A dog park was closed because of an attempt by a dog-owner to disinfect puddles.  The woman was seen pouring a gallon of bleach into a mud puddle, sparking an investigation. The site was closed while city staff pumped out puddles. The woman told the person that witnessed and reported the incident that her dog had contracted the intestinal parasite Giardia in the park, and she was trying to sanitize the water.  However, authorities believe it may in fact have been a malicious act (i.e. an attempt to poison the dogs using the park).

  • Firstly, there’s no way the woman could know that the park (let alone a specific puddle) was the source of her dog’s infection. Giardia can be found in the environment and in the stool of a small  percentage of healthy dogs (~7% in many studies).
  • Secondly, pouring a toxic substance into the puddles in the park is obviously not an appropriate response. Bleach is a good disinfectant when it’s used right, but disinfecting outdoor surfaces like this is essentially impossible. Organic debris (e.g. mud) will readily inactivate bleach, but the bleach could still make an animal sick if too much (too high a concentration) is swallowed, because it’s very caustic.
  • Thirdly, for this woman to take matters into her own hands like this without consulting  someone who knows something about infectious diseases, and potentially exposing a lot of animals to high levels of bleach is irresponsible. If there was concern about the park as a source of infection, the appropriate response would have been to talk to city staff.

In reality, the risk to other dogs was probably pretty low. It’s pretty obvious when there’s a lot of bleach somewhere (even just based on the smell), and in general dogs would probably be very reluctant to drink bleach-contaminated water.

One officer stated that he suspects the Giardia story was an excuse contrived by the woman when confronted by the passer-by who witnessed the bleaching incident. That’s certainly possible, but I’m surprised someone would come up with a specific excuse like Giardia.  If the woman is found, that should be easy to figure out – the diagnosis would have to be in her dog’s medical record.  Police stated that the woman, if identified by the authorities, could potentially face animal cruelty charges. I think that’s pretty unlikely, considering what usually has to happen for someone to actually be charged and convicted of animal cruelty. I suspect this really was an overzealous response by someone who lacks common sense. There was no comment about whether the woman would be billed for the city staff time required to deal with the clean up – that might be a more effective deterrent to similar incidents in the future!

Parks are inherently a high-risk environment for exposure to infectious diseases. Whenever you mix large numbers of animals, especially in an area where they often pass stool, there is an increased risk of disease transmission. You have to accept that when going to a park. People should also ensure that they never take a sick animal to a park, promptly clean up stool, and may sure that their pet is on an appropriate vaccination and deworming program. Disinfection of a park will never be part of the infection control program.

More information about Giardia can be found on the Worms&Germs Resources page.