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Preventable Poisoning

Antifreeze kills dog, moves shelter director to lobby for legislation

The Humane Society of the United States

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by Julie Hauserman

Animal shelter director Joni Geiger breathed a sigh of relief when the Wisconsin Legislature passed legislation last month that will make antifreeze less of a danger to pets and children who might ingest it due to its sweet taste.

This Should Never Happen

Geiger just can’t forget the day a man came into her Oshkosh shelter, looking for a new dog. He cried—and everyone at the shelter’s desk cried—when he told his story.

His dog was dead, he said, and then explained he’d had to shoot his pet to end the animal’s horrible suffering. The dog had been attracted by the sweet taste of some spilled antifreeze, and licked it up. When his pet went into painful convulsions, the man frantically called veterinarian after veterinarian.

“He lived in a rural community,” Geiger said. “It was a weekend, and all the veterinarian offices were closed. The dog was in agonizing pain and distress. He just made this horrible, painful decision to end his dog’s suffering. Nobody should have to do that.”

“I never forgot it,” Geiger said. “When this came to the Legislature, I thought: This is a perfect example of something that should never have happened.”

Convincing Legislators

So Geiger decided to share the man’s story as a way to convince state legislators to do something to prevent such tragedies.

“She contacted her legislators to offer her shelter's support of the bill and to tell them about the first-hand experience she had,” said Humane Society of the United States Wisconsin State Director Alyson Bodai. “It let them know that their community was paying attention to the issue.”

The new legislation, passed in early April, requires manufacturers to add a bitter flavor agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent animals and children from being poisoned by the sweet-tasting liquid.

Widespread Support for Bill

It was supported by The HSUS, the Humane Society Legislative Fund , the Consumer Specialty Products Association and Honeywell International, manufacturers of Prestone®, one of the country's best known brands of antifreeze.

The Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association also supported the bill, along with state and local animal welfare organizations, including the Wisconsin Humane Society, Dane County Humane Society, and Geiger’s Oshkosh Area Humane Society. 

“This law will not only save animal lives, but it will save people from having the tragedy of losing a family member this way,” Geiger said.

Two legislators—Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Jeff Plale, D-Milwaukee—championed the legislation. With the governor's signature, Wisconsin will become the 12th state to pass a bill requiring antifreeze contain a bittering agent.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has worked to pass similar legislation in Arizona, California, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Vermont and Washington. Bills are also pending in Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Ohio. 

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