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    Encounter with giant toad costs family dog its life

    Despite being rushed to a veterinarian, the dog succumbs after a run-in with a Bufo marinus toad.


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 4, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- James Johnson usually let his two beloved Pomeranian dogs, Pepper and Teddy, out into the back yard about 6 every morning after a hearty breakfast of Iams pet food.

    The canine siblings usually ran circles in the back yard and played with toys for about half an hour before they were called back into the house. Monday, when Johnson's wife, Elizabeth, noticed she couldn't hear the dogs playing or barking, she and her husband knew something was wrong.

    Johnson peered out the back door and saw Teddy convulsing, rubbing his nose in the dirt. Pepper was standing helplessly nearby. Johnson rushed out, picked Teddy up and found he was foaming at the mouth.

    He looked to the ground and saw a Bufo marinus toad about the size of a lunch box. It had released its toxic, milky secretion over its body and Teddy had sniffed at it or attempted to bite it.

    "I rushed the dog over to the vet and said, "Is there anything you can do?' and he said, "I can try but he'd have brain damage,' " Johnson said. "They're such gentle animals, but to see that dog die like that was terrible."

    There was little that could be done to help Teddy, who had fallen victim to the poisonous toad most commonly found around wet landscapes. After taking Teddy in to Elizabeth, Johnson returned to the back yard and beat the toad to death with a shovel.

    Bufo marinus toads, also known as cane toads, giant toads or marine toads, can grow to be 4 to 91/4 inches long and to weigh more than 3 pounds. Johnson said the toad that got the best of Teddy may have weighed 5 pounds.

    The brown or grayish-brown amphibians were introduced to South Florida from Latin America in the mid 1930s as a way to control pests. Since then, they've spread and have become a nuisance to pet owners.

    Heavy drooling, vigorous head shaking, pawing at the mouth and continuous attempts to vomit are symptoms that may result from a pet's contact with toads. Teddy, who Johnson said was more aggressive than his brother in chasing lizards around the yard, probably sought out the toad, he said.

    "Our local toads look very similar to them," said Michael Pettay, a horticulturist for the Pinellas County Extension Service. "The dead giveaway is it's the only toad I know of that will take non-living, non-moving food. Bufo will actually steal dog food from bowls left outside of the house."

    The toads are even strong enough to grab and eat small birds and snakes, according to a report distributed by the extension service. They breed from April to September and are most active in the spring and after rainfall.

    Their toxic emission can cause skin irritation for humans. It may not be fatal to pets if treatment is sought immediately. But that wasn't enough to help Teddy. Johnson said he immediately raced to a veterinarian in his car, running red lights.

    "When I ran in the house, I tried to explain to my wife what happened and I think she almost had a heart attack," he said. "The vet was waiting outside for me and he took him back. About 20 minutes later, he said there's nothing we can do."

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