If you hate the way the City of Winnipeg does things, but you love all creatures great and small -- or even if you despise them -- the story in Wednesday's Free Press had all the ingredients.
Dog owners howling mad over poison, the headline read.
The story went on to explain local dog-club members were outraged when a dog became seriously ill after eating rodent poison in Little Mountain Park, a green space with an off-leash park and, by the city's estimate, an overabundance of gophers whose natural hole-digging nature are considered hazardous to people playing or even walking in the park.
The city has since acknowledged the bait, which kills over time by causing internal bleeding, was improperly applied and there were problems with the warning signage posted in the park. The bait is supposed to be placed in the gopher burrows and the hole covered to prevent it from being ingested by other creatures, from off-leash dogs and birds, to free-ranging, curious children. But that's not the way the pest-control company the city contracts for the work applied it, as the owner of the poisoned dog can attest.
Curious myself, I decided to gopher it and dig a little deeper into the story.
The city acknowledged Wednesday in an email exchange there is at least one other method for controlling the great prairie gopher menace beyond poison pellets: "gaseous oxides of sulphur" that's released into the gopher holes. But the preferred poison is a grain-based anticoagulant that kills by causing internal bleeding over time, a delay factor that allows a vet to apply the antidote that saves a poisoned dog.
The product, Ground Force, is known specifically by its Pest Control Act registration number, 20239.
As the Saskatchewan government's website on agricultural gopher control suggests, Ground Force is popular because it's relatively inexpensive, readily accessible and easy to use. I learned something else from a different website about the product. There's a warning about an ingredient that can kill some children quicker than the poison: "contains the allergens peanuts and wheat."
Actually, it wasn't Wednesday's story that first alerted me to the controversy. It was an email Tuesday evening from a 51-year-old woman named Darlene Korzinski who has been visiting that park since she was a kid and now walks her young black Labrador, Maisy, there almost every evening. That's what she was doing Monday night when Maisy came upon a gopher going through death throes on the ground outside its subterranean home.
Mercifully, it was put out of its misery by a man with a wildlife background. "With many families there last night with children and dogs," she wrote, "a very disturbing memory that many of us at the park tonight will have with us for a while... a poor soul struggling to live. For what? So there are a few less holes? Makes me sick!"
It's not that Darlene doesn't understand gopher holes can be hazardous. She sprained an ankle and was in a cast for two weeks after stepping in a Little Mountain Park gopher hole during a snowstorm last November. But she blames herself, not the gopher.
Darlene added she was "sickened by the actions of the City of Winnipeg and what I saw."
What she saw Tuesday, and again Wednesday, were people who were still picking up gopher carcasses and dumping them in the garbage.
"There's other wildlife in there, too," she told me when we spoke later on the phone. "We have a couple of eagles flying around there and horned owls, which are the gophers' predators. So are they picking these gophers up and dying from eating them? That's my concern."
Darlene had another question.
"Is the city doing this in other parks in the city?"
Yes, according to the city, but only "in areas in which the gopher infestation has become severe and causes serious safety concerns."
But what's more dangerous? Poison pellets laced with peanuts children and dogs might eat or gopher holes that can be filled in before a game or practice?
But I'll leave the last word, the last question, to Darlene: "Why would you use poison in a family and dog-used park?"