No sign of contamination at West Ashley park after dog dies, family searching for answers

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - City of Charleston officials say Hazmat crews found no evidence of contamination at a West Ashley dog park after a dog died on Sunday after visiting the spark.

City park officials closed Bees Landing dog park in the Grand Oaks neighborhood as crews investigated.

According to city officials, a thorough evaluation of the park by crews using standard hazardous materials protocols revealed no evidence of chemical contamination.

"We do not take reports of this nature lightly. As soon as it was brought to our attention, we sent our hazmat crews out to the park to inspect for any signs of toxic materials that would be unsafe for people or their pets," said Charleston Fire Department Chief Karen Brack."Our highly-trained hazmat team assessed the park and did not find any indicators of harmful chemicals at the time of their investigation."

Sarah and Rusty Harwell are the owners of the dog Dixie that passed away. They say they've visited the park several times. On Sunday they drove both of their dogs to the park. It was an hour and half later as they were leaving the park that things went downhill and Dixie became sick.

"She started kind of yelping which is unusual and we noticed her jaw started to lock-up and get really tense," Sarah said.

They took her to the Charleston Veterinary Referral Center, a veterinarian says Dixie had trouble breathing, her muscles began contracting and tremoring while becoming very stiff.

"I've never seen anything like this and I've never seen her act like this so it was really scary cause you know she's our kid," Sarah said.

Dixie's veterinarian suggested the possibility of poisoning from strychnine, a common rat poison not used in city parks. The center could not identify the chemical that caused it, the vet say it could be a variety of agents.

City officials say the park will open Tuesday since the testing results determined there was no contamination.

"That's definitely where we feel like she was exposed to something," she said.

Sarah says the veterinarians told her the toxins could have been airborne because of the rapid symptoms and decline which is uncommon. She also had a reaction after making close contact with Dixie while saying her goodbyes.

"I had burning and itching on my face, burning on my eyes," Sarah said.

The Harwells are thankful their dog Raylene, who was also there, is still alive.

"I just want to bring awareness and hopefully we can figure this out," Sarah said.

The family feels that Dixie could have been targeted while at the dog park after learning the hazmat crew found no contamination. The Harwells are hoping the City will assist them in testing Dixie's body to find out what poisoned her.

"The safety of the people and animals who visit our parks are our top priority," City of Charleston Director of Parks Jason Kronsberg said.

Copyright 2017 WCSC. All Rights Reserved.