Canine Confab

By Geraldine Cove-Print

Why Would Someone Poison Their Own Dog?

Why Would Someone Poison Their Own Dog?

A BBC News report caught my attention yesterday and I thought it would perhaps be of interest to attach it to an article I wrote some time ago.

BBC News Reported:A veterinary nurse who deliberately poisoned her own dog has been given a community payback order.
Georgina Bretman, 28, injected her black-and-white cocker spaniel Florence with insulin that made the animal collapse and suffer from convulsions and seizures.
A Glasgow court heard that the dog could have ended up in a coma or died.
No explanation was offered as to why Bretman had harmed her pet but she was described as an "attention-seeker".
Following a trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court in August, Bretman, from Rhu, near Helensburgh, was convicted of causing the animal unnecessary suffering on 23 June, 2013, by injecting her with insulin resulting in her requiring immediate treatment to "avoid coma or death".
She was given a community payback order as a "direct alternative" to jail, with the condition she must carry out 140 hours of unpaid work. She was also banned from keeping a dog for two years.
This is understood to be the first prosecution and conviction of its kind of an owner harming their dog in such a way.
The court heard that on one occasion, Bretman's employer gave her an evening off - then correctly predicted that, within a few hours, the dog - also known as Flo - would suddenly become ill and be brought back to the surgery requiring emergency treatment.
Bretman started working as a veterinary nurse in 2011 for Pet A&E in the Kinning Park area of Glasgow which provided care for animals outside normal working hours.
Her former employer Lesley Herd grew suspicious after the two-year-old dog needed emergency treatment on several occasions after collapsing, twitching and vomiting. Every time, tests showed a low glucose level.
During Bretman's trial, Mrs Herd said: "The dog was fine between episodes so I really didn't know what was going on with the dog at all, we couldn't understand why she was having these episodes."
Mrs Herd said that she had taken blood samples from Florence to send to the Glasgow University Vet School for testing. Although Bretman volunteered to deliver the samples, they never arrived.
She told the court: "Because of the pattern of collapse and low blood glucose on each occasion and the fact that the dog was normal between episodes, I was suspicious insulin had been administered to the dog."
One evening, Bretman, who was described by her employer as "quite attention seeking", was given time off work. That night Flo collapsed and was taken in for treatment.
Mrs Herd said: "I had said to my partner she will find an excuse to come in to the clinic because she's not happy about having the night off and I said 'I bet Flo collapses tonight', and it did happen."
Mrs Herd contacted the Scottish SPCA.
Bretman was later suspended and sacked from her job.
In evidence, Bretman denied the charge and said she was not responsible. She said she only ever wanted to find out what was wrong with Flo
It was put to her: "It might be suggested you took a dislike to the dog, that's why you harmed her."
Bretman said: "Not at all, I put a lot of energy in. She was my companion."Defence counsel Craig Findlater handed 18 pages of references to the sheriff for consideration before his client was sentenced.

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He told the court she was now unemployed and had moved back to her family home.
Mr Findlater said: "She has grown up with animals around her. She is educated to degree level and gained employment within her chosen profession, that is caring for animals."
The dog has been cared for by the Scottish SPCA since the allegations came to light and has since returned to good health. She will now be rehomed.
Sheriff Kerr told Bretman: "Flo was vulnerable and completely dependant on you for her care.
"Your motivation to cause her this suffering may never be known, you have chosen not to shed any light on that when you spoke to a social worker.
"You have expressed no remorse for causing Flo such suffering."
It was noted that Bretman harmed her own pet in her own time, had not harmed any animals she worked with and was not banned from working with animals.

Munchausen By Proxy and our relationship with animals

Riding on a cannon ball or wrestling with Crocodiles, no, not the latest Kennel Club requirement for dog show Judges but a couple of the stories from the tall tales of Baron Munchausen. The fabulous and fantastic adventures of the Baron were originally written in German by Rudolf Erich Raspe , the book was first published in the eighteenth century but the charm endures. The lies and exaggeration of the fictitious nobleman also gave a label to what modern psychiatry prefers to call “a factitious disorder”, Munchausen Syndrome. In the case of a caregiver who fabricates, exaggerates or induces physical or mental problems in those in their care the term Munchausen by proxy has been attached to the behaviour pattern. It seems that while learned folk continue to squabble over the terminology and by the very nature of the affliction, based as it is on deception, the condition continues to be difficult to define and identify there is profound evidence of “fabricated or induced illness by carers”. Several high profile cases over the years have caught the headlines and controversy has continued to follow as care givers were convicted of murder only for the convictions to be overturned when fresh evidence emerged. The condition itself is recognised but detection needs clear evidence. In a published paper (1) from 1997, the authors describe covert video recordings of care givers visiting their children in hospital who were suspected victims of MSbP. The shocking results were that in 30 out of the 39 cases there was one parent intentionally suffocating their child, another parent was seen to deliberately break her 3 month old daughter’s arm and two cases of attempting to poison! Further investigation revealed that those 39 patients had 41 siblings of which 12 had died suddenly and unexpectedly.

