Owners call for action after dogs poisoned at town beauty spot

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Sally Keats and her dog Oakley

DOGS have been poisoned by deadly hemlock – the most dangerous plant in the UK – which is growing in Barton’s Long Meadow.

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Sally Keats’ dog Oakley nearly died after chomping on a root of the plant which he found on the ground while she was taking him for a walk on 18th September.

Her friend Pam Smith’s pet Pickle also became ill from eating the hemlock at the same time but luckily had not ingested as much as nine-year-old Oakley.

Other dog owners have also complained on social media about their pets being poisoned in the meadow by the plant – the root of which is the most deadly part.

Posting on New Forest Dog Owners Facebook page, Janice Dennison said: “My dog got toxic poisoning a few weeks ago. I have always said it was from the meadows.

“She has had to have four emergency treatments for her kidneys, plus her blood pressure is very high. She is now on kidney and blood pressure tablets and is still in a very bad way. Her weight [dropped] and she has gone off all food. I have to take each day at a time. The vet said it is not good news.”

Long Meadow
Oakley and Pickle

Mrs Keats reported the incidents to the local council and this week had a meeting with Cllr Geoff Blunden to discuss the matter.

She said: “To be honest at first the council treated me as if I was a silly old lady making a fuss about nothing. I actually said to the lady on the phone ‘Is it going to take a person to die before you do something about this?’.

“Hemlock is absolutely deadly and there is no antidote. There is a child’s playground in Long Meadow and if a child picked it they could be killed, that’s what frightens me. Every part of the plant is poisonous.”

But Cllr Blunden said the town council were taking the matter “very seriously” adding: “We don’t want this to ever happen again and will do everything we can to prevent it. For the dog owners whose pets became ill it has been absolutely horrendous.”

The species at Long Meadow is believed to be hemlock water dropwort which is found growing near streams and rivers. It has bright green, fern-like leaves and small white flowers.

It has fat tuberous roots which leads to its nickname ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’. It acts by paralysing the muscles leading to death by asphyxiation; in ancient times it was used to execute criminals.

Recalling the horrifying incident which came close to killing her pet, Mrs Keats, who lives in Barton, said: “We always go for a walk in Long Meadow, the dogs love it.

“This day the dogs were playing together on the grass when I noticed Oakley pick something up in his mouth. I think he thought it was toy.

“I shouted at him to drop it but he ran off and I could hear him crunching on something. As he came back to me he suddenly collapsed.

“He was foaming at the mouth and started having a fit. I was terrified he was going to die there and then as he was so ill.”

Mrs Keats rushed Oakley, a nine-year old springer spaniel, to her vets where she was told he was in a bad way and could die.

She said: “Oakley was put on a drip and stayed in the vets for four days. They told me in the beginning that they did not think he was going to make it. I was in such a state as I had only had him a few months and my previous spaniel had only recently died.

“I couldn’t bear to think I was going to lose Oakley as well.”

Pickle, a 10-year-old Staffie, was also taken ill. Her owner Mrs Smith, from Mudeford, said: ““Pickle became ill as I was following Sally to the vets. She started having a fit and frothing at the mouth. She vomited several times and there was plant-like material in it. I was in a complete panic.

“I rushed her to my vets. I said I thought she had been poisoned.

“They took her straight in. Luckily she only had to be in for one day but it was a horrible experience for both me and Sally.”

The two women only discovered what it had poisoned their dogs after Mrs Keats’ son said he believed it could be hemlock which grows near to his home in East Sussex.

She said: “I rushed back to the meadow and picked up the stuff that Oakley had been eating and took it to the vets. It was exactly the same as the photos of water hemlock and had the same characteristics, like having a strange smell.

“We believe it may have been left behind by council workers as we had heard that they had been down there to trim hedges and clear the area recently.”

Her vet bills have run into thousands while Mrs Smith has had to pay out £260 for treatment – luckily both dogs are insured.

There were claims that council employees may have left hemlock cuttings behind after they were seen working at Long Meadow the Wednesday before Mrs Keats dog was taken ill.

But Cllr Blunden said that they were only clearing a blockage in the culvert at the site and they did not “normally” leave any vegetation strewn about after doing such work.

He said: “We contacted the New Forest land advice service and the Environment Agency as soon as we become aware of dogs becoming ill after walking at Long Meadow.

“Our officers are holding a meeting with both those bodies next week to see what action we need to take. We were very concerned when we heard about what had happened. There have been no incidents in the past at Long Meadow.

“It does point to Hemlock being involved, but there are lots and lots of other plants which are poisonous so putting a poster up warning about that particular plant might not be ideal as it will just be highlighting one species.”

A warning about the poisoning incident was posted on Barton on Sea Facebook page from the New Forest Dog Owners group. It read: “Please be aware two dogs were out walking in the above yesterday. They ate discarded water hemlock roots which appear to have been cleared by those responsible for the gardening but some had been left behind.

“This resulted in both dogs within minutes of suffering from sickness, high temperatures, anxiousness, convulsions and semi-collapse.

“Please look after your dogs as it was a horrific for all concerned.”

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