Pug vs. City of Chicago
March 27, 2005 8:03 AM   Subscribe

My dog nearly died this weekend after my vet discovered he was bleeding internally. It turns out the culprit was rat poison. I live in an urban area (Chicago), where the alleys are heavily baited. How would I go about lodging a complaint to the city or is there any other recourse I can take?

Since my pug is young and healthy, I initially thought it was a form of doggie flu. He was fine when I left for work on Wednesday morning, but after I got home on Wednesday night, he had all the energy of a stuffed animal. I got the first vet appointment available, nearly a full day and a half after I called. After hours of x-rays, my vet pulled a vial of fluid from his chest, which turned out to be quite a large quantity of blood which would not clot, a symptom of rat poisoning. It turns out he was a mere few hours of dying. He was given a large dose of the anti-dote, Vitamin K, rushed to the emergency clinic where he underwent a plasma and blood transfusion. 2 days later and $2,000 dollars spent on care (I shouldn't even complain about the cost, since my dog is priceless to me, except for the fact that my entire bank account is completely drained...), he's home and despite some residual shortness of breath, almost the same vivacious little dog I know and love.

Despite my joy that my wonderful vet caught it in time, I'm pissed as hell at the city of Chicago. I realize rats are a problem, but my vet has told me that there are indeed rat poisons availabe that are NOT toxic to other animals. I know for certain it was nothing in my home, as my roommate's been here for 9 years and has never in that time even considered purchasing rat poison. The emergency vet said that with his level of toxicity, he would have needed to down an entire box of D-Con, so she surmises it was the hardcore poison for the "super rats" in Chicago. I very much want to lodge a complaint against the city, but am not sure how to go about doing this. Even while I was picking him up from the vet yesterday, another case was faxed in regarding another dog suffering from rat poisoning. And he'd seen 2 other cases the week before, with fatal results in both cases.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking on my part, but if this is fairly common and more people complained, the city would consider using a poison less fatal to other animals. I'm just not even sure where to start. My alderman, perhaps?
posted by zombiebunny to Law & Government (24 answers total)
You need to narrow down when and where your dog might have been poisoned. It may not be the city -- it may be a neighbor.
posted by dness2 at 8:20 AM on March 27, 2005

is there any other recourse I can take? : Yes, don't let your dog outside unattended.
posted by mischief at 8:21 AM on March 27, 2005

Find a better place to walk your dog. A park or other open area is a much better place than the alleys you admit to using. In fact, if you knew they were heavily baited (or if the city has at least gotten the baiting mentioned in the local papers) then it's negligence on your part.
posted by furtive at 8:23 AM on March 27, 2005

If you call 311 and someone competent answers, you may be able to find the bureaucrat in charge of the program.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:23 AM on March 27, 2005

i have sympathy for your position - not because i own a dog, but because sharing a city with dogs is an amazingly cool part of life that just doesn't happen in the "developed countries" (presumably partly for this reason) - but i'm guessing that fancier, more specific poison, will be more expensive, and i'm not sure other people will be happy to pay more taxes to save your dog, when having dogs running free does not seem to be part of the culture, apparently.
(it's not a direct answer, i know, but your direct question stopped "inside", too)
posted by andrew cooke at 8:35 AM on March 27, 2005

Contact your alderman. Their staff can probably help you locate the right person to write to. I have a few discouraging words, but I'll spare you.
posted by aramaic at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2005

I'm sorry this happened to you.

I'd start with your local Animal Control office, if only to encourage them to start an awareness campaign to the public about this hazard. Obviously, you wouldn't have walked your dog in a poison-filled area had you known, and surely this information should be more widely broadcast. This is also the kind of thing local media may be interested in -- I understand if you wouldn't want to be on TV or in the paper, but you could at least give them the tip.

I also wonder, if a lot of local vets are seeing harmed dogs, whether there's anything they could do as well. Vets might get more attention from officials, and could provide information on less hazardous poisons for pets. Given your good relationship, you can ask your vet what she thinks of this idea, or if she has any ideas about what you might do if she can't or won't. I'd also tell everyone I knew with a dog and encourage them to spread the word far and wide, but you were probably already planning to do this.

In the meantime, no matter where you walk your dog, I'd clean his paws, nose, and mouth thoroughly after walks, and walk him after feeding if possible so he's less likely to eat something off the street.

Best of luck to you and a speedy full recovery for your dog.
posted by melissa may at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2005

Wow, scary. Sorry about your pup, however I don't think the issue is really the city but rather that your dog is able and/or allowed to pick things up and eat them on the street. Teach your dog an "out" or "leave it" command, which should mean to the dog "drop whatever you're holding and come see me for something even better" (and make that TRUE, by always carrying a few yummy treats with you). And watch your dog carefully when you walk him so he doesn't eat things he shouldn't (i.e. anything that you don't feed him).

