Have you ever heard of a pet soul mate? I know some of us believe in the idea of having one true soul mate in a romantic relationship. I also experienced what it was like to have a soul mate in a pet relationship. Her name is Shiloh. She was a Great Pyrenees who we adopted into our family as a young puppy. I actually felt the connection to her before she was conceived. After meeting Shiloh’s parents I felt the strong need to have a pup from this set of parents. I anxiously awaited for the heat cycle and kept close tabs on the pregnancy of Shiloh’s Mom. When the litter was born on July 8th 2007, I was given first choice of the pup I wanted. I instinctively knew that I should have the first born to these parents. The decision was made even before the pups were walking. It was just a strong feeling that I had knowing that the first born was meant to be part of our family. That was Shiloh. Shiloh quickly became a loving and devoted family member. She was a dream pup in the sense of her easy going behavior and laid back attitude. She grew quickly and was expected to reach 115 pounds by maturity. Though intimidating in size was she was really a gentle giant. While protective of her family and reserved with strangers she was quite the teddy bear at heart.
Shiloh was 13 months old when we lost her. I never saw it coming. The thought of losing her so soon never ever crossed my mind. Her health was excellent. I worked closely with my Veterinarian Dr. Orr on any health care issues. She was given daily walks, exercised regularly, brushed almost daily, weekly playdates with other neighborhood dogs, lots of love and interaction with our family including our two young daughters. In return she gave us 100% loyalty and devotion. She was eager to please and was extremely well behaved. She even took first place at her dog obedience classes–a reflection of her temperament and not our training ability.
On Friday August 15th we came home late after bringing the kids to the Jonas Brothers Concert at Darien Lake. When we got home we noticed that Shiloh had vomited in her pen. The vomit was a very small amount of yellowish spit and did not set off any alarms in my head at that point. It was so late that we let her in and brought her up to bed with us. The next morning Shiloh was very disinterested in her food. I realized that her food bowl was still full from Friday, and her water bowls were not empty as they usually would be in the morning. Thinking back to that week I did recall that she vomited midweek a very small amount of half digested carrots that we gave her. Later that morning and during the early afternoon I did my usual running around with the kids. One daughter had horseback riding lessons and the other had a friend sleep over the night before who I needed to get home.
After I came home I realized that Shiloh still had not eaten her food. Now I was concerned that perhaps she was beginning to show the signs of an intestinal blockage. Shiloh had a powerful jaw and a strong desire to chew hard things. She loved to chew sticks and branches and any hard plastic toy she could get. We were pretty good at keeping dangerous items from her reach but with young children at my house there was always the chance that she gotten someone’s toy. So I made a phone call to our vet to have her seen as soon as possible after the weekend. The situation did not seem to be an emergency, but I was trying to be proactive for the possibility that she might be developing some type of obstruction. Later that day I enticed Shiloh with a can of dog food–she wolfed down the canned food with no problem. When she went outside one of the kids noticed that her urine was darker than usual. This caused me some concern but I suspected that not eating or drinking well for the past 24 hours could be causing her urine to be more concentrated. I checked her gums for hydration and they were not as colorful as usual but looked ok. We spent the rest of the day at home. Shiloh was doing her usual guarding of the property and sounding off at the neighbors who were shooting off fireworks. Later after dinner we took a family walk with Shiloh. Little did I know this would be our last family walk with her. She strained to have a bowel movement when we got back home. This made me feel even more concerned about a possible obstruction. We brought her to bed with us that night, feeling uneasy.
On Sunday morning I woke up at 6 am to get ready for work, and Shiloh and I went downstairs together. As soon as she got down the stairs she began vomiting large amounts of the canned food that she had eaten the day before. I instantly felt panicked and called the emergency veterinary hospital, telling them I was concerned about a possible blockage. They told us to bring her right in. After I hung up I took a closer look at Shiloh’s face and realized that the whites of her eyes were now yellow. I began to panic. At the emergency clinic she was given supportive care. Tests they ran showed liver problems–there was no intestinal blockage. They ran various blood panels and began treating her for a possible Leptospirosis infection. Even though she had been vaccinated against Lepto, the veterinarian felt this was a strong possibility, but test results would not be back for several days. They hospitalized Shiloh. I called every 3-4 hours to check on her status. The staff seemed calm and hopeful that she would be fine.
