A 14-year-old Pocatello boy watched his dog die from a cyanide poison bomb that detonated near his home on Thursday.
Theresa Mansfield, the boy’s mother, said her son was walking the family dog on a hillside behind their home on West Buckskin Road when they encountered the bomb. When it exploded, the boy was knocked onto his back and the dog was killed.
The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said the bomb was placed by an individual with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services as a predator control device used to kill coyotes. When activated through a spring-loaded trigger set off through upward pressure or by pulling, an M-44 bomb releases a burst of cyanide.
The Idaho State Journal first reported the incident late Thursday. On Friday, Wildlife Services acknowledged the dog’s death in a written statement.
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“Wildlife Services is completing a thorough review of the circumstances of this incident and will work to review our operating procedures to determine whether improvements can be made to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences happening in the future,” said the statement from a USDA spokesman.
The agency, which handles predator trapping in Idaho and other states, removed other M-44 cyanide bombs in that same area, the spokesman said.
The dog’s death was the first unintentional killing involving the devices in Idaho since 2014, the spokesman said.
“The unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence. Wildlife Services policies and procedures are designed to minimize unintentional take or capture of domestic pets. It posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when wildlife traps or other devices are being used in an area for wildlife damage management,” said the statement.
The cyanide bombs are only set out at the request of property owners and managers, according to the spokesman.
Sheriff’s Capt. Dan Argyle responded to the call at about 1 p.m. Thursday. He said the device was in a patchwork area of private and public land and is believed to have been placed on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land. Argyle said the area is frequented by hikers, bikers and ATV riders. He said the area also has some sheep grazing.
Mansfield said another M-44 was found near her home after authorities arrived on the scene.
When Mark, the boy’s father, contacted the authorities, he told dispatchers that the dog was dead and his son was covered by an unknown substance.
“Initially, we were just trying to determine what it even was — that was our biggest concern” Argyle said. “We have never dealt with these before.”
The boy was transported to the emergency room at Portneuf Medical Center to be tested for cyanide poisoning.
The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said he was not seriously injured in the incident and has since returned home to his family. The boy’s family was also evaluated at the hospital and released.
The sheriff’s office is investigating the incident. Hazmat crews and fire department personnel also responded, with investigators still at the scene as of 8 p.m. Thursday.
The deceased dog, a 3-year-old lab named Casey, was covered with cyanide when found.
“He was the world to us,” Mansfield said, saying that her children were openly weeping over Casey’s death well into the evening hours on Thursday.
Both Mansfield and Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said the boy was lucky to walk away from the incident.
“That little boy is lucky,” Nielsen said. “His guardian angel was protecting him.”
The whole incident has completely shaken the Mansfield family. The area behind the residence where the “cyanide bomb” exploded was a location frequented by the teenage boy. Now Mansfield is afraid to allow her children to go near the hill again.
The incident has also deeply scarred the boy, whom Mansfield said saw the dog perish.
“That is going to be on his mind forever,” she said. “Seeing something like that stays with you.”
The Associated Press contributed.
Statements from investigators
The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement regarding the incident on Thursday evening:
“The Bannock County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident involving a predator control device that detonated killing a family’s dog. The sheriff’s office received the call earlier this date from the father indicating an unknown device had detonated in close proximity to his son and the family’s dog. The incident occurred on a ridge line located above a residence on Buckskin Rd. The father indicated that the family dog had been killed and his son had been covered in an unknown substance as the device detonated. Luckily this child was not seriously injured. It was later determined that the device was placed at it’s location by the Department of Agriculture. The device is used by the Department of Agriculture for predator control and when activated releases a burst of cyanide. The device is a M-44 device but is commonly referred to as a ‘cyanide bomb.’ This device is extremely dangerous to animals and humans. A picture of the device in included in this release for the public’s knowledge. If a device such as this is ever located please do not touch or go near the device and contact your local law enforcement agency. The family involved in this incident were evaluated at a local hospital and were released.”
USDA Wildlife Services sent out this statement midday Friday:
“APHIS’ Wildlife Services confirms the unintentional lethal take of a dog in Idaho. As a program made up of individual employees many of whom are pet owners, Wildlife Services understands the close bonds between people and their pets and sincerely regrets such losses. Wildlife Services has removed M-44s in that immediate area. Wildlife Services is completing a thorough review of the circumstances of this incident, and will work to review our operating procedures to determine whether improvements can be made to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences happening in the future.
“... The unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence. Wildlife Services policies and procedures are designed to minimize unintentional take or capture of domestic pets. It posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when wildlife traps or other devices are being used in an area for wildlife damage management. M-44s are spring-activated devices that release cyanide when they are activated through upward pressure or pulling. These devices are only set at the request of and with permission from property owners or managers. This is the first unintentional take with an M-44 device in Idaho since 2014.
“Wildlife Services provides expert federal leadership to responsibly manage one of our nation's most precious resources - our wildlife. We seek to resolve conflict between people and wildlife in the safest and most humane ways possible, with the least negative consequences to wildlife overall. Our staff is composed of highly-skilled wildlife professionals who are passionate about their work to preserve the health and safety of people and wildlife.”