(To teach "leave it": hold a treat in your hand, show it to the dog, close your fist around the treat and say "leave it". The dog will sniff and lick and even paw at your hand, the *second* he stops trying to get it, even for a split second while he glances away or anything, open your hand, praise him, tell him "take it" and feed him the treat. Lather, rinse, repeat, and repeat in this manner on a regular basis even if your dog understands the command - I think this is one of the most useful and safe things you can teach your dog, and it's one of the very first things I taught my most recent puppy).
posted by biscotti at 8:42 AM on March 27, 2005

I live in Chicago too and all alleys in my neighborhood, at least, have been clearly marked that rat poison was in use - if that's not the case in your neighborhood, I'd contact the city. I doubt they'll reimburse you for any of your petcare costs. Otherwise, I'd avoid all alleys in general. Besides the poison, people peel out of driveways like crazy.
posted by cajo at 9:51 AM on March 27, 2005

Yup, Cajo's right. You should be seeing a nasty looking poster, with this cool rat-in-gunsight graphic.
posted by michaelkuznet at 9:52 PM on March 27, 2005

So, I'm thinking that you not only need to talk to your alderman, but you need to talk to the papers as well -- think of the guy who kept attacking people and getting let go, and after there was an article in the Tribune the police were suddenly able to locate him. Don't underestimate the power of the papers in this city. If I were you, though, I'd get a group of people together.

Hope your pup feels better. Poor little muffin.
posted by sugarfish at 10:33 PM on March 27, 2005

Since I'm a former dog owner, you have my sympathy. During the years I had dogs, I saw society's attitude toward them change radically. It became not OK to let my dog run free. It became mandatory to pick up the dog's poop. In general, people became less tolerant of dogs.

The outcome of your efforts to change rat-poisoning strategies is likely to be nil. Rats are a major health problem, and the poisoners (city or neighbor) probably won't be as sympathetic to your problem as you'd like.

Do try to keep the dog from eating in the street.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:28 AM on March 28, 2005

Why not contact the ASPCA? Here's the A.S.P.C.A. page on unintended animal poisoning.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:28 AM on March 28, 2005

A little late in responding, but thanks to everyone. I'd like to clarify my dog has never in his life run around unattended outdoors. He's way too hyper to be left off his leash and as I have no closed yard, that would be a recipe for disaster. During the winter, when it's really cold (as it's been up until today), we stick to a really basic in and out walk. He only goes as far as he needs to to do his business, which ends up being about 3 blocks or so. I very sincerely doubt it's one of my neighbors. The block I live on is literally infested with dogs. Unless I've got a really crazy neighbor....

I try to be as vigilant as I can about monitoring where his nose goes, but he's a fervent ground sniffer (and really low to the ground to begin with), and lightning quick. Sometimes you think he's merely sniffing as usual and lo and behold he looks up at you, jaws clenched w/ some morsel of scariness in his mouth. Doesn't happen TOO often, but it does happen.

My sole contact with the alley is when I round the corner and drop the bag of poop in the bin, but even then, he's still sniffing. I make the journey as quick as possible, but like I said, he's really quick.

I have a vet appointment this morning and am going to ask him a few more questions about what kind of numbers he's seeing and if there's a high number in our neighborhood. Maybe it's some city worker slacking off and not putting the poison as far below ground as they claim. Or maybe the rats and squirrels are bringing it above ground. I don't want to point fingers, since all I can do is speculate. But, even if my efforts are totally fruitless in changing policy, I'd like other dog owners to know. I do see a fair number of people walking their dogs down the alley.

And I do think a quick letter to one of the papers may be in order.
posted by zombiebunny at 5:30 AM on March 28, 2005

Oh, and I didn't appreciate the insinuation that I've been negligent.
posted by zombiebunny at 5:34 AM on March 28, 2005

If your winter walk route is pretty basic, you might consider printing up and posting a few fliers regarding the dangers of rat poison (maybe even listing the dog-friendly options) and place them on some lightpoles around there. Since your contact with the alley is minimal, perhaps a nearby homeowner has some good intentions regarding killing rats, but doesn't realize the danger they are putting the neighborhood doggies in? I think the city pretty much sticks to the alleys with rat poison, but the city isn't the only one who hates rats.
posted by MrZero at 5:54 AM on March 28, 2005

zombiebunny, I'm sorry for what happened to you.

