Is someone trying to poison our dog?
February 5, 2016 11:43 AM   Subscribe

We're concerned that neighborhood malcontents might be trying to hurt our dog. More inside.

About a week or two ago, someone egged our detached garage, which faces the back alley. We had no idea who or why, but ours was the only property that got egged. Possibly relevant: we're white and could be seen as gentrifying the neighborhood; we're visibly queer; we live very close to a high school.

Our neighborhood's alleys suffer from constant illegal dumping. Around the same time, some garbage that couldn't have found its way over the six foot fence on its own showed up in our yard--things like cell phone batteries and cans of oven cleaner that couldn't fly on the wind.

Last night our dog came in from the outside and his eyes were unusually dilated, which I understand can be a symptom of poisoning. He had no other symptoms--his behavior was normal, he was able to track with his eyes, his breathing was normal, etc. The dilation did not respond to changes in light level. In the morning his eyes had returned to their normal size.

Now my usually level-headed and calm partner is panicking and isn't sure what to do. I'm the anxious one and you can imagine how I feel about all this. I've held my nose and joined Nextdoor to see if anyone else is reporting vandalism, but there's not a peep. Our incompetent home security company wants an extortionate amount of money for a camera. My partner found a camera that costs about $90 but can only take two hours of footage at a time. Unfortunately, that's about all we can afford in the hardware department. What can we do? Are we being paranoid and delusional?
posted by zeusianfog to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Last night our dog came in from the outside and his eyes were unusually dilated, which I understand can be a symptom of poisoning. He had no other symptoms

This is a massive, massive leap that I don't see any evidence for.

What happened here is, someone egged your house, and someone else randomly hurled some garbage over an alley fence. It's a big step from that to poisoning a dog, and you don't have any reason to think the dog was actually poisoned.

Did you take your dog to the vet?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:47 AM on February 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

In the short term, could you muzzle your dog when they're in the backyard so they don't pick things up and eat them, or lick them to investigate? We do this with our dogs so they don't eat cat poop or try to catch and eat birds.

You don't mention what breed of dog you have, but for most breeds you can get a Basket Muzzle which is very humane. My dogs can easily breath and drink water in their muzzles.
posted by muddgirl at 11:48 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might ask your vet to run a blood panel to see what his liver and kidney values say about toxins. In the meantime, walk your dog on-leash instead of sending him out unsupervised.
posted by Lou Stuells at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

muddgirl: could a dog bark while wearing such a muzzle? I'd want my dog to be able to make noise if he felt so moved...
posted by amtho at 12:01 PM on February 5, 2016

What can we do?

Even if the dog was not poisoned, it doesn't mean that someone can't stress the dogs out -even kids sometimes poke their fingers through fences or throw sticks at dogs. Plus, you two might become more and more stressed by imaging things, so I would start to take whatever steps you can.

Even if you can't afford beyond a $90 camera, why not do this? Because to me, a camera isn't just there to record. It makes people think something or someone is watching them, especially if you put it in a prominent place.

I also would start to volunteer with whatever various community activities exist in your neighborhood. I think if people get to know you, 1) some might look out for you or tell you if they observe things and 2) if little to nothing is truly happening, just knowing nice friendly people in the neighborhood will help change your perspective (vs random acts of garbage over the fence).

I also would never let the dog out of my sight - just until you know more (ie, some people might poison will learn and know more over time.)
posted by Wolfster at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

My dogs can indeed bark in their plastic basket muzzles (sometimes called kennel muzzles), but this may depend on the dog's snout shape and the shape of the muzzle.
posted by muddgirl at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2016

Best to err on the side of safety. I'd be outside with my dog until the weirdness blows over. For dogs, their mouths and noses are like our hands -- I think muzzles should be reserved for dogs that may bite when being walked on leash.

Over the years, we've experienced garbage and such being thrown or tossed on our lawn or driveway. This happened most when the grassy area across our street was often used by younger people who would drive up and hang out. I frankly think it is because they were slobs, not aimed at us specifically.

