EAST LANSING - Like any other 11-week-old puppy, Molly, the golden retriever, chewed up just about anything she could get her teeth on.
So, when Molly's owner, Mike Vasievich, pulled a mushroom from the puppy's mouth one day last week, he figured that he had spared her no more than an upset stomach.
If only he had known ...
In an e-mail to me Sunday, Vasievich wrote: "She was a joyful golden retriever one day, and dead the next day."
The apparent cause of Molly's death over the weekend: ingestion of a backyard fungus with an appropriately ominous name - "destroying angel," amanita bisporigera.
Jean Hudson, one of the Haslett Animal Hospital vets who worked on Molly called her death a "textbook case" of toxic mushroom poisoning.
And Heather Hallen, a Michigan State University researcher who specializes in poisonous mushrooms, said the destroying angel would be a likely suspect in Molly's death.
"I can walk into Lake Lansing Park any day and come out with 20 of them," Hallen said.
For the Vasievich family - Mike, his wife, Marianne, and their teenage daughter, Teresa - the tragedy began Friday afternoon.
"Molly seemed perky as usual on Friday morning, even through lunch time," Mike wrote. "Then, about 2:30 p.m., she vomited."
Given Molly's oral fixation, Vasievich wasn't especially alarmed until an hour later, when Molly's lethargy deteriorated to the point of motionlessness, and he rushed her to the Haslett Animal Hospital.
The vets there checked for obstructions, took X-rays, ran ultrasound and blood tests, and put Molly on an IV. She got worse.
The vets then performed exploratory surgery to check for internal problems, but found none.
Further blood tests showed Molly's liver was failing. The vets began to suspect poisoning.
Recalling the mushroom he pulled from Molly's mouth, Vasievich, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 32 years, did some research on the Internet, and determined that at least some of the mushrooms growing in his yard, - including the destroying angel- were deadly.
Check your yard
So what's a dog owner to do? The answers from Hudson and Hallen aren't particularly comforting:
Watch what your dog eats, even when it's in your backyard. Identify what's growing near your house. If you know that your dog has eaten a mushroom, seek medical help immediately.
"It can turn bad very quickly," Hudson said.
Hallen said she was aware of two other local "fatal canine poisonings" in this area in the past five years.
She described destroying angels as having shiny, satiny skin and a flat, or slightly rounded, cap.
In other words, to the untrained eye, they look a lot like other fungi.
Vasievich wrote: "We didn't know that a little mushroom could wipe out a dog so quickly."
By John Schneider, Lansing State Journal