When it comes to animals and dogs in particular, could it be that MSbP is also a logical conclusion in some cases. Our relationship with our dogs is, in many cases, as close as the bond between parent and child and although little research has been carried out in this area the evidence of abuse of pets and the abuse of children is incontrovertible. A study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice looked at records of non-accidental injuries of dogs and cats (2). The similarities to abusive injuries to children was remarkable, burns, and scalds, bruises, repetitive injuries as well as instances of sexual abuse and firearm wounds.
The fourth in the series of papers by the authors considered the similarities between MSbP as affecting children and the possibility of the same condition with an animal as the victim. It makes interesting reading and supports opinions I have formed over the years, just through observation and a very suspicious mind! I was told recently by a breeder and exhibitor I respect for her honesty of a bitch she had sold to an individual, within days it was reported back to the breeder that the dog was suffering from seizures. The breeder was extremely concerned and offered first to take the bitch back and then when the new owner was unwilling to release the puppy she insisted on paying the Veterinary costs to try to find out why the puppy was unwell. Her offer was refused as insurance was in place. The puppy went through rigorous examination including CT scans. Only the owner had witnessed these seizures but the pup was put onto extreme epileptic medication. A few months down the line and the owner informed the breeder the puppy would be euthanased, the breeder immediately went to the owner and begged her to release the puppy to her care, and finally the owner passed the dog over to the breeder. The puppy was watched round the clock and under Veterinary advice the medication was slowly reduced. No seizures.
Following a tip off, the breeder approached the previous owner’s Vet and asked him to share information with her Vet about the dogs that had formerly been in the owners care. She was startled to be told that of the 10 dogs owned in the previous 15 years only two had made old bones, the rest had been PTS before the age of two with a string of maladies ranging from malabsorption through to suspect liver shunt. The breeder’s Vet suggested all medication be stopped for the puppy; the puppy is now a thriving young bitch that has never had to return to the Vet apart from yearly check ups. Could this just be a coincidence? Certainly both Vets were suspicious that a psychiatric problem could be at the bottom of so many untimely deaths. Dialogue between professionals working with animals and those in paediatric roles on the subject would offer more information and lead to more accurate and meaningful diagnosis I’m sure as well as a better awareness of humans or animals at risk. The similarities shared by those with MSbP seem to be a need to change their health care providers often, until they find one who is willing to meet their extreme levels of need, in humans termed “Doctor shopping” or hospital hopping”, perhaps with an animal as a victim it should be “Vet leapfrog”. Physical or laboratory findings that are at odds with the “story” of the illness would be another heads up, but perhaps other needy behaviour would initially be put down to the eccentricities of the average dog owner!

I am of the opinion that I see a very similar behaviour in some people who take on rescue dogs but by no means with the same tragic consequences. The reasons behind Munchausen Syndrome and MSbP is attention seeking In MSbP particularly, the focus is the supposed suffering of the patient and the courage and endurance of the parent or in an animal’s case, owner. I have on several occasions over the years re homed a dog from a wonderful and caring first home and within days I have had reports back from the new owner that the dog must have suffered in his previous home. The reports have been that the dog is head shy or is frightened of tall men or people in glasses and therefore must have been hurt in some way by such a person. In each case the reports have become wilder and more embellished, like a snow ball down a mountain side the aspersions have gathered weight and credibility on repetition. The descriptions of behaviour have gradually become more extreme and yet the new owner is unwilling to hand back the dog to rescue and begins to describe themselves as the animal’s saviour and the dog’s only chance of salvation. On every occasion when this has occurred I have removed the dog from their care, on every occasion the dog has not shown any of the behaviour or illness described so graphically. I would not wish this article to muddy the waters when there are genuine cases of reported behaviour patterns or illness, it is hard enough with some Vets to engage and feel that one’s own observations are being taken into account, but I do have a suspicion that pets are being abused right under their noses. Only further research and communication will raise awareness within those working professionally with animals of the possibility of an animal at risk through the Baron’s namesake syndrome.

(1)Covert video recordings of life-threatening child abuse: lessons for child protection. Southall DP, Plunkett MC, Banks MW, Falkov AF, Samuels MP.
(2)Battered Pets: Non-accidental physical injury found in dogs and cats.Munro & Thrusfield 2001


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Geraldine Cove-Print
Geraldine Cove-Print has always been an "animal person". Her early career path was with horses and as an instructor and competitive three day event rider, a purchaser of bloodstock for the racing fraternity and an interest in the breeding and exhibiting of farm livestock she enjoyed learning from the voices of experience.She has been exhibiting, working and breeding dogs since 1975 and awards Challenge Certificates in two breeds.She spent 10 years as Consultant to the BBC on dog based programmes and has written for specialist journals including those focussed on the Veterinary profession for many years.

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