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Pellets Found in Riverside Park Aren't Poison, Officials Say

By Jeff Mays | September 20, 2012 2:14pm

HARLEM — The Parks Department roped off and washed down a section of Riverside Park after finding a cluster of pellets Tuesday night amid an investigation into whether a series of dogs have died from consuming poison there.

Parks officials confirmed that they were notified about the bright green pellets near 147th Street and roped off the area as a precaution Tuesday night, adding that the pellets were determined to be gravel, not poison.

They came and power washed the area out of an "abundance of caution," a Parks Department spokesman said Thursday.

As DNAinfo.com New York first reported last week, the ASPCA is investigating whether the July 17 and 18 deaths of a Chihuahua, a terrier mix, a French bulldog mix and a Shih Tzu who all died after being walked in Riverside Park was intentional poisoning.

Since then, PETA has offered a $2,500 reward for anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who may have poisoned the dogs. If someone is convicted of intentional poisoning they could face two years in prison.

All of the dogs exhibited strange behavior after being walked in the park and suffered from seizures, foaming at the mouth and vomiting before dying.

The deaths and subsequent investigation put local dog owners on edge.

Katherine Duclos, 49, a real estate broker, had to take her poodle Stella to have its stomach pumped last week when the dog fell sick after a trip to Riverside Park.

She was so shaken by the experience that when she got a call from her friend Roberta Alloway, a music promoter who lives in the area, warning her of a mysterious batch of green pellets on the ground near a bench at West 147th Street and Riverside Drive she notified her dog-owning neighbors right away.

Alloway described the pellets as "a pile, it just wasn't a little bit. It looked like someone poured it right there."

"My thinking was it's better to be a little cautious than sad," said Duclos.

Bea Watson, who lives in the area and owns two dogs, got the text and contacted the Parks Department. She was there when an investigator came to examine the pile of material.

"He came, took a sample, looked at it and said: 'This isn't good.' He said he didn't know what it was but that it was a foreign substance," said Watson.

Much of the material was gone Thursday morning but some green pellets still lay in the crevices between paving stones on the ground. Parks officials said they have not used rat poison in the park since multiple red-tailed hawks died from eating poisoned rats in the spring.

"I just started walking my dogs on the park side of the street again because my dogs were getting depressed and I thought it might be safe," said Watson. "But now we are going back to the other side of the street."

Benjamin Davidson, a critical care veterinarian at  BluePearl Veterinarian in Midtown who treated two of the dogs who died, said last week that the likely cause of death was "toxic ingestion." The number of dogs who became sick after walking in the area was also too coincidental, he added.

Among the owners whose pets have died Kim Heismann, 47, who owned Charlie, a terrier mix who died after walking in the park on July 17. She received an anonymous call that a superintendent in the area may have admitted to placing poison in the park because he was tired of people not picking up after their dogs.

Watson said she appreciated the Parks Department's response Thursday because she felt their concerns were brushed off after the first set of dog deaths.

"There are lots of dogs in this community and that's why I'm so concerned," said Watson. "I felt like they were more responsive and took it seriously this time."

Duclos is also fearful for the health of her dogs. Veterinarians have not been able to figure out what made Stella sick. Now she just walks the dogs back in forth in front of her building instead of using the park.

"How do you safely walk your dogs if you have some crazy person that may be scattering rat poison around?" asked Duclos.

Mathew Katz contributed reporting.