Russian River Warning: Dog Dies After Swimming, Tests Positive for Toxic Algae

Sonoma County public health officials are warning the public to keep pets away from the Russian River just ahead of Labor Day weekend.

But it's too late for Brooke and Alfredo Rudas' dog Posie who died after swimming in the water, which contains a lethal toxin. The Department of Health confirmed Friday the 3-year-old golden retriever "tested positive for Anatoxin-A, which is a blue-green algae toxin.”

"She started foaming at the mouth and we knew something was seriously wrong,” Brooke said, adding that Posie’s “eyes rolled back into the back of her head.”

Health officials are keeping the river open, but admit the algae can be especially dangerous for pets.

“We are warning people to keep animals away from the river and away from isolated side pools of water and algae on the shore," said Dr. Karen Holbrook, Sonoma County Deputy Public Health Officer.

NBC Bay Area
The owner of the golden retriever that died after swimming in the Russian River shared this photo of her dog with NBC Bay Area.

Toxic algae has been a problem in other waterways in the recent past, as officials point to the drought as the likely culprit.

It's common for toxic algae blooms to break out in warm weather, but the park rangers have said that the drought is likely making the situation worse. Warmer temperatures prevent water from mixing, allowing algae to grow thicker and faster. Also, warmer water is easier for small organisms to move through and allows algae to float to the surface faster. And algal blooms absorb sunlight, making water even warmer and promoting more blooms.

Oakland's Lake Temescal has been closed all summer, for example, and Quarry Lakes in Fremont was also closed this summer because of a toxic algae bloom.

And in some cases, the algae has been deadly for pets, including three dogs who died in January and February at Lake Chabot in Castro Valley.

A porpoise found dead this week in the Russian River also likely died from toxic algae, the Napa Valley Register reported.

To that, a distraught Brooke added: “I hope that other people hear my story and just don't go near there. I don't want this to happen to anybody else."

Sonoma County public health officials are considering whether to urge people to avoid the Russian River – just ahead of Labor Day weekend – after a golden retriever died while swimming in the water, which likely contains a lethal toxin produced by blue-green algae. Jodi Hernandez reports.
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