LEADING THE RESPONSE: Gayndah Veterinary Surgery owner and principal Nathan Hitchcock. Photo: Alex Treacy
LEADING THE RESPONSE: Gayndah Veterinary Surgery owner and principal Nathan Hitchcock. Photo: Alex Treacy

Vet urges calm amid spiralling dog baiting claims

A GAYNDAH vet has urged calm in the community amid spiralling allegations online that incidents of dog baiting, first reported in early September, are continuing apace.

Gayndah Veterinary Surgery principal Dr Nathan Hitchcock said he was "beginning to lean towards thinking there is malicious baiting happening".

"But at the same time, there are other dogs in very remote locations that have been poisoned which still makes me think dead birds are involved," he said.

Dr Hitchcock said he had heard "anecdotal reports" of lumps of meat being found beside roads, supporting his hypothesis of ill intent.

"I really, really want to lay my hands on some of that," he said.

Dr Hitchcock said he couldn't estimate how many incidents there had been, after the issue took on a life of its own on Facebook in recent weeks.


Slack family working dogs which died of suspected strychnine poisoning: Layla, Scooter and Marley. Photo: Contributed
Slack family working dogs which died of suspected strychnine poisoning: Layla, Scooter and Marley. Photo: Contributed


While Dr Hitchcock still suspects strychnine poisoning has caused most of the deaths, results from the one lab analysis returned so far showed the dog under examination died of 1080 poisoning, "which surprised me greatly", he said.

"I think this means we've got more than one problem," Dr Hitchcock said.

Strychnine and 1080 are both used to control feral animal species.

Dr Hitchcock, who is co-ordinating the response, revealed he has enlisted the assistance of the Wide Bay Public Health Unit to help with testing deceased dogs.

Dr Hitchcock said there were several factors impeding his investigation.

First, testing a deceased dog for poison costs about $300 for each poison tested for.

"The Public Health Unit has kindly funded some testing, which is helpful because otherwise it's not going to get done. I can't pay for it and the owners don't want to," Dr Hitchcock said.

Second, incidents have been reported in a wide geographic area, including Coalstoun Lakes, Booubyjan, Gayndah and also towards Humphery and Glenrae.

"To date, there's been nothing north of the Burnett River," Dr Hitchcock said.

"It doesn't mean it hasn't happened, I might just not know about it."

Dr Hitchcock said the wide geography of reported cases meant there "has to be an element of transport involved".

"Whether that element of transport is a person in a car, whether the element of transport is birds flying or whether that element is an aeroplane, those are the only three possibilities I reckon," he said.

"We're testing some dead birds but we haven't got answers back yet for what's in them.

"And we might find nothing, because they might not be the right ones."

The third factor impacting Dr Hitchcock's investigation is that, in the community's heightened state of suspicion, deaths are being linked to poisoning which may have other causes.

"We've had deaths of dogs in town that might or might not be baitings but even when there's baitings happening, bad things happen to dogs on any given day and just because a bad thing's happened, doesn't mean it's been baited," he said.

"We have to have symptoms suggestive of baiting or we have to do a laboratory test that tells us that yes, it was a bait.

"Last week, I visited a lady on the north side of Gayndah who reported a baiting on Facebook, but it turned out the symptoms didn't fit with poisoning.

"The dog was normal in the evening and dead in the morning - there was no vocalising, no scratch marks in the ground."

Fourth, Dr Hitchcock said, was that baiting was not very well understood in the community.

"There are lots of rural myths running around about poisoning, that dogs can eat a bait and be dead in 10 minutes," he said.

"It's just not true, it can take six hours from time they pick up a bait for them to show symptoms.

"Some people think birds don't carry baits but they do: they can and they will.

"The trouble is people are running off the deep end a bit, they're ringing up the people like the police stock squad who really know nothing about baiting.

"I'm sure they're very good policemen but they don't know anything about baiting."

Dr Hitchcock said the outcome of all the factors was that there were still no answers.

"Really, we still need to collect more information," he said.

"We can't say what's happening really.

"At present, the best I can say is that there is something happening that shouldn't, and it is almost certainly not related to the routine, normal, legal process of wild dog and pig baiting.

"There is some factor that still has not been identified."

Wide Bay Public Health physician Dr Margaret Young said the unit was made aware of the allegations on October 23.

"As part of our subsequent and ongoing investigation we are liaising with North Burnett Regional Council, (Dr Hitchcock) and Biosecurity Queensland," she said.

"WBPHU's involvement is particularly interested in whether or not a Schedule 7 poison is involved, as these substances are regulated by Queensland Health.

"While the cause of death in these circumstances can be difficult to determine, WBPHU has obtained and submitted some samples for analysis, and results are pending."

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