Peggy Sue, who belonged to John and Joanna Davison, found the carcass of a bird and ate a large part of it before the Davisons realised what she had done. The carcass was laced with paraquat, a poisonous herbicide, which was almost certainly put out as bait to kill foxes and crows which threaten lambs at this time of year.
'That night Peggy Sue was very sick,' Mr Davison said. 'But she appeared to recover the next day. I was suspicious because the vicar had only just lost his dog from poisoned bait.'
Mr Davison phoned the vicar's vet who told him that if it was paraquat poisoning nothing could be done. He predicted that the dog would develop chest problems over several days and finally have great difficulty in breathing.
Four days later, Peggy Sue was wheezing badly.
'The vet said it was just possible that the dog had a chest infection and if that was the case antibiotics would help,' Mr Davison said.
'We gave her the drugs and then we could only watch. The dog was pathetic. She just lay on her bed and struggled for breath. We took her to the vet again the next day but he could do nothing more.
'The following day Peggy Sue was definitely on the way out so we took her to be destroyed. She was a lovely dog. It is a terrible waste of life. All because some thoughtless fool has put down poisoned bait.'
There were a lot of tears in the Davison family. Their four children all loved Peggy Sue. And now they are worried about their two other dogs: Beth, 10, Peggy Sue's mother, and Phoebe, 15, a collie.
'I keep Beth close beside me when we go out now,' Mrs Davison said. 'She found two rabbit carcasses the other day and I was very worried. I call her back as soon as she strays away. But you cannot watch a dog all the time.'
It is illegal to use poisoned bait except to kill rats, mice and moles. Poisoned bait is a special threat to dogs and cats but it also kills birds of prey such as owls, kites and eagles, as well as foxes and badgers. Nevertheless, every year the Ministry of Agriculture investigates dozens of cases of pets being poisoned.
The first dog to die in Stoke St Gregory was a springer spaniel owned by the Rev Christopher Rowley. His daughter Emma, was taking the dog for a walk when it found and began eating what appeared to be the carcass of a small lamb.
'That night he vomited the poison and was very ill,' Mr Rowley said. 'The next day he seemed to be bright and bushy tailed again. But by the end of the week he was very subdued and needed a lot of encouragement before he would eat anything. He began to breathe badly so we took him to the vet.'
John Banham, the vet, diagnosed paraquat poisoning. 'Nothing can be done because the poison is absorbed so fast,' he said. 'The lungs slowly consolidate and the dog has great difficulty in breathing. It is a horrible death - slow, insidious and ghastly. Anyone who can do that to a dog must be pretty sick themselves.'
The National Farmers' Union says that farmers must obey the law and not put down poisoned bait for foxes and crows. If they put down poisoned bait for rodents and moles near a public place they should post warning notices.
Six dogs have died after eating poisoned meat left on a London golf course. Police believe the dogs ate chicken and tripe which had been laced with paraquat.
The poisoned meat was left near the 14th tee of the public golf course at Beckenham Place Park in Bellingham, south-east London, earlier this month. Detective Sergeant Clive Barnes said: 'We strongly believe this was done deliberately and are treating the matter very seriously. Whether it is someone with something against dogs for some reason we don't know.'
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