Just before Ryan Pellett boarded the plane that would take him and his National Guard troops away from Missoula last Thursday, a commanding officer gave him an unusual order, says Ryan’s father: “Go pet your dog.”
The dog, says Ron Pellett, Ryan’s father, was dying. The brown and black Doberman-cross with pointy ears and a longish nose, just “a big cuddle,” says Ron, had ingested toxic antifreeze. The dog could only stagger, he says, and he and the well-loved mutt were stranded in the back of the crowd on the tarmac. Missoula police officer Rick Dahlgren, who had helped escort the three buses and more than 100 cars to Missoula International Airport, told Ron to place the dog in the back of his car. Dahlgren drove the “big cuddle” to Ryan so he could say goodbye to the family pet. Riley wasn’t just Ryan’s dog, or 19-year-old daughter Katy’s dog, nor Ron Pellett’s dog, nor his ex-wife’s dog, says Pellett: “He was everybody’s dog.”
A veterinarian had found crystals in Riley’s kidneys, an indication that the dog had ingested antifreeze.
“It is a pretty common poisoning this time of year,” says Riley’s veterinarian, Dr. Minott Pruyn, who says he sees between eight and 10 poisoned dogs each year. Radiators overflow, he says, and antifreeze containing ethylene glycol reacts with an enzyme in the kidneys of dogs, cats and also humans, creating crystals that plug up the kidneys. Because the ethylene glycol tastes sweet, Pruyn says, “it’s an attractive nuisance.”
Cats must ingest only one teaspoon to be poisoned. Large dogs must lap up a cup, but, says Pruyn, it’s sweet enough that if it’s available, they will.
Non-toxic antifreeze is available, however. It contains propylene glycol instead of the harmful ethylene glycol.
Pellett believes Riley was intentionally poisoned, since the dog had always remained enclosed within ex-wife Penny Sperry’s 1.2-acre property. Another Pellett pet, a big, long-haired gray cat named Plume, was also poisoned and had to be put to sleep. Pellett would like to see a penalty for “pet murder,” and he and Sperry will start a petition for a ballot initiative, though not in time for this November’s ballot. He says he has heard from at least two neighbors who have also seen their pets poisoned with toxic antifreeze.