Updated: 03/24/2014 8:01 PM
Created: 03/24/2014 6:41 PM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch
SLINGERLANDS – Alan Via and his Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Bookah, were hiking partners for close to ten years. They took hundreds of trips together.
Then, during an off-trail outing in the Catskills on October 28, Via caught Bookah eating a piece of meat: something so tasty, she disregarded his command to leave it.
Two hours later, Bookah fell gravely ill. She started to shake and lose her coordination. Via had to carry his 50-pound friend through the woods.
"She was obviously in a lot of distress," Via said. "We got a quarter of a mile from the car, and her breathing became more and more labored. She died right in my arms."
Distraught over the loss of his pet, Via placed Bookah in the backseat of his car for the long and somber ride back to Albany County.
"On the way back," he said, choking back tears, "I kept reaching back and petting the lifeless body. It was tough."
Testing revealed that Bookah died of poisoning, possibly from strychnine. Via said it was likely on the meat she consumed just before taking ill.
Via said he has heard of hunters trying to poison coyotes -- hoping to keep them from attacking deer -- though he is careful to note that most hunters would never do that.
But to anyone would lace a piece of meat with a deadly chemical, Via said he wants his story to serve as a warning that unintended animals could eat it and die.
What really happened to Bookah may never be proven. But Via’s veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Bull, said it’s important for all pet owners to recognize the symptoms of poisoning.
"Typical symptoms of toxicity are going to include a very sudden onset of shaking, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination," said Bull, of Delmar Animal Hospital.
Pet owners who suspect poisoning should immediately call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435, Bull said. There is a fee to call.
First aid for ingesting strychnine – or antifreeze, human medications, and lilies (a danger to cats) – often involves hydrogen peroxide, she said.
"Go ahead and give a tablespoon," Bull said. "If you have a very large dog, give two or three tablespoons. Wait five or 10 minutes. If they don’t vomit, you can go ahead and repeat that."
Lye is one major exception to the hydrogen peroxide treatment; that should be kept down, because it could cause additional harm to your animal during vomiting, Bull said.
Alan Via is now training a puppy named Toby, but he is still grieving his beloved Bookah. A paw print and photographs, artfully framed, hang in his living room.
Via wanted to hike all of Catskill’s high peaks with Bookah. Now, he is spreading her ashes on those she never reached.
"It was a very, very difficult time and a very tough couple of months," Via said. "She was a wonderful dog. I’ve had dogs my whole life, and she was the best."