The Pine Cone's second story of the week

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P.G. cat intentionally poisoned

- Lured by antifreeze 'bait'


Published: October 9, 2009

TWO WEEKS ago, Jackie Edwards of Pacific Grove noticed her 5-year-old cat, Lily, was lethargic and not her usual, spry self.

The cat — who usually spent much of the day outdoors — stayed inside Edwards’ apartment off Lighthouse Avenue all day, dozing in her bed.

“I thought it was strange,” Edwards said. “But I just thought she might have injured herself.”

A leg injury was possible because Lily was an adventurous kitty who often explored the forest behind the apartment building where she lived, not far from the city’s municipal golf course.

“The next day, she was up and wanted to go outside,” Edwards explained. “I thought, whatever it was, she was starting to get better.”

But two days later, Edwards became very concerned when Lily peed in her bed.

“That was the first time I noticed something was really wrong,” she said. “She took a turn for the worse.”

Little did Edwards know that Lily had been poisoned by antifreeze, and the agent’s main ingredient, ethylene glycol, was metabolizing into a poison that was destroying Lily’s kidneys.

Edwards would also later be shocked to learn someone deliberately poisoned her cat.

An irreversible condition

Over the weekend, Lily slowly got sicker. But, unaware of the seriousness of her beloved cat’s illness, Edwards, who is also The Pine Cone’s production manager, waited until Monday, Sept. 28, to take Lily to Ocean View Veterinary in Pacific Grove.

That morning, it was obvious her condition had become desperate, and a test of Lily’s blood revealed her kidneys were beyond repair.

“Lily’s kidneys tested higher than our machine could read,” said veterinarian Dr. Frank Kocher. “Her heart was racing and her circulatory system was collapsing.”

Recovery was impossible, so Edwards tearfully chose to euthanize her cat.

“While the doctor was examining her, she was just purring,” Edwards said. “She never complained.”

The number of animals in the United States intentionally or accidentally killed each year by antifreeze is estimated to be from 10,000 to 90,000.

Like Edwards, pet owners often don’t realize their animals have been poisoned until it’s too late.

Since 2003, California has required antifreeze to be mixed with a bittering agent so the chemical doesn’t taste sweet and is not attractive to animals or children. But animals still get sick and die. And some motorists use antifreeze from out of state, or from old containers that are not bitter.

Ethylene glycol can also drip from radiators onto cats, who like to hide beneath cars.

“When cats get something on their body, they have a compulsion to clean themselves,” Kocher said. “The only way they can clean is to lick, and that’s how they ingest it.”

Though Lily obviously hadn’t been feeling well, Edwards said she never suspected antifreeze could be the cause of her condition.

“It didn’t occur to me that she had been poisoned,” Edwards said.

Death in a meat tray

Believing her cat's death was accidental, Edwards consoled herself with the company of her other cat, Todd. But a few days after Lily’s death, the manager of Edwards' apartment complex said she had discovered a black styrofoam meat tray with antifreeze in one of the complex's flower beds.

“I picked it up and threw it away,” said the woman, who declined to be identified.

Then, the manager found a tin pie tray filled with antifreeze on a trail behind the apartment complex — an obviously intentional act to kill animals.

Edwards said she was stunned that someone would leave out trays of antifreeze, presumably to poison animals.

“I couldn't respond for a few moments,” Edward said. “I was just in shock. I didn't know how to feel, because I had already suffered so much grief when Lily had to be put to sleep. And, more than anything, I was deeply saddened that my precious kitty didn’t have to die."

Though she has no idea who set out the trays of antifreeze, Edwards said she wants pet owners to know they should take their animals to the vet immediately if they they are acting strangely.

Stages of poisoning

There are three stages to ethylene glycol poisoning. Within 30 minutes to 12 hours of ingestion, cats can appear intoxicated and show lack of coordination, have excessive thirst and urination, and seizures and vomiting.

While a pet can appear to recover after 12 hours of the first phase, the second phase kicks in about 12 to 24 hours later, with rapid breathing and heart rate, lethargy and metabolic acidosis (when the blood is too acidic).

The third phase results in kidney failure, vomiting, depression and coma.

“Ethylene glycol itself is not toxic,” Kocher said.

But the body breaks down ethylene glycol into other toxins, including oxalate, which combines with calcium to form crystals inside the kidneys.

Kocher said pet owners who notice their animals are not feeling well should bring them to the vet as quickly as possible.

“There are some treatments we can use,” he said.

There are hundreds of online accounts of people intentionally poisoning pets, including a Novato water district employee who was arrested earlier this year for pouring a green liquid believed to be antifreeze into numerous bowls near water district facilities to feed to feral cats.

Children are also sometimes poisoned by antifreeze, drawn by its inviting color.

Pacific Grove Police Cmdr. John Nyunt said his office has not had any recent reports of pets having been poisoned. But he said if someone reports such a crime, his department will investigate it.

“Putting a tray of antifreeze in the bushes is definitely an intentional act of poisoning,” Nyunt said.

Prosecutors consider the crime a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the case.

In the nearly two years Nyunt has been with the PGPD and the 17 years he was with the Carmel Police Department, he said he never saw a case where it was proved someone poisoned an animal.

“Sometimes people believe their animal has been poisoned,” he said, “but they don't know for sure.”

The SPCA for Monterey County’s captain of humane investigations, Judi Adams, said her office occasionally hears from people who suspect their pets have been intentionally poisoned. But Adams said those types of cases are difficult to prosecute.

“Unless you have a video of somebody force-feeding antifreeze down a cat’s throat, it’s really hard to prove,” she said.

And without a necropsy by a veterinarian looking specifically for antifreeze poisoning, it’s also difficult to determine whether an animal was killed by ethylene glycol or another toxin, including those found in poisonous plants.

“Sometimes people put out gopher bait for rodents,” and pets can be poisoned that way, Adams said.

Because of the expense, Edwards decided not to have Kocher perform a necropsy on Lily.

Edwards has warm memories of Lily, who adopted her human, instead of the other way around.

“She belonged to someone else, but she started coming to my door every day trying to get in,” she said. “This went on for months.”

When Lily’s previous owner realized she had taken such a liking to Edwards, the woman told Edwards she could keep the cat.

“I started letting her in, and I just grew to love her,” Edwards said. “She used to bring me leaves. We were very attached to one another.”