Police scour beach after dogs poisoned

John Hobrough and his dog Benji at the Warkworth dunes where Benji was poisoned. Also the blue feeding bins that have been placed in fields nearby.
John Hobrough and his dog Benji at the Warkworth dunes where Benji was poisoned. Also the blue feeding bins that have been placed in fields nearby.

FEARS have been raised about the safety of a north Northumberland beach after at least two dogs were poisoned in separate incidents.

Whispa, a young lurcher owned by Margaret Bignell, was struck with convulsions requiring emergency vet treatment after being walked on dunes at Buston, between Alnmouth and Warkworth, a week past Sunday. And last Thursday, John Hobrough’s six-year-old collie-cross Benji suffered exactly the same symptoms after visiting the same spot, which is owned and managed by the National Trust.

Mrs Bignell, who runs a bed and breakfast in Warkworth, said: “We had been walking on the beach and across the dunes and I heard Whispa crunching on something. Within 10 minutes, she looked absolutely terrified and began convulsing and foaming at the mouth.

“A couple who were nearby helped me carry her to the car park and she was taken to Alnorthumbria Vets in Alnwick, who confirmed she had been poisoned. It was horrible and I never want any pet owner to experience anything like this.

“I have to say a big thanks to the vets, who were excellent and undoubtedly saved my dog’s life.”

Whispa received intensive treatment to flush the unknown toxin out of her system and has since made a full recovery.

But just days later, Dr Hobrough, also from Warkworth, was on the dunes when Benji had a fit.

“We had been walking for about 40 minutes when my dog started having convulsions,” he said. “It was like a great electric shock going through him. It was very frightening.

“What worries me, as an ecologist, is that there were also a number of dead rabbits on the path that day, which suggests something noxious may be in what is a very delicate food chain. People should be wary, as this is clear evidence that something is wrong down there.”

Like Whispa, Benji was treated at Alnorthumbria Vets and recovered after two days.

David Young, of Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group, said: “The symptoms are similar to those caused by slug pellets but we can’t say for certain, but they behaved as if it might have been. We saw two dogs last Sunday and last Thursday. Both dogs were having convulsive fits within 10 minutes of picking something up. Both were kept in and hospitalised, put on drips and given valium and diazepam. After being on a drip for a while they improved.”

Mr Young said there had been rumours that strychnine was the cause, but said that is usually fatal in dogs unless in very small amounts and that the animals would have been far more seriously ill.

He added: “You don’t expect to find slug pellets on a beach in winter, you’d find them in a garden in spring, but the symptoms are like those you get with slug-pellet poisoning. It is possible it could be something washed up, but I can’t think off the top of my head what that could be.

“At this stage, without finding a source, it is difficult to speculate what it might be. It is certainly something that can be metabolised in 12 to 24 hours.”

Northumbria Police closed off the stretch of beach on Saturday while an investigation was carried out.

A spokeswoman said: “We received a report of three dogs having been poisoned on the beach. Officers attended the scene and closed the beach as a precaution. Following inquiries with local vets, it was discovered that two of the dogs may have ingested slug pellets.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “We are aware that two dogs were taken ill, suffering from seizures last week, and that both had walked on the beach between Alnmouth and Warkworth at Buston Links estuary.

“The police closed off part of the beach on Saturday and conducted a search but nothing was found that could explain the dogs’ symptoms.

“National Trust, which owns the land, has also conducted a search of the area. We would always advise dog owners to keep their dogs under very close control while out walking.”

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said: “We are aware of two incidents relating to dogs becoming ill after walking on Alnmouth beach in the last few days. We understand that both dogs have made a full recovery and that despite speculation the cause is still unknown.

“On Saturday the matter was investigated by the police. The National Trust will monitor the situation. In the meantime, until the source of the incident is clear, we are advising dog walkers to exercise caution and keep their dogs under close control.”