So, this may not be about you in particular at all, but about people (often kids) who think it is funny to throw trash. If it is about you, it is likely to blow over because the people doing it probably don't have a lengthy attention span.

Thinking of you. I think you probably will be fine as long as you are there with your dog when the dog is outside.
posted by bearwife at 12:18 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

things like cell phone batteries and cans of oven cleaner that couldn't fly on the wind.

Have you considered the possibility that maybe some of this oven cleaner or cell phone batteries or what not may have remained in your backyard (maybe even got into the soil or something), and that your dog got into that and had a reaction? After all, dogs do dumb things like eat dirt sometimes.

I mean, I actually think either of these things is a pretty big leap without any other symptoms, but even if your dog did have some kind of reaction to something, I wouldn't assume someone poisoned him.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Okay, but more concretely, whether or not your dog was poisoned, I would still seriously think twice about allowing him out in the yard unsupervised, especially at night. Clearly your house has been the target of vandalism, and personally, I would want to make sure my dog wasn't in harm's way. At the very least, if your backyard is small enough that you can see him the whole time, just stand outside by your back door and make sure he doesn't try to eat anything and keep an eye out for anyone who might be doing something suspicious.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:26 PM on February 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

This is emotion-related advice for dealing with this:

I too am a white person in a mostly-POC neighborhood, I too am visibly queer and while there's not a high school right here, there's sure plenty of young people. I have noticed that I sometimes tend to read shitty things that happen as resulting from others' response to my race or gender presentation. In general, they are not (or else it's super-obvious, like someone shouting slurs) and ultimately I feel like these anxieties are part of my own discomfort and bias - although being expressed unconsciously. Basically, I feel like although I love my neighborhood and am very happy here, part of my brain is responding to the racist and classist narratives I'm exposed to, and I unconsciously expect that if something bad happens, it's because it's aimed at me for my race or sexuality.

People have stolen my stuff, we've had random vandalism, etc, and over time I've realized that this is just the ordinary churn of life - some of it would happen anywhere, some of it is related to living in a poor neighborhood under white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

People do throw junk in our yard sometimes - not because it's our yard, but because they either want to get rid of the junk or because they're motivated by petty, aimless malice. Plenty of kids everywhere go through an "I feel like fucking with someone just because I am an angry adolescent with no real power" phase.

Keep an eye on your dog and your yard just to set your mind at rest, but bear in mind that the vast majority of petty malicious acts in an urban environment are random and committed by people who really don't have any bigger malice toward you.
posted by Frowner at 12:26 PM on February 5, 2016 [29 favorites]

Is there any chance your dog ate some Deadly Nightshade or Bitter Nightshade? It's very common in backyards, and it can cause dilated pupils.

Link 1.

Link 2.
posted by Slinga at 12:46 PM on February 5, 2016

On the camera front: if you have an old smartphone, there are cheap apps to turn it into a wireless baby monitor that will then ping your current phone(s) when movement is detected. Whether this is feasible depends on your house/yard/fence/lighting configuration, obviously, but I thought I'd mention it in case it might work.
posted by teremala at 12:46 PM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think you're probably making a big leap, but feeling unsafe doesn't bring out the logic in us. And if I thought my pet was in danger I'd go full-on frenzy. So I get you.

Have you looked at other security features? Increasing the lighting in the alley would be one thing to consider. One of our neighbors did that with some floodlights and and it ended petty crime in what was previously a tempting dark alley lined with parked cars. Lighting is likely cheaper than a camera and maybe more effective. Also, report crimes - even little ones like vandalism. If your town has an online police report tool, then that's perfect. Also, report things like graffiti and abandoned cars. Watch your dog when he's outside in the yard and keep the yard adequately lit.
posted by 26.2 at 12:50 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I want to suggest setting up some sort of mentioning system for your back yard. >

