The lives of three dogs were cruelly cut short after a walk on on the Alta Trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area above Marin City. Nick, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever; Stella, a 10-year-old Lab; and Ajax, a 31/2-year-old Swiss mountain dog, were all poisoned with a strychnine-based gopher bait that was planted in some kind of meat on the trail.

The dogs belonging to families in Mill Valley’s Oakdale Avenue neighborhood died Tuesday after a walk by Carol Anderson of Dog Dreams along the Alta Trail above Donahue Street in Marin City. All three large dogs that died after suffering high temperatures and seizures ‘were very food oriented’ and probably ate the poison before the other dogs got to it. It’s believed that this probably happened toward the end of the walk because death by strychnine ingestion usually happens within an hour.

Over the weekend donations have poured in mostly from Marin residents and some as far as Southern California, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Contributions also include a $2,500 donation from In Defense of Animals, a San Rafael-based animal rights organization, this on top of the initial reward of $5000 offered by the Humane Society. As of today, the reward amounted to $45.000.

“It’s an extremely large amount of money in a quick period of time and we’re not really even asking (for contributions),” said Capt. Cindy Machado of the Humane Society. “It sends a message (that) people here do not want to tolerate and live with animal cruelty in their back yards.”

“People take animal cruelty very seriously,” Machado said. She added that some people directly link animal brutality to human violence.

The poisonings are believed to be intentional. There is speculation that the meat could have been left in an effort to cut down the coyote or feral cat population but three dogs died horrible deaths from it instead and it has area residents angry, upset and worried.

“We have no reason to believe they’re just targeting dogs,” Marin County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Crain said of the culprits. “(The poison) could be set up to control coyotes or feral cats.”

“Anyone who is going to be that vicious is really a danger not to just other (animal) species but to children (as well),” said Dr. Elliot Katz, a veterinarian for In Defense of Animals, an international animal rights group.

Toxicology test results last week confirmed the cause of death of the three dogs as strychnine-laced gopher bait. Machado said a meat-like pet food inconsistent with food provided by the dog owners has led to the conclusion the poison-laced seeds and grains were placed in pet food intentionally targeted for dogs or other meat-eating animals.

The poisoned meat has been removed from the popular trail from residents are asked to keep an eye out and wary if they take their pets for a walk on the trial. Warning signs have been posted at Marin City entrances to the miles of walking trails.

“There is a highly toxic substance that, at least last week, was out there. We hope it doesn’t appear again and we want the public to help us keep their animals safe by keeping them next to them and just being on the lookout for us and reporting anything that they think might be relevant,” Humane Society Spokeswoman Captain Cindy Machado said. “Fortunately, there is nothing left that we have found on the trail or in the neighborhood. We’ve walked the area, we’ve talked to neighbors, we’ve talked to trailgoers. We don’t believe there is anything currently left out.”

Mill Valley police, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and officials with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are investigating the deaths, Machado said.

Anyone with information concerning the dogs’ deaths is urged to call the Marin Humane Society at (415) 883-4621 or In Defense of Animals at (415) 388-9641, ext. 225. or (415) 506-6209.

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