‘All four legs collapsed. The second turn to look, I saw him seizing. I was in a state of shock.’: Golden Retriever dies suddenly due to suspected ‘blue algae neurotoxins’ in lake

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“How do you put a tragedy into words? I’ve been searching for inner strength to write… not only as a tribute to my sweet baby Ollie, but as a way to provide CRUCIAL information to the public. Information that would have changed my actions, if I only knew…

This past Saturday, I woke up excited to take my 2-year-old golden retriever, Oliver/Ollie, down to Lady Bird Lake. Neither of us have kayaked there, and it is… was… a definite must do if you live in Austin, Texas. Ollie loves, I mean LOVES, the water. He swam for the first-time last summer and became instantly addicted. I knew he would love to be on the water that morning, as much as I would.

I woke up before my alarm went off because I was so eager to go. Eager to hear his little whines waiting in line to get on the boat and be on the water, eager to see his tail not stop wagging, eager to allow him to be free in his and my happy place. He followed me back and forth knowing he was about to go on a ‘ride’. When I was finally ready, I opened the garage door and he ran straight to the back-left door, like he always did, ready to jump in back and hit the road. I stopped for gas and began the drive to Rowing Dock, a kayak/paddle board rental shop along Lady Bird Lake.

Courtesy Brittany Stanton

As anticipated, Ollie practically dragged me down to the water and began his little squeaks and whines, as there was quite a line and he was ready to be in the water stat. We finally got registered and into the kayak to head off. Just me and him. A little relaxing momma-son morning before all the adventures the day was supposed to have.

I immediately started to have to say ‘no, no, no, no’ … ‘not yet Ollie’ … ‘you can jump in once we get a little farther out.’ He stood on the front of the kayak and would bend down to put one paw in the water to drag as I got us a bit farther from the dock. And then he jumped. And swam. And swam. He would jump off, swim back, have me help him back into the boat and then do it all over again. And again. We had such a wonderful time. My last hour with him that would be filled with happy memories.

Courtesy Brittany Stanton
Courtesy Brittany Stanton

We were out for an hour exactly. I decided to stop at Zilker Park just down the road before heading home. After all, what is a morning without fetch on land, too? I parked, he eagerly jumped out and then I let him off his leash to be free to roam. He ran in circles and as always… back to momma.

I got his ball out and we played catch. A little 2-year-old boy came up and was fascinated with Ollie. I gave him Ollie’s ball, as all he wanted to do was throw it and watch Ollie chase it. His giggles were contagious. Oliver was so gentle. After multiple throws, the boy’s father picked him up to go to the park so Ollie and I could play together. We started walking around, exploring, him leading and then stopping to turn to make sure I was always there…

Courtesy Brittany Stanton

… And then he started showing symptoms.

It was about 30 minutes after being there when his back two legs gave in when he was walking. The confusion in both of our eyes met at the same time. He looked at me like ‘but I don’t get it momma, I’m okay I’ll just get up’ and he stood up and tried walking again and all four legs collapsed.

So, he laid there panting, and I ran over to him and sat there, trying to give him water. Confused. Panicked. I didn’t know what was going on. Was he over heated? Dehydrated? I’m a nurse. Why didn’t I know?! Figure it out. Figure it out I kept telling myself. We have been on so many adventures in all climates and much greater lengths of time. I didn’t get it. It’s like my mind went numb as my heart raced.

After about 5 or so minutes he got up and wobbled to a watery mud hole just a couple feet away. He knew my backpack was in that direction. He collapsed his body in the mud and just looked forward panting. Civilians came up, as I’m sure they could feel my fear and see something was wrong. One lady in particular helped more than anyone will ever know. She was my guide and my angel that day. She and over 7 others stood around Ollie, trying to cool his paws and muddy body off, as I sprinted to the car, calling my boyfriend in panic and trying to find an emergency vet at the same time.

I drove my car up onto the green and a few people picked up Ollie’s weak body to put him in the back of my car. He had already lost his ability to stand and began to have a weak pulse and shallow breaths. The lady jumped in the back seat with her dog, knowing I was in a state of shock, and to help continue to keep Ollie as cool as possible. I frantically drove to the vet I found, turning to look at him as much as I could. And the second turn to look… I saw him start seizing. It lasted a few seconds. Just after the lady asked me what time it was, and I knew… I knew that meant his heart stopped. She started CPR. We were 4 minutes out from the vet. I ran in to get the doctor and he came out and pulled Ollie out of the back of my car. Lifeless.

They intubated and continued CPR for over 10 minutes but he was already gone. One of the doctors brought me around the corner and I saw CPR on him. I will never get any of the images from that day out of my head. My sweet baby Ollie. I love you.

The next day, a news report came out about blue algae in the water that can release a neurotoxin. It only took one hour from the time we left the water for Oliver to breathe his last breath. It is still uncertain if water toxicity or the blue algae is the cause, but regardless, I would have NEVER ever ever brought him if I knew that was a risk.

No signs are posted. No nothing in the news until now. I’m not from Austin and I don’t know if I would have learned this information any other way. It’s not fair and it’s not okay. Word needs to be spread about this incredibly devastating risk. The City Public Health Office and Director of Austin Watershed have been contacted, among others.

Please educate yourself and keep your pets safe… and away from water until more information is released.

I love you for all of time baby Ollie.

Love, your momma.”

Courtesy Brittany Stanton

This story was written by Christina Young of Texas. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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