6 Retrievers Die During Field Trial Weekend in Salt Lake City

The dogs ate muddy grass that was possibly contaminated with cyanobacteria
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six dogs die salt lake city utah
The dogs ate some crusty mud near a pond and started getting sick hours later. Utah Division of Water Quality / Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Six field trial retrievers died over two days after eating crusty mud near a pond at a popular dog training area in Salt Lake City, Utah. Now, the area is closed to the public while the Utah Division of Water Quality tests for contamination and cyanobacteria.

A dog trainer arrived to the 934-acre Lee Kay conservation area on May 12 and camped with a group of 13 retrievers for eight days, Utah DWR public information officer Faith Heaton-Jolley tells Outdoor Life. (Utah DWR is not disclosing the breeds of the dogs or the trainer’s identity). The trainer noticed the dogs eating muddy grass on May 17, and the dogs started vomiting and having diarrhea later in the day. The owner took one dog to a veterinarian that night. At 6:30 a.m. on May 18, the vet euthanized the dog. The other five dogs died over the next two days. 

The incident occurred during an American Kennel Club retriever field trial put on by the Great Salt Lake Retriever Club, which ran from May 18 to May 20, according to an event calendar for the facility. The conservation area was closed to the public for the weekend, indicating that the trainer was there to participate in the field trial. 

Utah DWR conservation officers received a report about the dog deaths on May 20 and dispatched a conservation officer to the scene to investigate. The officer didn’t see any other dead animals or dead fish in the pond, Heaton-Jolley says. This trainer was the only one at the facility to have dogs die. Utah DWR also contacted the Utah Division of Water Quality, who sent scientists out to collect samples for testing on May 22. While the scientists didn’t see any visual evidence of harmful algal blooms on the pond, they did see growth along the shoreline that they think is at least partially comprised of harmful cyanobacteria.

grass near pond at Lee Kay dead dogs
The Utah Division of Water Quality is testing for cyanobacteria, which could have killed the dogs. Utah Division of Water Quality

“[Utah DWQ has] seen instances of dogs becoming ill or dying after consuming some of those cyanobacteria mats,” Heaton-Jolley says. “Sometimes these mats contain lethal levels of cyanotoxins that target the liver or neurological system of dogs. Apparently they have a musky odor that may sometimes attract dogs.” 

The final test results for both the material along the shoreline and the pond water are still pending and an exact cause of death has not yet been determined. One of the dogs is undergoing a necropsy. While the trainer was responsible for the dogs at the time, he did not own all of them, Heaton-Jolley confirmed.

An AKC trial scheduled for Memorial Day weekend has been canceled as a result of the incident, according to a Facebook post from the Wasatch Hunting Retriever Club. Many participants commented that they would donate their entry fees to the WHRC rather than accept refunds. A four-day AKC trial is scheduled for the following weekend, as well. 

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“In the retriever hunt test and field trial world, anybody from the Rocky Mountains has probably been [to Lee Kay conservation area],” retriever trainer Eric Fryer tells Outdoor Life. “This is the most popular place in Salt Lake City by far. We only have one other place in Utah that has year-round hunting dog training, and that place doesn’t get near what we get at Lee Kay.”