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Dog dies from Utah Lake toxins, family posts warning sign

Aug 30, 2023, 7:26 PM | Updated: 7:26 pm

SPANISH FORK, Utah — A Utah County family is warning others after their dog died following a visit to Utah Lake. The family is doing their own work to keep people away after saying the health department didn’t put up proper signage, leaving visitors potentially unaware of the dangerous toxins lurking on the lakeshore.

It’s not exactly the ocean, but Sandy Beach does have shells.On Wednesday, three-year-old Paitynn walked around, looking down at the ground before stopping to dig in the ground in hopes of finding small treasures.

Mom, Brandee Wing, thought it would be a fun outing to hunt for shells Saturday, so she and her husband took Paitynn and their two dogs. She was surprised to find Sandy Beach wasn’t sandy at all like it used to be when she’d visited years ago.

Instead, soft, brown, mulch-like gunk lines the water.

“Mulch beach is what it should be called,” she said.

Even though Brandee said the lake itself looked normal, the family didn’t get in the water and didn’t stay long.

Unfortunately, that was all it took for their dog Toby to get sick.

“He would not stop vomiting. And then he was very, very lethargic,” she explained.

They rushed Toby to the vet and learned he was showing symptoms of poison from toxins found in harmful algae that bloom on Utah Lake. Brandee said the symptoms included pale gums, skin tenting and staying up, and Toby was cold to the touch.

“The vet told me that it was attacking his kidneys and his liver,” she said.

Toby died in the pet ER right in front of Brandee and Paitynn, before he could be taken back for bloodwork and testing.

Turning away from the camera as she broke down crying, it was clear that Toby’s death hit the family hard.

Toby, a dog that died at Utah Lake after being exposed to toxic algae

Toby, a dog that died at Utah Lake after being exposed to toxic algae. (Brandee Wing)

The painful realization of what killed him was made even more upsetting for Brandee and her husband, because of the fact that they had no idea the harmful algal blooms were in that particular spot on the lake.

“He’s devastated,” Brandee said. “He’s mad that there weren’t signs.”

Brandee said the Utah County Health Department posted signs at Sandy Beach after she reached out to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Quality to tell them about Toby, despite the fact the lake’s been testing positive for harmful algal blooms for weeks.

A notice on the Division of Water Quality site says that harmful algae is present at most locations on the lake, and may be producing toxins that can make humans and animals sick.

The Division of Water Quality posts weekly updates on the testing it does, but said that the Utah County Health Department is the agency responsible for posting any signs or sending residents alerts.

The Utah County Health Department said Wednesday that a permanent sign was posted in the area in 2019. However, that sign is posted at the very end of the parking lot and isn’t clearly visible where Brandee and her family had parked, and isn’t near the wide path to the beach. One would have to drive around a corner to that side of the lot to see it.

In a text message statement, the department said that they have been receiving algal bloom notifications at different levels all summer, as they do every year.

“Signs are posted at common access points educating people to avoid algal blooms (including pictures of them),” the department wrote. “We highly encourage people to check the state water quality website for current water conditions before using the lake as it is known for algal blooms. Our prevention message includes avoiding water that looks like antifreeze, has scum, mats, or globs under the surface.”

On Wednesday, Brandee returned to Sandy Beach with Paitynn to post her own sign.

Hammering it into the ground, the sign reads: “TOXIC FATAL Toby died 8-28-23 dud to Algal bloom toxins in this area. Please Keep Out. #TobyStrong.”

Family Sign

A sign left at Utah Lake’s Sandy Beach by Brandee Wing following the death of her dog. (KSL TV)

“If I would have had a sign like mine that said ‘toxic, fatal,’ — we’re out of here,” Brandee said.

As Brandee installed the sign, Paitynn watched.

“Toby died?” she asked. “Yeah,” Brandee replied.

Paitynn is still understanding what death means, and Brandee hopes others understand that even a short family outing isn’t worth what can happen.

“It’s fatal,” she said. “Its not just a warning. It will literally take a family member.”

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Dog dies from Utah Lake toxins, family posts warning sign