POCATELLO — After a family dog was killed and a teenage boy was injured by the detonation of a poison-filled predator control device near a residential neighborhood, Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen is demanding the U.S. Department of Agriculture stop using the “cyanide bombs” in the county.
“Based on the amount of calls we have received during the course of our investigation, I plan on meeting with officials with the Department of Agriculture and demand the practice of using these devices ceases in Bannock County,” Nielsen said.
The M-44 devices, also known as “cyanide bombs,” are spring-loaded metal cylinders that upon detonation shower everyone and everything nearby with deadly sodium cyanide powder. Detonation is caused by simply touching the devices. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA commonly uses these devices to protect livestock from a variety of wild predators, including coyotes, wolves and foxes.
However, these devices have injured people and killed pet dogs who were unlucky enough to stumble upon them.
That’s exactly what happened to Casey, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who died on Thursday after an M-44 device detonated behind his owners’ home on West Buckskin Road just outside of Pocatello. The family’s 14-year-old son, Canyon Mansfield, detonated the device by simply touching it. Canyon was simply curious as to what it was, and he said there were no warning signs posted to alert him that a “cyanide bomb” was nearby.
Canyon was injured when the device exploded and he then watched helplessly as Casey slowly suffocated from the poisonous cyanide powder that covered both of them.
Soon after Canyon was transported to Portneuf Medical Center for treatment, Nielsen said the deputies who responded to the scene also had to go to the emergency room. Though none of the deputies were injured, they had to be decontaminated because they were near the cyanide poison that killed Casey. The deputies’ clothing had to be burned as a precautionary measure.
“You can’t justify using something that poisonous to kill a coyote, and I don’t think there’s a place in Bannock County where it can be guaranteed that one of these bombs will never hurt somebody,” Nielsen said. “It all just stinks.”
Nielsen is not the only person in Bannock County who feels the practice of using M-44s needs to end.
Theresa Mansfield, Canyon’s mother, feels “cyanide bombs” should be illegal.
“It’s lethal,” she said. “Casey was between 80 and 90 pounds and Canyon is 101 pounds. It could have easily killed my son. It’s just a matter of time before something like this takes human lives.”
Canyon was released from the emergency room on Thursday night. But he is still dealing with the emotional after-effects of watching his dog die, often coming to tears when he thinks of Casey.
“It’s been traumatizing for him,” Theresa said. “It keeps going and going in his mind, and he contemplates if he could have done something different.”
Since the Journal broke the story on Thursday night, news about Casey’s demise and the controversy over the usage of M-44s has been reported by numerous national and international media outlets, including the Daily Mail in England. The Mansfields were also interviewed by Fox News.
Theresa said numerous people have reached out to the family, some even offering to give Canyon a new puppy. One man told the Mansfields that he had a dog, a collie, that was killed by a “cyanide bomb” when he was a boy.
“This man was in his 60s and it still stays with him,” Theresa said.
Casey was purchased by the Mansfield family about three years ago. Theresa said the hunting dog cost $8,000, with an additional $2,000 for training. However, it’s the loss of a close companion and family member that hurts the most.
“In our eyes, Casey was priceless,” Theresa said.
Theresa said her pastor told her that it was the “breath of God” that saved her son. That’s because if it wasn’t for the wind blowing in the opposite direction, Canyon might have perished from the cyanide, Theresa said. Miraculously, he only suffered minor injuries as a result of the detonation.
One well-known local resident, philanthropist Dr. Fahim Rahim, wrote in a detailed Facebook post published on Sunday that the USDA needs to officially and publicly apologize to the Mansfield family and the entire community for the placement of the M-44 devices in East Idaho.
“I am still seeing many of my patients who got exposed to “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam War and how they are suffering with so many chronic ailments because of the exposure to those agents that our government felt were safe,” Rahim wrote on Facebook. “What will be the long term consequences of this 14yrs old boy being exposed to cyanide gas? How will we ever be able to heal the mental and emotional scars of this tragedy from his life and this family?”
Rahim urged people to contact their legislators to make the use of M-44s illegal.
It’s currently legal for the USDA to use M-44s to control predator populations, but the legality of how the “cyanide bomb” that killed Casey was planted by an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service employee so close to a residential neighborhood is still being investigated by the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office.
R. Andre Bell, the spokesman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in a written statement on Friday that “the unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence” and that the agency “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.”
However, the Mansfields said they were never notified by the USDA that a predator-control device was being planted near their home. Canyon also said he did not see any signage indicating that an M-44 was in the area.
“I feel really violated,” Theresa said. “This was done by my government, in my own backyard. I don’t trust the government if they can do something like this.”