Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Why Take The Risk?

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam, Practice Manager)

This is the time of year when many families employ a lawn treatment service. Most of us want – or are under pressure from neighbors to have – a lush, vividly green, weed-free yard. Unfortunately, there is almost no way to achieve this without the use of chemicals.

The lawn treatment companies advertise the safety of the chemicals they use. They even put giant pictures of Golden Retrievers and Dalmatians on the sides of their trucks. They tell customers that the lawn is perfectly safe for pets once the chemicals have dried.

I absolutely do not believe this.

These chemicals are toxic. They kill foliage. They interfere with seed germination. They circumvent the natural life cycle of the plants they eliminate and the insects that inhabit those plants. I don’t care if the chemicals are wet and soaking your pet’s pads and fur, or if it is dry and leaving only traces of residue.

It is poison.

I can’t cite studies or specific research, but I do have – on most days – a certain amount of common sense. I can also give you some unofficial “research,” which much to my shame and dismay was unintentionally conducted on my own dogs.

When we moved into our first house in 1990, we had two Cocker Spaniels, Flash and Porsche. In 1991, we added another Cocker, Cricket. In 1994, we got my beloved Golden Retriever, Ripley. We lived in that house until June of 1996, and we used a well-known lawn service the entire time. Many times throughout the spring and summer, the technicians pulled their big truck with the picture of the puppy on the side into our driveway, hooked up their hoses, and saturated our lawn with chemicals to kill the dandelions and crab grass, as well as to fertilize the lawn itself.

We had a beautiful yard. Our dogs ran, played, and rolled in it, always after the treatment had dried. They ate grass and licked their paws. They ate bugs and who-knows-what-else that they found outside. They lay in the shade under the maple trees.

We moved to Minnesota in 1996, and never once used a chemical lawn treatment after our relocation. But let me tell you the fates of the dogs who lived for so many years with a poisoned yard.

Porsche died suddenly at the age of 12 due to an immune-mediated blood disorder. Cricket died at the age of 11, due to a similar disorder. Cricket had also suffered from seizures since she was six months old, and had glaucoma. She was blind by the age of 5. I can’t directly tie the blindness to chemical exposure, but I can sure make a good case for the seizures and both dogs’ immune-mediated blood disorders.

Flash made it a bit longer, until the age of 13. However, he spent the final 5 years of his life suffering with Cushing’s Disease, which is a malfunction of the adrenal gland. He lost most of his hair and muscle mass, and was a shadow of his former self. As this is again a defect of the immune system, I can see a probable connection with the chemicals.

My Ripley died of hemangiosarcoma, a fast-moving cancer of the blood vessels. Again… chemicals used in lawn care may have been responsible.

No, I can’t say beyond doubt that lawn chemicals caused the diseases and disorders that took my dogs’ lives. But given the following evidence, it’s enough proof for me, and I will never, ever use any sort of chemical on my yard.

I’ve had numerous other dogs since moving to Minnesota, and none of them have ever been exposed to lawn chemicals while in my care. Seko and Sprocket, both Golden Retrievers, lived to 14 and 16 years old, and both were ultimately euthanized due to structural degeneration in the rear quarters. Despite all the supplements and supportive care they received, the eventual physical breakdown of a large-breed dog is almost inevitable, if they live long enough. I do not associate this in any way with chemical exposure.

Gulliver, a Great Pyrenees mix, died abruptly from what was believed to be a brain aneurysm. This was probably a congenital defect, and I cannot see any connection to toxins.

Ruxpin, a Golden Retriever, also died rapidly from an antibiotic-resistant staph infection and had nothing to do with the absence or presence of chemicals.

I currently have three dogs. Ozark is a 10 year old Great Pyrenees mix, Darwin is a five year old Golden Retriever, and Brody is a four year old Great Pyrenees. None of them have any health concerns whatsoever.

No, this is not conclusive evidence. But I can say that there is a high degree of likelihood that all four dogs who were raised on chemically-treated lawns died of things that were associated with that chemical exposure… and there is a very low likelihood that chemicals had anything to do with the symptoms or illnesses seen in the dogs I’ve had since I stopped allowing lawn chemicals to be used. My chemical-free dogs have enjoyed overall better health during the course of their lives, and their deaths were not hastened in any way because of toxins.

I understand that there are other factors that have contributed to my chemical-free dogs’ health. I began feeding my dogs a lot better about ten years ago, a combination of raw and super-premium dry foods. I also have refused to vaccinate any dog once it comes into my care. I know these are beneficial changes in their overall lifestyles, just as I know that banning lawn chemicals from their environment is.

And that’s good enough for me.

We determined long ago that the yard belongs to the dogs. Really, how yard-proud can you be if you have dogs? Their urine leaves spots in the grass, they dig holes, and they construct their own motocross courses around the fence line. Am I so worried about the appearance of a hunk of grass that I am willing to deny my dogs the pleasures of their own yard? And is the need for a green, fluffy lawn so important that I’m willing to risk my dogs’ health? The evidence may not be proven to the nth-degree, but my common sense and years of monitoring my dogs’ health tells me that soaking my yard in chemicals isn’t good for them.

And it’s probably not good for children, either.

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