'If it happened to our dogs, it can happen to anybody'

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Renee Bliss and her family have a tearful warning for dog owners after losing their dogs to a deadly toxin found growing in their own backyard.

Two weeks ago, Bliss let her dogs out to the backyard of her Bellingham home, just as she had done hundreds of times before.

"I always thought they were safe in our yard," she said.

But on that day, something was terribly wrong. Maggie, a pug, started vomiting, grew lethargic then went into shock. Bliss rushed her to the vet.

The other pug, Milo, appeared fine, so Bliss left him at home.

But it turns out Milo, was also sick. When Bliss returned home from the vet, Milo was dead; he had choked on his own vomit.

Maggie died nine days later.

Bliss was stricken with grief.

"You know, it's so unfair that they love you unconditionally, and they trust that we're going to be there for them," she said.

Bliss suspected the dogs had been sickened by something they'd eaten. She found mushrooms in her backyard that she thought may have played a role.

"There was an area right out here that we think were covered in the poisonous mushrooms," she said.

After an analysis at WSU labs, Bliss learned her hunch was right. The lab analysis discovered fragments of Inocybe, a species of poisonous mushrooms, in both dogs. Inocybe contains so much toxin that it can be fatal for humans.

"In my 11 years, I've seen it twice," said Dr. Pete Dudenhefer of Fountain Veterinary Hospital in Bellingham.

The veterinarian who treated Maggie and Milo says the best rule is to get rid of any mushrooms dog owners can't identify.

"They could bring sample to vet if not sure," said Dudenhefer. "We have access to state lab, (so we can) help discern if it's toxic or not."

Bliss believes this is the first time this type of mushrooms has shown up in her yard, and she worries they may be growing on other dog owners' yards as well.

"If it happened to our dogs, it can happen to anybody," she said.

Inocybe mushrooms typically grow near trees. They are no more than 2 inches in diameter and have broad bell-shaped caps. One expert says mushrooms grow quickly, especially with the amount of rain seen in Western Washington.

If you have questions or concerns about pets getting into potentially bad mushrooms, contact your vet immediately or call the Washington Poison Center (800-572-5842 for pet sickness; 800-222-1222 for people.)