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Why Do People Poison Dogs?

Why Do People Poison Dogs?

In 1885, veterinarian Joseph Perry referred to people who poison dogs as “the fiend incarnate.” Even during Victorian times, the targeted poisoning of dogs and indiscriminate trap of toxic food intended for dogs was a well known health issue. Dog poisoning happened with regularity all over the world and in all eras of history, and the perpetrators — sadly — are usually never caught.

The psychology of poisoning is not well studied, even when it comes to human victims. Sharon Gwantney-Brant reports that about 75 percent of malicious animal poisonings target dogs, particularly large breeds such as German Shepherds and Great Danes. So what is going on in the mind of a dog poisoner?

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A sense of grievance

The pattern seems to be that people stew over something that annoys them about how neighborhood dogs are behaving until it becomes an obsession and might expand to a hatred of all dogs. The person might not lack empathy overall, but like most people they divide animals into different categories. As such, they may come to classify dogs as “pests” or “vermin” that should be eliminated.

For example, in 2012 landscaper Kenneth M. Hyland finished cutting the lawn of a union building and then allegedly covered the lawn in a bucketful of hot dogs soaked in antifreeze. He was reportedly angry about dogs pooping on the lawn. In 2011 an Australian woman was caught pushing meat mixed with snail poison into a yard because the dog’s barking was annoying her. Pet-abuse.com lists poisoning as an abuse category and scenarios like these appear over and over and over. But a lot of people live near dogs that annoy them … and very few of them turn to dog murder.

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The personality of the poisoner

Poisoners are not well studied and their specific motives are often not known. Modern research suggests that lack of empathy overall is not always the problem, but rather that some people decide that certain people or animals do not deserve kindness. So to them, poisoning a dog seems no different to laying bait for a rat infestation.

Some investigators suggest that the poisoner tends to be a person who avoids direct confrontation and lacks faith in authorities to help deal with conflicts. And when dog poisoners are caught they often defy profiling based on superficial features — men and women are equally represented, and they run the gamut of society from habitual criminals to upper class individuals.

One famous 1937 case involved Mrs. Juliet Tuttle, who was driven around by her chauffeur on trips where she would get out at various houses and poison dogs, often right in their own fenced yards. She was a wealthy Park Avenue widow who donated generously to humane societies, and her friend frankly disbelieved the accusations at first. When she was finally caught in the act and tried, chauffeurs reported that she had been a roaming dog killer for nine years — apparently killing those animals she thought were not being well cared for, although their owners strenuously disagreed.

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Poisoning is often hard to prove

Poisoners kill in a way that separates them from the painful consequences for the dog and his or her family. As the famous Milgram Experiment showed, the further is person is from the direct violence of their actions, the more willing they will be to cause harm. So a person that might never strike an animal might be willing to fire at one with a gun, or to leave a trap or bait that acts without them even witnessing the act. This distance allows people to put aside whatever level of empathy they might be capable of.

Combined with this, poisoning cases are often never solved because of the lengths it takes to prove poison was the case of death, identify the source, and determine who planted the bait. Especially if the poisoner is indiscriminate and not targeting specific dogs near their home, it can be extremely difficult to catch them in the act. Poisoning of dogs and people may occur more often than is currently appreciated, as the necessary tests are only done when there is a reason to be suspicious, and all poison tests are limited in scope and might miss unusual toxins.

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What can you do?

Obviously you should try to prevent dogs from eating anything found on the ground or otherwise from an unknown source. Food on the ground should be treated with suspicion, especially if it is not the sort of food likely to be trash, like uncooked or whole objects. Cheese, meatballs, and cat food seem to be the poisoners favorites. Poison often has green coloring added to it or a crystalline consistency.

If baiting is for official pest control purposes, it should be carried out in a manner not accessible to dogs and marked with signs from the pest control agency. Any other potentially poisonous material should be reported to the police. Avoid going near it or touching it, move it with thick gloves or utensils only if absolutely necessary. If there is suspicious behavior around your yard, supervise the dog and consider installing a video camera, as video evidence is one of the few ways to establish who is leaving poisoned bait.

Poisoning is fortunately extremely rare, so it is really not something most dog owners need to worry about. And when it does occur it is almost always accidental. But we all need to store the possibility of deliberate poisoning in their back of our minds, just in case. And remember, when rational people encounter this sort of problem, we call the authorities rather than taking the law into our own hands.

What’s your experience? Have you had a dog deliberately poisoned, or do you know someone who has? What do you think drove the people to do it?

Photo: Dog waiting for treat by Shutterstock

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Read more: Animal Rights, Dogs, Pets, Safety

This post was written by Emily Kane, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.

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At Dogster, we believe life is always more meaningful with a dog. Get a daily dose of news, views and cuteness over at Dogster Magazine.

123 comments

+ add your own
5:31AM PDT on Mar 11, 2014

Not to be encouraged for whatever reasons

8:52AM PST on Feb 17, 2014

Those that poison animals should be poisoned.

9:15AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Thank you Dogster, for Sharing this!

10:17AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

Because... they are wankers !

7:01AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

I meant to say countries.

5:47AM PST on Jan 24, 2014

this is very common in some counties and in certain societies.

They often use poisons that cause excruciating pain to the dogs before they die

this is CRIMINAL, and ought to be stiffly punished!!

12:16PM PST on Jan 22, 2014

While there may be many reasons, there is no doubt that anyone who resorts to such unconscionable cruelty is evil, not crazy-as deliberate planning is necessary, but evil. It may not be as rare as mentioned, since in the few posts above mine, 4 people mention having pets who were deliberately poisoned. A volunteer at our local rescue while visiting a rural area of Arkansas rescued a stray, injured dog. In the process, she saw many strays and was told by a local that people routinely put out bowls of antifreeze to eliminate the strays. Another volunteer while visiting MI witnessed local farmers throwing stray kittens into Lake Michigan. (She was able to save one) Not poisoning but just as cruel. What humans can do to each other and to other creatures is unimaginable.

3:26AM PST on Jan 22, 2014

*sigh* One more thing for me to be paranoid about.

5:40AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

Our lab was poisoned over 18yrs ago when he was in our yard playing. Someone threw a poisoned snick treat for him. I still tear up when I remember that.Sometimes people just like to kill and poison is a good way to do it. At least it's possible to find out what the poison was in your precious baby and hopefully find out who did it. Charges can today be filed. Oh yeah...Karma helps!

1:05AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

thankfully no Ive never had this happen or know anyone who has had their dog poisoned. I wonder how who do this aweful act were bitten as children?? Dogs barking is annoying but any sensible person complains to their local council (Ive complained a couple of times over that).

Cats being harmed by others is another story, I know of 3 peoples cats including one of my own which others killed in various ways.. 2 were killed by purposely being trapped and the other was shot by someone throu the jaw and had to have his shattered jaw bone wired by the vet. I have an ex who tries to hit cats in his car. Many people seem to hate cats.

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