HARLEM — PETA is offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone found to be responsible for the suspected poisoning deaths of at least four dogs in Riverside Park this summer.
As DNAinfo.com New York first reported Monday, the ASPCA is investigating whether at least four dogs who died in July after walking in Riverside Park were intentionally poisoned. The dogs all walked in the same area of the park on July 17 or July 18 and died horrible deaths, convulsing, frothing at the mouth and collapsing as their owners looked on.
"Poisoning is a horrific, agonizing death so anyone who puts out poisoning out for any animal has a mean streak," said Martin Mersereau, director of PETA's cruelty investigations department.
"They pose a danger to not only animals but the community at large because that disregard for life extends across species lines. People who abuse animals rarely do so once and rarely stop with animals."
The ASPCA launched an investigation after receiving a complaint from dog owner Kim Heismann, 47, whose dog Charlie, a terrier mix, died after being walked in the park on July 17 by her roommate Natalya Mari, 32, a musician and visual artist.
Mari's dog, Yoda, a Chihuahua, also died after suffering the same symptoms as Charlie, including seizures.
Two other dogs, Tugs, 6 1/2-year-old French bulldog and Boston terrier mix and Nooby, a Shih Tzu, also died similar deaths on July 17 and 18.
"I'm nearly speechless because I didn't expect this," Heismann said when she heard about the reward. "Having a national organization have our back is awesome."
Yajaira Bonilla, 37, a homemaker, said her mother Marianella, 53, an office worker, has not gotten over the death of Nooby after a walk in Riverside Park on July 18 even though she brought her a new dog, a Yorkshire terrier named Day.
"She's in love with her new dog but she still cries," said Bonilla.
Tugs' owner Matthew Wood, 32, who works in e-commerce, said he was pleased that PETA was getting involved.
"It's a tight knit neighborhood so if someone is going to (speak with authorities) a reward is what it might take," said Wood.
Wood said he still has a hard time thinking about the day Tugs died.
After leaving the park, the otherwise healthy dog fell over, his body as "stiff as a board." The dog then began suffering violent seizures and convulsions. Tugs also began drooling and there was blood because he may have bitten his tongue.
"My veterinarian has said this is not what rat poison would do. That only makes the intentional poisoning seem more plausible," said Wood.
Parks officials said Tuesday they have not used rat poison in the park since multiple red-tailed hawks died from eating poisoned rats in the spring.
"We have not done that in a very long time because of the hawks," said the spokeswoman.
Benjamin Davidson, a critical care veterinarian at BluePearl in Midtown who treated both Charlie and Yoda, said their deaths were caused by "toxic ingestion." Davidson also said the fact that the dogs all walked in the same area before suffering similar symptoms and dying, is just too coincidental.
Mersereau said the intentional poisoning of the dogs would be a felony that could lead to two years in prison, up from one year for a charge of animal cruelty.
"People take these crimes seriously. They see a defenseless animal being being abused and that strikes a chord in any person with decency in their heart. The laws are getting stronger and stronger and there is a zero tolerance for this crime," said Mersereau.
Wood said finding out what happened to Tugs and the other dogs is even more important as he begins the process of acquiring another dog.
"We don't want to bring a new dog into this situation," said Wood. "There's no vengeance in this for me. This is about knowing it's not going to happen to someone else's dog."
Anyone with tips in the case should contact the ASPCA, said Mersereau.