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Just posted on a community listserv:

"We've got a black bear hanging around in our back yard and it won't leave. Any suggestions--so I can get out to my car?"
ar_wahan: (music)

Watch him dance here:

(Link was just sent to me by my husband.)
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From today's local paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette:

The compost story

A spring fever that can sicken: Compost a seasonal hazard for Valley's curious canines
by doakley
NORTHAMPTON - At one veterinary clinic, it's called "garbage gut."

After a frightening two hours Sunday, I had learned all about a problem that can sideline dogs this time of year. The culprit is "aflatoxin," a toxin produced by mold on all kinds of decomposing matter. Symptoms range from tremors to vomiting to seizures.

Though dogs can get into bad things year-round, spring is ripe for the problem. As the snow retreats, bare ground serves up a host of decomposing crud for browsing canines.

I found this out the hard way Sunday when my dog, Belle, was rooting around in our backyard on Union Street in Northampton, her usual terrain. Suddenly, in front of me, she sank to the ground, and began shaking violently.

I quickly called a South Deerfield veterinary hospital, shouting Belle's symptoms to the woman who answered.

She asked three questions: "Has your dog been outside?" "Do you have a compost pile?" and "Do you have bird feeders?"

I answered "yes" to all.

I have in the backyard a vegetable composter, which is a vented box with a lid. I didn't know whether the lid was on tight.

I also had three bird feeders, loaded all winter with sunflower seeds, and nuts. A thick mat of discarded hulls and old seeds lay on the newly bare ground like a wet sponge.

The receptionist said Belle likely had gotten into something, and to bring her in. My husband, Oliver Iselin, and I lifted her into the car and sped to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital, just off Route 5.

At the hospital, a technician whisked Belle away to check her vital signs. Fifteen minutes later, we were ushered into a room. Belle was there. She had stopped shaking. She seemed fine. She ignored us, staring at the door, ready to leave. We were confused.

Veterinarian Kirstin Losert came in and explained. "Aflatoxin," she pronounced carefully. It is a toxin produced by mold on things like decomposing grain, vegetables, or seeds - staples in our yard.

A key symptom is tremors, she said, adding that some dogs shake so hard they can't stand. "Some require a sedative, even valium, to interrupt (the tremors)," she said.

Belle, it seemed, was lucky. Relative to others, her symptoms had been mild. The reaction had run its course in just over an hour.

Losert said the problem is common in western Mass. - a rural area where many unleashed dogs are irresistibly drawn to the compost piles of ecologically conscious folks. "Dogs like to forage," she said. "It's disgusting, but they do it."

At Williamsburg Animal Clinic, receptionist Rachel Pietraszkiewicz was well versed in the condition, referring to it as "garbage gut."

"Suet, bird seed, meat, eggs, old deer legs," she said, ticking off things that can produce the reaction.

When she hears the symptoms expressed by frantic callers, she said, "I ask the traditional questions (about whether the dog has been exposed to decomposing matter)."

"So many people don't have any idea, until it happens to their dog," she said.

At Northampton Veterinary Clinic, veterinarian Lori Paporello shared her name for the illness: "Holiday syndrome."

"People make Easter dinner and throw the turkey carcass in the garbage and the dog gets into it."

Symptoms, she said, "can range from mild gastrointestinal distress and vomiting, to an obstruction that may require surgery." Diagnostic work might include blood work and X-rays. From there, treatment ranges from intravenous fluids to stomach protectants to antibiotics. Worst-case scenarios, blockages, might require surgery. She said those instances are rare, and that most dogs are back to their nosy ways before long.

Paporello cautioned there is no way for dog owners to tell how severe the problem might be.

While younger dogs are more mischievous, and tend to be aggressive scavengers, she said, older dogs, too, poke around and might be less resilient. In both cases, early veterinary intervention is key, she said.

As for preventive measures, South Deerfield veterinarian Losert said people should clean up their yards, adding that everyone should keep outdoor vegetable waste in a sealed container, even if they don't own dogs. They might have neighbors who do.


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