On Monday morning I asked that she be transferred to Dr. Orr, my regular Vet, for further treatment and a conclusive diagnosis. My husband picked up Shiloh as I waited at Dr. Orr’s office. When she walked into Dr. Orr’s office I fell apart. I could not believe the condition she was in! I sat on the floor hugging her and crying while she rested her head on my shoulder. She looked so much sicker than she had the day before. Her condition had deteriorated horribly and I was shocked. Her gums, eyes and ears were very yellow now and she was extremely lethargic. I was given some time with her before I turned her over to Dr. Orr for more tests. I went home and for a few hours anxiously awaited news on Shiloh. Dr. Orr called later that afternoon to let me know that Shiloh was in very serious condition. Her liver was failing and she was not responding to the antibiotics prescribed for Lepto. Dr. Orr said that she needed to respond soon otherwise the outcome would not be good. She invited us back to her office to spend time with Shiloh. My husband, daughters and myself went back to Animal Clinic of East Ave to see her. They gave us an examining room where we could spend alone time with Shiloh, who lay on the floor near us with her IVs. It was unbelievable to see such a healthy vibrant dog turn so grave in such a short time. It felt like a bad dream that I could not awake from. The staff brought Shiloh a blanket to lie on and gave us as much time with her as we wanted. They even brought the ultrasound machine to us so we could stay together during this procedure. Dr. Orr warned us that Shiloh was running the risk of DIC. She explained that Shiloh’s platelet counts were dropping and she could bleed out during the night. If this occurred there would be nothing she could do to stop it.
It was now 10 pm and we did not want to leave Shiloh but the office had closed at 8 pm and I needed to let the staff go home. The kids were becoming restless as well. I took Shiloh out for her last walk. She barely had the strength to walk but was able to manage to get outdoors. As soon as we got to the parking lot she drummed up enough energy to start pulling me towards my Jeep. She wanted me to take her home. I felt good about seeing her spirit still there and her eagerness to come home. I left hoping and praying that she would make it through the night and her body would start to respond to the antibiotics. I gave her a big hug and kiss before I left and asked her to hang in there and not to give up. We all told her we loved her and went home. The night passed into the morning with no phone calls. I was feeling hopeful that her condition could be improving.
On Tuesday morning I called at 7 am to check on her. The technician said that her condition had worsened and Dr. Orr was on her way in. Shortly after Dr. Orr called me to tell me that Shiloh had slipped into a coma and had about 4 hours left. Her liver had failed and there was nothing they could do. I could not even talk after receiving this call. I needed to hang up the phone to try to get a handle on this devastating news. This was not supposed to happen–she was too young and too healthy to die. She was such a good dog and did not deserve this outcome. For the past year I’d tried to do everything right with her–how could this be happening? How could she be leaving us already? The thought of her lying alone in a cage suffering and waiting to die was unbearable. So I asked my husband to go be with her and have her euthanized to prevent those final hours of suffering. He was upset as well, but I was completely shattered and could not even speak clearly. I was feeling the worst pain I had ever experienced in my 40 years of life. I knew that I could not keep it together and handle being there for the euthanasia. I was emotionally and physically sick. My husband was generous enough to take on this responsibility for me.
After Shiloh’s death, Dr. Orr suggested we run some tests on Shiloh’s liver to help us better understand what caused her sudden death. The feeling was that it was Lepto, but we still did not have the test results back. Plus we still had a dog at home and needed to keep him safe: We had taken in Shiloh’s baby brother to foster in early July after their Mom was killed by a truck. He was only 10 days old when we took him in to care for him. With all of the possibilities of what could have caused Shiloh’s death we discarded all of Shiloh’s food and treats. We also kept the puppy away from other dogs in case it was an infectious disease like Lepto, which can be spread through contact with urine. We waited anxiously for the necropsy results. I spent endless hours researching her symptoms and going over every step I took with her during her final week. I rethought every decision I had made about food choices, walks, puddles, water contamination… everything. The overwhelming concern that something lurking on my property had caused the sudden death of our 92 lb healthy dog was very draining. I was suspicious of everything.
