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BE AWARE: Dog owner warns of potential poisoning, city responds

Vicki Johnson, a Tucson House resident who lost her dog Sophie to poisoning. (Source: Tucson...
Vicki Johnson, a Tucson House resident who lost her dog Sophie to poisoning. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Published: Jul. 20, 2018 at 12:00 AM MST|Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 at 8:59 PM MST
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Tucson House (Source: Tucson News Now)
Tucson House (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - She had become Vicki Johnson's best friend, ever since Johnson rescued the 5-year-old Greyhound-Pitbull mix named 'Sophie.'

They lived together at the Tucson House in midtown Tucson, on North Oracle Road near Drachman Street.

"Everybody just loved her," Johnson told Tucson News Now. "It didn't occur to me that anybody would want that. Why would somebody do that?"

She feared the worst had happened - a potential intentional poisoning.

Vicki and Sophie sat together Monday night, July 16, on a large rock outside the public housing high-rise along Oracle Road.

"She was kind of sniffing around. The next thing I know she swallowed something," Johnson said. "I reached in and tried to grab it but it was gone. That was it."

In that moment, Johnson explained that everything changed.

"Her behavior, her foaming at the mouth, her loss of bowel control, her shaking, her stiffness. It was like she was having a horrible seizure. But it wasn't a seizure. It was death."

Sophie didn't make it to the VCA Valley Animal Hospital emergency room alive that night.

Vicki might not have thought anything of the sudden death, if she was the first dog owner to have experienced the problem.

But according to the city of Tucson, who owns the property, they had five other cases involving Tucson House tenants' pets roughly six months ago.

Two other dogs were injured and three others died from alleged poisoning.

According to the Residential Property Manager, Selene Tibbitts, the animals affected were taken on walks around the property, specifically on Oracle Road. But Tibbitts said none of the reported incidents happened on the property, specifically, and likely occurred nearby off site.

Yet, Tibbitts' staff put fliers up about sixth months ago, with text alerting dog owners to, "Please avoid walking your dog near Oracle Road. Five dogs have picked up poisonous items in this area," and to be careful.

But, according to Tibbitts, no incidents had been reported after the notices went up and the fliers were removed -- until now.

From what were they sickened, though? That's unknown, city officials said.

In an emailed statement to Tucson News Now, Tibbitts said, "A necropsy was requested by a couple of the dog owners to PACC (Pima Animal Care Center) but no results were ever shared if the tests were taken as they are costly."

Johnson was unable to afford the test, herself. The recent incident was reported to Tucson Police, but Tucson News Now was told by city officials that there was not enough proof of intentional poisoning for police to build a case.

"I reached in and tried to grab it but it was gone. That was it," Johnson said. "The vet said even if I had gotten her there right at that minute there wouldn't have been anything that could've been done."

At shelters like PACC, staff has seen the worst of the worst cases.

"A lot of times, yes," said PACC's Manager of Animal Protection, Esteban Rodriguez.

It's why he said owners need to be alert with their beloved animals.

"You really have to make sure that you're vigilant and watching what your pet is doing. You try to keep them as close to you as possible and make sure that you're regulating how far he can get away," Rodriguez said.

No matter how close Sophie was, it wasn't close enough. Johnson is now a lesson for those who will listen.

"I hope somebody starts paying attention," she said. "I hope the people who walk their dogs along the street - no matter what street it is - don't allow them to pick anything up off the ground and chew it."

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