LA CROSSE — Coco is a greyhound mix who loves to chase tennis balls, so it’s no surprise that she confiscated one during a recent romp at the Houska Park dog park in La Crosse and took it home.
What was surprising — and appalling — to her master, John Storlie of La Crosse, was finding a nail embedded in the ball.
Although the culprit hasn’t been located, it apparently was someone bent on injuring a dog — or, perhaps, a human.
“I was really shocked. I wondered how this could happen,” said Storlie, who said he takes the 2½-year-old rescue dog to the park along the Mississippi River about once a week.
After the 55-pound Coco claimed the ball as her own, Storlie decided to use it to play fetch with her.
“She loves to chew on tennis balls, and it was rolling around in the car,” he said.
“I didn’t notice the nail until I went to wash the ball and saw a rusty tip sticking out,” Storlie said.
Investigating further, he pulled the nail out and discovered that it was as long as the ball’s diameter, he said.
“It had clearly been deliberately put there because the nail head was on the inside of the ball,” he said. “What kind of sick mind would do something like that and leave it at the dog park?”
Storlie checked Coco’s mouth, and she did not appear to be injured, unless, perhaps, she picked it up and dropped it right away if the nail stung her, he said.
“Or, if she was injured at the beginning and it healed,” he said.
Storlie sent an email to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, but he has not received a response. Parks officials could not be reached Tuesday.
“I’ve talked to family and friends, and they are appalled. My daughter said when we watch her dog, don’t take it to the dog park anymore,” said Storlie, principal scientist and managing member of his own company, The OS Group.
Kathy Kasakaitas, animal control protection and rescue supervisor at the Coulee Region Humane Society in Onalaska, said she hasn’t heard of such incidents locally but expressed concern.
“It upsets me on a couple of levels,” she said, adding, “No. 1, as a pet owner, and two, as one who tries to be a voice for the animals.”
Several area veterinarians also said they have not heard of such cases.
Similar instances — some real, others, hoaxes — of nails hidden in food, contaminated meat and treats laced with antifreeze have been noted on social media sites the past few years.
In a confirmed case in Lancaster, Pa., in October 2011, two large pieces of meat sabotaged with nails were found just outside the fence of a dog park, according to an Associated Press report.
A young girl and her father who had taken their dog to the park found the meat, police Lt. Todd Umstead said. Each had several framing nails “loosely attached” to their undersides.
The dog wasn’t injured because “it didn’t even touch the stuff,” Umstead said.
Several network TV news reports in recent years also have chronicled cases of dogs and cats dying from poisoned meat or treats at dog parks.
The damage that might result if a dog chomped down on a nail-implanted ball would depend on how hard the canine bites, said Dr. Douglas Kratt, a veterinarian at Central Animal Hospital in Onalaska.
“There could be lacerations, but the dog would feel it before it did a whole lot of damage” and drop the ball, he said.
If the dog kept chewing, he said, it could suffer a puncture of the tongue or roof of the mouth, perhaps even rupturing the nasal area.
Kratt cast doubt on the possibility that a dog would wolf down a nail, saying “Why would a dog swallow a nail?”
If one did so, it could cause internal lacerations, all the way to the intestines, he said.
Asked what a dog owner might do, such as trying to get the animal to vomit to dislodge the nail, Kratt said such a maneuver could cause more damage going back up than it did going down.
“If you are concerned about that,” he said, “contact your veterinarian immediately.
Local complaints about dog parks generally involve unruly dogs, Kasakaitas said.
“Dog parks are meant to be a good idea, but sometimes they are not a good idea because people are not focused on their dogs,” she said.
Some allow their pets to become aggressive without reprimand, she said. Sometimes, several dogs that routinely go to a park might gang up on a new visitor in a territorial dispute, she said.
“The biggest thing is that people should have their dogs under voice control and, if they don’t, to use a leash,” Kasakaitas said.
Anyone who happens to find a booby-trapped toy should call the Humane Society at 608-781-4014 or the local police department, she said.
If a perpetrator were located, he or she would be responsible for damages and veterinarian bills, she said.