CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (Calif.) - A third dog died Thursday after exposure to toxic algae at an East Bay park, and broken-hearted dog owners say the park district's warnings have been too little, too late.
"It's this green algae that's everywhere, it's fatally toxic to dogs, "warned Katie Stone, intercepting hikers at the Lake Chabot marina Friday evening.
"She was healthy as can be, I walked her about five miles every day, " Stone says sadly, showing a snapshot of her five year old chocolate Labrador, Josie.
"It's completely unbelievable, it was like a nightmare, like when am I going to wake up" Stone told KTVU, describing how she walked Jose Wednesday afternoon and a few hours later, Josie was overcome by vomiting, seizures, and an irreversible coma.
"It's a tremendous shock," Stone said sadly, "our kids are teenagers, and they're devastated by it."
The 300 acre Lake Chabot is showing a green tint, from blue-green algae that's blooming because conditions are unusually warm and dry. Without rain flushing the lake, the toxic algae is flourishing.
Chabot isn't a swimming lake- it's an emergency water supply- but off-leash dogs tend to get wet.
"We see shock and bleeding abnormalities, and liver failure," Dr. Sharon Finster told KTVU. Finster is emergency director at Bay Area Veterinary Specialists in San Leandro, which has treated two of the dogs that succumbed.
"It's not unlike the damage we see from strichnine or rat poison," elaborated Dr. Finster, "there's almost nothing we can do to reverse it."
The East Bay Regional Parks District has posted caution notices at some trailheads.
"I would have walked right by the sign, had you not said something, " admitted hiker Tyler Smith of Castro Valley, arriving with his dog Bentley. "I didn't notice the sign at all, I mean there's a bunch of signs posted around here."
"The signs could be bigger " agreed Lyla Belli of Castro Valley, who said she was startled to learn the algae is irritating to skin, and should be washed off immediately.
"We took out kids out on a rental boat over the holidays," she told KTVU, "and they were dragging their hands in the water, and it wasn't until we got back, the people working at the marina said 'sure hope you didn't let your kids touch the water!'"
With two dogs dying in December, and a third this week, the park district seems to be getting the message: the signs need to be more plentiful, more visible and more strongly-worded.
"We're all dog lovers here, it's a horrible tragedy that this has happened, " parks spokeswoman Carolyn Jones told KTVU, "We are going to beef up the signs, to make sure people clearly understand you should definitely keep your dog out of the water."
The dog that died before Josie was an eight-year-old cattle dog that was otherwise healthy.
The first dog to die was a white shepherd named Kuch, who collapsed within hours of romping in the lake.
"I'm really sorry to see anyone else lose their family member," Jamie Gavarrette told KTVU, describing the confusion she and husband Chester felt, when Kuch died a few days before Christmas.
"It took him out in about ten hours, " said Chester grimly, "and we would never have come here, never have crossed the gates into this park if we had known. I would have gone somewhere else."
That afternoon, they recall, Kuch was romping in the water, and reluctant to get out. The let him swim. They had seen no warnings.
"No signs at the entrance we went through," detailed Jamie, "all the way until we got to the lake, there were no signs, so they were not at every entrance and not along the trails."
Lake Temescal in Oakland, also part of the Parks District, had its own algae outbreak last summer, and closed the lake to eradicate it. But that would be cost-prohibitive at Lake Chabot because Chabot is much bigger, and the algae more spread-out. Plus, Temescal is a swimming lake, so the algae posed a public health risk.
Still, for a grieving Katie Stone and her family, something more needs to be done.
She was the sweetest dog, she wanted to be everyone's friend, " Stone said of Josie, ""I'm angry and frustrated and I just don't want this to happen to anyone else."