(ANTIMEDIA) Pocatello, ID — An Idaho family is outraged after their 14-year-old son was injured and his pet Labrador retriever was killed by a government-planted cyanide bomb placed in the woods behind their home.
Last Thursday, Canyon Mansfield was walking with his three-year-old Lab, Casey, when he noticed a device that looked like a sprinkler head sticking six inches out of the ground. Out of curiosity, he attempted to pick it up. The Idaho State Journal reported:
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“[It] erupted with a loud popping noise that knocked Canyon off his feet. A hissing sound ensued and Canyon noticed his clothing and face were covered with an orange, powdery substance.”
After using snow on the ground to wash the substance off his clothing and face, Canyon called for his dog, who didn’t respond.
“He just stayed on the ground mumbling,” Canyon said.
“I thought he was playing with his toy, but I saw the toy a couple yards away from him. … So, I called him again and got really scared. I sprinted toward him and landed on my knees and saw this red froth coming from his mouth and his eyes turning glassy and he was having a seizure.”
Casey was dead within minutes. According to the Idaho State Journal, on Thursday the young dog “joined thousands of other non-targeted animals — both wild and domestic — that have been mistakenly killed by one of the most lethal tools at the disposal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — spring-loaded metal cylinders that are baited with scent that shoot sodium cyanide powder into the mouth or face of whatever or whoever touches them.”
Referred to as M-44 devices, “the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) division of the USDA deploys these sodium cyanide capsules throughout the West to protect livestock from coyotes, wild dogs, and red and gray foxes,” ISJ reported.
Canyon was taken to Portneuf Medical Center where he was treated and released. He is required to return for check-ups to monitor toxicity levels.
Though the program is legal, it is unclear whether the cyanide bomb that injured Canyon and took his dog’s life was legally placed.
A statement released by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service expressed sympathies for Canyon and Casey, noting they had removed all M-44 devices in the area and stressing that such lethal errors are rare.
R. Andre Bell, a spokesman for APHIS, said “the unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence (and Wildlife Services) posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when wildlife traps or other devices are being used in an area for wildlife damage management.” He also said the devices are only planted with the permission of property owners.
Canyon denied these claims. “The guy that planted them there said he got consent,” he said. “And he said he put signs up but I would have noticed it because I go up there all the time.”
Canyon’s older sister, Madison, dismissed the agency’s statement altogether. “The USDA’s statement regarding the horrific incident that happened to my family yesterday is both disrespectful and inaccurate,” she said. “The USDA intentionally refers to the brutal killing of our dog as a ‘take’ to render his death trivial and insignificant.”
Madison also asserted there are more incidents like this one than APHIS suggests. “In fact, this issue is nationally recognized due to the lack of selectivity of cyanide bombs, and there have been many reported incidents in which unintended animals and people have been targeted,” she said.
In 2012, the Sacramento Bee reported on the growing problem, noting a similar incident in 2006 that killed a two-year-old German Shepherd. The Bee explained that thousands of domesticated and wild animals have been mistakenly killed by the devices:
“Agency records show that more than 3,400 animals have been mistakenly killed by M-44s since 2006, including black bears, bobcats, raccoons, opossums, ravens, ringtails, red fox, gray fox, kit fox, swift fox, turkey vultures and dogs.”
The devices have been in use for seven decades, and earlier this month, advocacy group Predator Defense reported that M-44s killed two pet dogs in Casper, Wyoming, when they were hiking with their owners.
An agency fact sheet stresses the quick and painless manner in which animals die after being exposed to the cyanide bombs. But according to the Bee, Rex Shaddock, a former trapper for the agency who has witnessed dogs die from the devices, disagrees.
“It’s not a painless death,” he said. “They start whining. They start hemorrhaging from their ears and nose and mouth. They get paralysis and fall over. Then they start convulsing and they’re gone. They are suffering endlessly until they die. It’ll make you literally want to puke.”
Back in Idaho, the Bannock County Sheriff’s office believes the device was planted on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s property, though BLM denies the incident occurred on their land. Nevertheless, the police are skeptical of the program.
“I’ve been sheriff for 20-plus years and I have never heard of these [cyanide devices] before. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have a landmine-type device that disperses cyanide gas,” Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said.
Canyon’s sister Madison agrees. “The placement of these unmarked devices in a residential area without notifying the families and the authorities is grossly negligent,” Madison said. “The individual who placed the bombs is most certainly not ‘highly-trained’ as the USDA claims. If he was, he would have noticed the homes clearly beneath him and this tragedy could have been easily avoided.”
Canyon’s mother, too, was shaken by the tragic incident and says she wants to work to make the public more aware of the questionable practice. “This is horrific,” she said. “This is like terrorism in my backyard.”