The following week the Lepto test came back negative. Dr. Orr asked us to be patient and wait for the pathology report on the liver for more answers. The pathology came back two weeks after Shiloh’s death, and indicated that it was a toxin that caused Shiloh’s liver to fail. The pathologist felt that toxic mushrooms should be a primary suspect. We have had mushrooms pop up in our yard from time to time, and this rainy summer they had been abundant. We never worried much about the mushrooms and generally just mowed over them. I never thought the deadly mushrooms you hear about were something that would grow in a suburban yard. Ironically, the day Shiloh became ill my husband had picked a few mushrooms from our yard where Shiloh often laid. He put them in the garage and forgot about them until we had got these results. Dr. Orr recommended that we have the mushrooms identified. I honestly did not think that mushrooms were the cause of Shiloh’s death but took Dr. Orr’s advice and contacted a local mushroom expert. He asked me to take some pictures of the dried specimens and email them to him for possible identification. Upon receiving the (out of focus) pics and talking to me about our yard he felt that the mushrooms were likely not the cause of Shiloh’s death, but he wasn’t able to identify the mushrooms in the photo. I contacted Dr. Orr with this news and she urged me to send the specimens to a fungal expert at Cornell University–Dr. Hodge. I contacted Dr. Hodge and she was generous enough to spend time talking with me and agreed to look at the dried mushrooms we had. They were shipped to her for further analysis.
I’ve dreamed of Shiloh often since her death. In my dreams she was sick, her eyes were yellow and she was dying. I even dreamt that the pup, Shiloh’s brother, was dying. On one occasion I dreamt that my own liver was failing. I would go to sleep thinking of Shiloh and mourning her, and I would continue to dwell and dream on her all night long. On Wednesday Sept 3rd I awoke to feel Shiloh nudging me with her nose. She often did this during the night when she felt the need for some attention. I woke up and felt her presence in my room and felt eerie about the nudge that woke me from my sleep. I looked at my husband and he was still sleeping. I finally fell back asleep to find Shiloh in my dreams again. This time she was not sick. She was healthy and vibrant. I was petting her and hugging her, feeling so happy that she was still with me. My dream felt so real that she was with me….I could touch her and feel her but then I realized that I could not smell her. In my dream I kept sniffing her wondering why I could not smell her and wishing that I could. In the morning I woke with the strong feeling that Shiloh had visited me during the night. But I could not make sense of the dream. Later that morning Dr. Hodge called to tell me that the mushrooms I sent from my yard were Galerina mushrooms and tested positive for amatoxins. Given the toxicity of the mushrooms it would not have taken many to cause Shiloh’s death.
The three brown mushrooms you sent me are a species of Galerina. You mentioned that you collected them around the time Shiloh became ill. I am unable to quickly identify them to species, because there are very many Galerina species and they are difficult to distinguish–even if I had had fresh specimens in hand. But I believe that identifying the species of Galerina is not important in this case in light of the test results I describe below.
Many Galerina species contain a powerful family of toxins called amatoxins (or amanitins). They are the same toxins found in Amanita mushrooms (the death cap and the destroying angel). Amatoxins typically cause vomiting and diarrhea in early stages, some hours after consumption. These symptoms often appear to remit, but the toxins are meanwhile destroying actively metabolizing tissues, particularly in the liver. There is no specific antidote, although administering activated charcoal in early stages can help remove some toxins from the intestinal tract. Human survival rates hover around 60%, from what I’ve heard, and survival depends on both the amount eaten and on early diagnosis leading to appropriate supportive care.
