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Frances Austin never went anywhere without Precious Lynn, her spunky, sweet Yorkshire Terrier. So last month when she went out on the front porch of her Elk Creek Road home to enjoy the morning, Precious Lynn went with her like always.
When Austin headed out, the day started much like any other for her and Precious Lynn. She had no way of knowing that her beloved furry companion of 11 years would be killed by a seemingly harmless yard inhabitant lurking in the flowers – a toad.
“Every morning me and her would go outside,” Austin said. “I have a rocking chair on my porch and she plays in my flowers. She gets in my flowers and digs every morning.”
Local veterinarian Dr. Dan Bension and Austin believe Precious Lynn came in contact with a Bufo americanus – also known as an American Toad – while she was digging in the flowers. Bension said the American Toad is common in this area and secretes a poison known as bufotoxin when it feels threatened.
The toads are identified by two very large glands on the side of the neck, one behind each eye. Those glands secrete a toxin that can cause distress and even death in animals, especially small ones like Precious Lynn. It can also irritate the human skin if touched.
Austin said she noticed almost immediately something was wrong.
“I seen she was foaming at the mouth,” Austin said. “I picked her up. Before she had touched other little frogs and it didn’t bother her.”
But something was terribly wrong. Austin took her dog inside and called Bension.
“Immediately I took her in the house and her heart was beating real, real fast and she was having convulsions,” she said. “I rushed her up to Dr. Bension. He took over from there.”
By the time Austin got her dog to the veterinarian, she could not be saved.
Bension said Precious Lynn’s symptoms were consistent with what happens when a small animal is exposed to bufotoxin. Those symptoms included foaming at the mouth, seizure and cardiac arythmia. Bension was able to identify the toad because Austin captured it and brought it to the veterinary clinic.
“I had picked (the toad) up and put it in a jar and put it in my garbage can,” Austin said, noting that she found two other toads in her flower garden as well. “I went back and got it. It was a pretty big size.”
Bension said what happened to Austin’s dog was rare, but the American Toad that poisoned her dog was not. He said bufotoxin quickly affects an animal when it touches or licks the toad.
“The circumstance that happened with her dog is rare,” Bension said. “It’s all about the size of the toad and the size of the pet. It was a three or four inch toad, which is pretty big, and a 9-pound dog. Everything kind of came together in a bad way.”
Austin said seeing her dog go through such a terrible experience inspired her to want to get the word out about the American Toad and the potential safety threat it causes pets.
“I had no idea about them toads,” she said. “I had never heard of them, not any. Everybody I see, I tell them about this, because they are not aware of it. I’d never heard of it.”
Bension said Precious Lynn was particularly vulnerable because she was such a small dog.
“I’ve dealt with toad toxicities over 15 years,” Bension said. “Usually it amounts to irritation of the mouth, drooling, vomiting, maybe diarrhea if (the pet) eats it. But to have this kind of outcome, I’ve never seen it in 15 years.”
Bension said the best way to protect pets from American Toads is to try and keep them away from areas in which they like to live, such as ponds, ruts in the road and ditches. He said if a pet comes in contact with an American Toad, the owner should wash its mouth out with water. But if that pet is exhibiting signs of distress, it needs attention from a veterinarian immediately.
“Obviously, if a dog is having a seizure, you don’t want to try and do that,” Bension said of the mouth washing. “They need to get right in.”
It has been almost a month since Austin lost Precious Lynn and, although she recently got another Yorkshire Terrier puppy and named it Precious Angel, she said she will never fully recover from losing Precious Lynn in such a traumatic way.
“Losing Precious, if you’ve never had a pet, it’s like losing someone in my family, because she was my family,” she said.
Austin said she purchased a small casket for Precious Lynn to be buried in shortly after she died. She said Hall-Taylor Funeral Home’s staff went out of its way to help her.
“He went out of his way to go to Louisville to pick me up a white little girl casket and had her name and birth date put on it,” she said. “He took it to Dr. Bension. They dressed Precious in a little dress I had bought her to be buried in.”
Austin said she buried her dog in her front yard and is awaiting her headstone which will include her name, photo, and will read, “Precious, Mama’s little girl.”
“One of the worst things I’ve ever been through in my life was losing Precious. I guess if people don’t have pets, they don’t understand it.”
How to identify a Bufo Americanus, also known as an American Toad:
American Toads are a brown-reddish-olive color and are sometimes patterned.
They generally have a few brownish-orange warts, but are not covered in them.
Their bellies are spotted and the males have a dark throat.
They have the signature paratoid glands behind the eyes, which are two large bumps that secrete the toxin that killed Precious Lynn.