like he did his job by explaining the precautions, there isn't anymore that he can do. It is up to the homeowner to have enough sense to follow directions... I mean come on.

How ignorant can you be to not understand directions that are given? im 18 years old and even i can follow simple directions when told to keep my pets or kids away from bait and even i know what d*mn bait is. the person who owned the pet seems pretty dumb since she said the door was blanketed shut by snow but yet the pest control person left it open? hmmm sounds like they need to get their story straight and stop trying to blame someone else for their mistake of not keeping an eye on the door and making sure their pet were safe from the bait like the pest control person said. if you ask me the people who own the house are to blame. they are the ones who are responsible not holistic pest control. they are the best pest control around :]

Our dog managed to break open one of the petproof poison traps and eat the poison. He got vet care within 4 hours and hopefully will be OK but please don't rely on any promise of "petproof".