I performed a Meixner test on the brown mushrooms. It’s a crude test for amatoxins that depends on their interaction with the lignin in newspaper when exposed to hydrochloric acid. It is not definitive–only suggestive. A blue reaction in the Meixner test suggests that amatoxins may be present. I’ve attached a photo showing the strong blue reaction I obtained from the brown mushrooms. They are potentially fatally poisonous.
Sadly, there’s no reliable way to remove these mushrooms from your lawn. You can remove the mushrooms themselves (requires close attention to find them all), but the underground mycelium will persist from year to year. Some have suggested treating the lawn with lime to make it inhospitable to the mycelium, but there’s no evidence that this works. Note that that you can’t be poisoned by touching the mushrooms–only by ingesting them, raw or cooked.
Lastly, and I bet you’ve done this already–I suggest you have a very serious talk with your kids about mushrooms.
Kathie T. Hodge
I spoke with Dr. Orr about the news of the mushrooms in my yard. Since I never actually saw Shiloh eat a mushroom I was having a hard time believing this could be the cause. After a lengthy talk with Dr. Orr, and based on what the experts saw in Shiloh’s necropsy, plus the fact that these deadly mushrooms grew right where Shiloh often lay, Dr. Orr felt it was conclusive that they were what caused Shiloh’s death.
Looking back now I feel that Shiloh’s death served a greater purpose. I had something very deadly lurking in my yard. This posed an unseen risk of death to both people and animals. My yard is the one where all of the neighborhood kids play–children from 1 to 11 years old. The possibility that some child could have ingested a bite of these deadly mushrooms was certainly there. In addition to the kids, we were caring for Shiloh’s baby brother Sampson who is a typical curious pup and puts everything in his mouth. He certainly could have come in contact with these Galerina mushrooms and might have died as well. The loss of Shiloh, my pet soul mate, brought our attention to the deadly fungus growing in our yard. Shiloh lost her life but her death may have saved others’ lives.
In addition to being neurotically cautious with any mushrooms in my yard now I have also spread the word of Shiloh’s story by contacting news organizations, which have run stories and TV broadcasts on Shiloh and the dangers of poisonous mushrooms. I have also spread the word through various dog and Pyrenees groups that I belong too. I have received many phone calls and emails from pet owners and parents thanking me for sharing my story. They are now more cautious with mushrooms in their yard and are prudent on educating their children on the potential dangers of wild mushrooms as well as removing mushrooms immediately from the reach of pets and kids. I hope that Shiloh’s story will continue to protect others from the potential dangers of deadly mushrooms.
Tami Mungenast, email@example.com
Shiloh’s Vet, Dr. Carolyn Orr, took the time to write a veterinary perspective on Shiloh’s case. Since Shiloh was never observed to eat any mushrooms, it was a very difficult case to figure out. Read Dr. Orr’s account here.
Gosh, I doubt this note has done much for your paranoia, so just try to keep an eye on what your puppy is eating… I sincerely hope that none of my readers ever find themselves with a mushroom-poisoned dog, but if you do, I hope you’ll submit a toxicology report to NAMA, as Tami did, so we can learn more about the frequency and causes of canine cases.
Here are some pedantic but possibly helpful references on Galerina:
- Enjalbert F, Cassanas G, Rapior S, Renault C, Chaumont J-P. 2004. Amatoxins in wood-rotting Galerina marginata. Mycologia 96: 720-729. doi:10.2307/3762106.
- Gulden G, Stensrud K, Shalchian-Tabrizi K, Kauserud H. 2005. Galerina Earle: A polyphyletic genus in the consortium of dark-spored agarics. Mycologia 97 (4): 823-837. doi:10.3852/mycologia.97.4.823.
- Johnson, BEC, and JF Preston. 1976. Quantitation of amanitins in Galerina autumnalis. Mycologia 68:1248-1253.
- Smith AH, Singer R. 1964. A monograph of the genus Galerina Earle. New York: Hafner Publishing. 384 p.
Tami’s sad story was also presented by WHEC-TV in Rochester.