Bait designed to help deal with troublesome ground squirrels is hitting an unintended target – dogs walking along the canal banks that the burrowing rodents damage.
Waterford officials issued a warning to residents with a post on the city’s Facebook page last week: “Pet owners! Please be aware of Modesto Irrigation District rodent bait placed along the canals citywide. Several pets have become sick and at least one has died. MID has been made aware and will be addressing it.”
Veterinarian Frankie Bonifacio raised the issue with the city after treating a black Labrador retriever that ultimately died because of what she believes is poisoning from the bait. Bonifacio lives on property adjacent to one of the affected canals and said some of the bait came through her fence and onto her land, where her two dogs could have gotten to it.
“I’ve lived at that location since 1996,” Bonifacio said. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen (bait) spread on the surface of the canal and through my fence.”
Melissa Williams, spokeswoman for MID, confirmed that the bait is used “periodically and as necessary to control rodents that can cause damage to our canal banks – holes and tunnels that can cause leaks or compromise the structural integrity of the canals.”
Bonifacio alerted the district to the problem last week. Williams said district staff provided her with information on the rodent control product used. “Many of our irrigation customers also use similar rodent baits on their properties near our facilities,” Williams said.
Bonifacio said the district ought to use bait traps, which would keep the poison out of the reach of dogs and wildlife, such as red foxes and coyotes, that don’t post a threat to the canals.
“We have distributed it in traps, as well as directly and near holes found along the canal system,” Williams said. “We will definitely review this incident and evaluate our bait distribution practices accordingly.”
The Turlock Irrigation District also uses bait to kill rodents that dig into canal banks, creating holes that can wreak havoc with the system.
Williams and TID spokesman Calvin Curtin said their districts use low-dosage bait that wouldn’t likely hurt a dog that didn’t ingest a lot of it. “According to the manufacturer, it would require a 40-pound dog to eat more than 10 percent of its body weight to be lethal,” Curtin said.
That could have been the case in Waterford. Bonifacio said the dog that ate the bait, being a Lab, “had a Lab-sized appetite.”
TID will use the bait at a spot where a problem has been identified. The bait is spread over a large area, then reapplied over a course of days to be effective.
“Squirrels are foragers,” Curtin said. “If it’s all left there in a pile, they won’t eat it.”
Williams and Curtin pointed out that canal banks, technically, are private property. “We don’t officially allow or endorse people to use the canal banks,” Curtin said. “But in reality, we don’t enforce it. Most of the time, there are no issues.”