North Fulton County

A pet owner’s warning: Beloved dog dies after swimming in lake fed by Chattahoochee River

ROSWELL, Ga. — A Milton woman wants to warn other pet owners to be careful after her beloved dog died after a brief swim in a lake fed by the Chattahoochee River. Now, several agencies are investigating the potential cause of death.

Susan Warner contacted Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik after her dog, Chewy, passed away earlier this week.

“He was a beautiful dog,” she told Petchenik. “We’ve just been sobbing day and night.”

Warner said she went for a hike along the Gold Branch Trail inside the National Park in Roswell, and Chewy took a dip in Bull Sluice Lake.

“He just jumped in, he didn’t immerse completely under the water,” she said. “But enough where his body was submerged partway.”

Within minutes, Warner said Chewy became lethargic and refused to walk.

*He was coughing, and there was a lot of fluid coming up when he was coughing,” she said.

Warner took Chewy to a vet near here Milton home.

“Chewy presented paralyzed, couldn’t walk and my staff had to carry him in,” said Dr. Bonny Willhite. “His mucous membranes were extremely pale and he was in respiratory distress, critical respiratory distress.”

An x-ray found fluid in Chewy’s lungs.

“As time went on, despite the fact that all of us were around him the entire time over the next two to three hours, despite oxygen therapy, fluids, broad spectrum antibiotic therapy, steroids, even Lasix … he started to decline,” she said.

As Warner rushed Chewy to an emergency vet hospital in Sandy Springs, the 4-year-old Golden Retriever/English Crème mix succumbed to his illness.

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“It was devastating,” Willhite said. “We tried everything and to have that sort of helpless feeling is just indescribable. I like to take pride in how hard I work on my cases and not letting anything slip behind. But there was nothing that I did. It was just bizarre.”

Wilhite said, based on Chewy’s symptoms, she believes he was killed by some kind of neurotoxin in the water.

After Warner contacted Petchenik about Chewy’s death, he contacted Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth, who ordered testing of the water.

“Preliminary results from the samples that we sent to the University of Georgia shows that they found small amounts of two types of a cyanobacteria that is capable of producing a neurotoxin that could be toxic to a dog,” Ulseth said.

Ulseth said it’s commonly referred to as “blue-green algae,” which he said is extremely uncommon in the Chattahoochee River.

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“This is the first case of a potential neurotoxin death in an animal that I’ve ever heard of,” he said. “It’s important to know that the Chattahoochee River is a very cold and actually pretty clean waterway, especially within the National Park. And it’s not conditions that are very friendly for these toxins to be produced. So we’re not expecting to see wide blooms of this cyanobacteria blue-green algae throughout the river system.”

Still, Ulseth said the National Park Service would also be investigating the water to ensure it’s safe.

The UGA professor who conducted the tests on the water told Petchenik it’s difficult to know specifically what Chewy came in contact with because the water he came in contact with was downstream when they collected a sample from the lake.

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“We are following up with the veterinarian to determine if there is detectable anatoxin in samples from the dog,” said Dr. Susan Bennett Wilde. “I do not want to alarm the public; this case is still under investigation. This is a chance to educate people with dogs to be cautious when allowing them to swim in rivers, reservoirs and ponds. If their dog becomes sick after swimming, contact your veterinarian and Georgia EPD. We can continue to improve water quality and safe recreation in our states abundant water resources if we all work to prevent excess nutrients/pollution from entering our rivers. Protect the watershed, protect wildlife, pets and human health. The Riverkeepers are doing a tremendous job, but we all need to help.”

Willhite said especially during warmer months, pet owners should avoid allowing them to have contact with water that has a “blue-green tinge” or appears foamy.

“So when your dogs are out running around and hiking, etc. they’re going to want to take a sip from a puddle or a river or anything but you know, at this point, we just don’t know what waters are safe. So bring water with you and let them drink water from home or bottled,” she said. “Make sure that you’re very careful about what they’re drinking outside.”

Warner told Petchenik she hopes what happened to Chewy will serve as a warning for others.

“If our water is not clean, and it kills a dog, people need to know that risk when they go and they take a walk,” she said.