Six dog deaths lead to investigation at Salt Lake County training grounds

May 25, 2023, 11:05 AM | Updated: 11:07 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A popular Salt Lake County dog training facility is closed after half a dozen dogs died following visits to the training grounds.

On the edges of the Lee Kay Wildlife Conservation Training area, gates sat closed Wednesday across the dirt road entrances. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources-branded banners across the gate stated the area was closed “due to possible contamination.”

According to the DWR, which owns and manages the area, six dogs in the same group recently died and the Utah Division of Water Quality found a potential toxic bacterial growth on the edges of one of the ponds.

Grady Southwick, who takes his Labrador retriever Piper to the training area often, said they visited with his son, friend and their dogs on May 1. Piper was the first dog in their group to jump in the water.

He’s currently training his 2-year-old pup to be an AKC Senior Hunter, as they get ready for duck hunting this fall.

Everything seemed fine, until soon after they returned home.

“Later that afternoon, about 4 o’clock, she started groaning, moaning, making kind of a, you know — you could tell something was wrong,” Southwick recounted. “She wouldn’t stand still. She wouldn’t lay down…she wouldn’t eat. She went outside and threw up a few times.”

He said Piper’s condition continued to worsen as the night went on. She began to have convulsions.

They made an emergency vet visit, but the vet couldn’t figure out what was happening.

Piper continued to be sick for three days, and he said she couldn’t hold down liquids and wouldn’t eat food. His wife stayed by Piper’s side the entire time.

“We thought we were going to lose her at one point,” Southwick said.

Because none of the other dogs in his group got sick, Southwick didn’t know what to think.

Then this week, he learned Piper wasn’t the only dog to get sick after visiting the Lee Kay Wildlife Conservation Training grounds.

“Six dogs had got sick, perished…and I thought, wait a minute, we were there two weeks before them. Something’s kind of up,” he said.

DWR spokesperson Faith Heaton Jolley explained a trainer camping out at the training area for eight days with 13 dogs reported seeing some of the dogs eating a crusty, salt-like layer on the grass on the edge of the pond on May 17.

He called the dogs back, she said, and placed them in their kennels. Later in the day, the dogs began to vomit and have diarrhea.

“He took one of the dogs to the vet at midnight that same day, and then around 6:30 a.m. the next morning, the decision, unfortunately, was made to euthanize that dog,” Jolley said. “And then over the next couple of days, five more dogs, unfortunately, were either euthanized by the vet or ended up dying of cardiac arrest. And they’re thinking probably due to kidney and liver failure.”

The incident was reported to DWR on May 20.

She said one of the six deceased dogs is undergoing a necropsy for disease testing so they can hopefully determine the actual cause of death.

In the meantime, DWR closed down the entire area, and Utah Division of Water Quality crews went out to the pond and took water samples. They noticed a bacterial growth on the edge of the water that can be deadly to dogs.

“They did say there was some growth likely that they think was partially composed of cyanobacteria on the grass growing along the edge of the water,” Jolley said. “And they have seen cases where dogs have become ill or died from consuming these kinds of cyanobacteria mats. And the mats sometimes contain these lethal levels of toxins that target the liver or neurological system of dogs.”

Jolley said that they are still waiting on the test results to confirm how the dogs died.

Two retriever club events took place the weekends before and after the May 17 incident. Clubs involved in the events told KSL TV that hundreds of dogs attended the events, and it didn’t appear any other incidents were reported.

Jolley said a huge national retriever event was supposed to take place at the Lee Kay Wildlife Conservation grounds this weekend but has been canceled.

They aren’t sure how long the closure will last, or what the potential cleanup of the harmful bacteria will look like.

Southwick said it took about a week and a half for Piper to regain her strength and energy.

She is feeling back to normal, and he is feeling lucky she survived.

“We love her,” he said. “She’s a great little dog and she’s part of our family.”

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Six dog deaths lead to investigation at Salt Lake County training grounds