I'm not sure about Chicago, but when I had similar concerns in Washington, DC, the city office in charge said that any baits in public property were basically city property, which they would under no circumstances change or remove. (I had a cat I used to let out in our fenced backyard, until I discovered that either the city or the previous tenant had put poisoned traps in it. The city said I could remove those because they were on my property, but I couldn't do anything about the ones in the adjoining alley.)

The minimal research I did at the time suggested this response was pretty standard in most areas, and that pet owners are just told to suck it up and deal.

Which doesn't mean it's not worth advocating for change, but it's unlikely you'll get a sympathetic official response from the city.
posted by occhiblu at 7:32 AM on March 28, 2005

zombiebunny, I meant that as the legaless they'd use on you. IANAL but I have been accused of the same thing when I tried to contest a fine I received for taking a bike on a subway during supposed peak periods.

I was "negligent" in my duty to fully read and comply the subway laws, although lord knows where I'd find them. Having rat poisoning mentioned in the newspaper or city minutes just once would probably be enough to have them consider you negligent as well. Although if they're supposed to put up those nasty rat posters, then I'd propose it was negligence on their part.
posted by furtive at 8:20 AM on March 28, 2005

"It became not OK to let my dog run free. It became mandatory to pick up the dog's poop."

Those are unreasonable expectations?
posted by agregoli at 8:50 AM on March 28, 2005

I took Monster (the pug) in to see the vet today and asked him a few questions about how often he sees this type of thing and he just looked me in the eye and said, "ALL the time." Apparently, it's very, very common. He also says he knows for a fact that the city HAS a rat poison that is not harmful to canines and is just as pissed off as I am. What has been happening in these instances IS that the squirrels and rats are bringing this poison above ground, where it's fair game for non rodentia. Barring all of us dog owners muzzling our dogs every time we take them out, there's little chance that this situation is going to go away soon.

Once again, I'm fairly certain I'm not going to get far with the city. I have no intention of pursuing anything legally, as I doubt it would result in anything more than further monetary drain on my part. I just want to make the city aware that this is causing real damage to unsuspecting animals and their owners and maybe a few other voices will join in. At the very least I will attempt to make people aware that this is a common and ongoing situation, despite the technology at hand. If someone's going to argue tax dollars, that's just crap. I'd rather pay a few extra bucks, than shell out $2000 after the fact, knowing that for a few days I was watching my dog die slowly and painfully.
posted by zombiebunny at 8:54 AM on March 28, 2005

I would contact all the tv stations in your area. Before I did that, I'd get details from your vet and maybe other vets and see if your vet would talk to the news people. Public shaming and viewer outrage seems to be what it takes to get changes in these situations. I'd also contact the more activist-minded animal welfare groups in your area. This is the kind of story the news shows promo the hell out of, run at the end of the show, get the biggest responses from, and do follow-ups on.
posted by lobakgo at 11:01 AM on March 28, 2005

If someone's going to argue tax dollars, that's just crap. I'd rather pay a few extra bucks

sure, everyone would, for their own "pet" cause. but even so, i bet rates are an issue in your local elections - there'll be vague accusations of "inefficiencies" and then, when someone is elected, lots of internal pressure to cut costs anywhere. wasn't trying to mock you or criticise you in my previous post, but that's the way people are.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:52 AM on March 28, 2005

Andrew Cooke, no worries, I didn't take your comment as mockery or criticism, and I see your point. There will always be someone bitching about every last little penny squeezed out of them for something they don't feel directly impacts them. And I don't know enough about how much of a monetary difference there is between the non-toxic-to-canine poison and the one in current use to argue about it in monetary terms.

It just seems to me that with the amount of dogs in my neighborhood and the fact that this is something my vet sees on an alarmingly frequent basis, the difference in our tax dollars might be incremental next to the health and safety of our pets.

And who's to say kids aren't getting into this too?
posted by zombiebunny at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2005

It sounds like a muzzle might have to be considered, since it can be difficult to tell when he's eating. (Though, as with the eating, the face shape isn't going to help there either...)

That you would rather pay a few extra dollars in preferance to $2000 is irrelevant to non-dog-owners (the majority of local taxpayers?), since they face zero risk of vet's bills, while the rats pose a far bigger threat. All it would take would be a city worker to say "we've found this bait to be generally more effective here than the dog-safe variety" and the issue would likely end there.

I'd also defend the suggestion that you were negligent - it has since become clear that you are not, but the information that was initially provided left that as a definite possibility. Negligence is not an uncommon factor in many problems in pets, and no-one likes to be asked about it, but as with every other possibility, it has to be addressed in order to be ruled out, lest it be key to finding the most effective solution.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:39 PM on March 28, 2005

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