Was a Prizewinning Samoyed Poisoned at Westminster?

His handler thinks so. And he believes animal rights activists might be behind the dog's death.


Cruz was a prizewinning Samoyed, a show dog who, in his short career, rose quickly to the top ranks. He competed in February’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. A week later, he was vomiting blood. Shortly thereafter, he was dead.

According to a story in the New York Times, his handlers suspect foul play. They believe Cruz was poisoned sometime in New York during the show. They suspect rat poison, which takes three to five days to cause physical symptoms in a dog.

“We have been devastated and in shock,” said Lynette Blue, one of Cruz’s owners. “This is one of the most painful experiences of my life.”

The vet who treated Cruz agrees that the dog’s symptoms match those of dog who had ingested rat poison, but she stops short of calling it a deliberate act.

“Dogs are dogs. It’s not anyone’s fault,” veterinarian Molly Comiskey told the Times. “They eat stuff; they get into things; they make bad decisions.”

But Cruz’s handler, Robert Chaffin, can’t figure out how that would’ve happened. He said he spent every second with Cruz in New York, as you can well imagine. He said he thoroughly checked every corner of their hotel room, even looking specifically for rat poison. Ann Peterson, the hotel’s president and general manager, said the hotel didn’t use harmful pesticides, and the facility had an area set up for the show dogs to exercise.

“I couldn’t imagine it happening here,” she said.

So who poisoned Cruz? Though he had no evidence, Chaffin believes animal-rights activists might be behind it.

“Unfortunately, dog shows have been plagued by some of these people for years,” Chaffin said. “I’ve heard horror stories about other people’s dogs having their setups tampered with, being poisoned, but I never thought it would come to me.”

He recalls a man at Westminster who gave him a “dirty look” and made an insulting remark after he saw that Cruz had undergone debarking, in which a dog’s vocal cords are cut to quiet his bark.

“It would have been easy for someone to throw something in his cage,” Chaffin said.

However, that “dirty look” appears to be the extent of Chaffin’s claim. No other evidence exists. Blue did not order a necropsy, so certain was she that poison was to blame. And, of course, lots of people out there give “dirty looks” to those who debark their dogs. You might be among them.

Animal rights groups do, however, have a history of clashing with dog shows, according to the article. Ingrid Newkirk, PETA founder and president, said that in recent years the group “has sent representatives to the Westminster show to try to break into the exhibition ring and distribute leaflets near the venue.” But killing a dog? “PETA does not sanction that,” she said. “It’s so scurrilous; it’s so low to even suggest it.”

As for who is to blame, it’s still a mystery. The article does hint that an answer might be found in the dark underbelly of dog shows, as “stories have long circulated inside the cloistered and heated world of canine competitions” about intentional poisonings. The Times points to the notorious Westminster show in 1895, when eight dogs were poisoned before the competition.

But in the end, nobody has learned what really happened to Cruz, if he was murdered or simply managed to find and eat rat poison despite being under the close scrutiny of a handler during the biggest show of the year.

“It’s devastating,” Blue said. “We keep thinking of the various scenarios, and it’s starting to feel like something we may never know.”

Via the New York Times

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