And I also wanted to suggest that old smart phones or laptops can be used as a security camera (although propping a laptop up in a window isn't a great idea). I bought a nest cam (used to be called dropcam) and while it was $200 and I pay a small fee for it each year, it records everything very clearly and if there is motion or sound in a particular zone, there is an alert on my phone. I did this for package thefts (as have most of my neighbors) and I created a zone for motion alerts on my front porch. If there is a theft I can download the video and give it to the authorities. Even though this is more expensive than using an old device, the quality and the fact that it just seems to work was worth it for me.
posted by k8t at 12:51 PM on February 5, 2016

If you want a quick, cheap motion-sensitive light for the alley to deter malcontents, I just bought one of these.
posted by sarajane at 2:27 PM on February 5, 2016

In addition to whatever real and cheap cameras you can find to use, get your hands on some broken, but obvious looking cameras for a whatever super cheap price you can find. Nail them up and make them look like the real thing. Flood lights, if you can afford them. Maybe a couple fake security stickers (I have something that is not a real security sticker, but has a threatening looking eyeball on it on my door).

Make them think they are going to get caught if they try anything, and put the real cameras where they have a good view but are less likely to get spotted.
posted by instead of three wishes at 2:42 PM on February 5, 2016

Dummy camera (totally a thing, no need to go hunt down broken cameras unless you already have a source) + motion-activated light will go a LONG way to dissuade people.

Is your fence see-though, or were you planning on filming inside or outside the fence? That affects your choice of actual cameras - webcams aren't great for filming if they need to be placed outdoors, or whatever.
posted by R a c h e l at 3:08 PM on February 5, 2016

I just don't leave my dogs outside unattended. I'm either out there with them or watching from the back door like a hawk. No camera needed.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:08 PM on February 5, 2016

The chances of this being "hey, lets fuck with the white people" are low. I live in an area like this and the white people act like they are in Beruit. (This is from an online Facebook group I really need to quit). Petty stuff happens. No one is trying to kill your dog. If a camera would make you feel better, that's fine, but it can also help to know that collective uprising against you is unlikely. And it takes a sadistic asshole to hurt an animal. Poor people are no more likely to be sadistic assholes than other people.
posted by orsonet at 4:36 PM on February 5, 2016 [11 favorites]

On cameras, we have a few varieties of these dLink wifi cameras. They differ in price based on the number of bells and whistles, and may be at the high end of your price range, but you sometimes see them discounted at BestBuy and the like. You can monitor them live but also at least one of them is set up to send us email that includes stills when it detects any kind of motion. It means we get lots of spam pictures of up-close insect bodies, but on the other hand when a group of kids offering lawn-care services which we declined continued to loiter around the base of our path, we were able to watch them live on camera as one walked back up to our door and attempted to steal an item sitting on our stoop. The kid bolted as soon as my husband threw open the door, but equally we then had about a dozen excellent pictures of the kid, his full body and face, walking up our path empty-handed and running down it carrying our property, which he ultimately dropped by the street.

For that alone I thought the cameras were worth it.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:37 AM on February 6, 2016

The chances of this being "hey, lets fuck with the white people" are low. I live in an area like this and the white people act like they are in Beruit. (This is from an online Facebook group I really need to quit). Petty stuff happens. No one is trying to kill your dog. If a camera would make you feel better, that's fine, but it can also help to know that collective uprising against you is unlikely. And it takes a sadistic asshole to hurt an animal. Poor people are no more likely to be sadistic assholes than other people.

I just want to emphasize this great comment. I wish I could favorite it 10 times.
posted by flourpot at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2016

I can't speak to the rest of it, but I would attribute 90% of this to living near a high school. I'm white and used to live in a predominately white neighborhood in a house across the street from a high school. While living there my car was keyed twice and the neighbors who lived kittycorner to me (and were college students with lots of easily grabbed video game systems and a general forgetfulness about locking their doors) had things stolen at least twice. So it's been my experience that proximity to lots of teens with too much time on their hands leads to some general mischief, without anyone being targeted because of anything more than proximity.
posted by MsMolly at 10:41 AM on February 7, 2016

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