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‘It takes over their lives’: Calgary dog owners concerned over spread of foxtail grass

Click to play video: '‘It’s growing everywhere’: Growing concern from Calgary dog owners over foxtail grass' ‘It’s growing everywhere’: Growing concern from Calgary dog owners over foxtail grass
Foxtail grass can be found all around Calgary, but some southeast communities are dealing with an infestation. As Jessie Weisner reports, residents are taking mitigation and removal into their own hands. – Jul 14, 2021

Some southeast Calgary residents are battling to mitigate a plant that is harmful, and potentially fatal, to dogs.

Foxtail grass is categorized as a perennial weed in Alberta and has needle-like barbed seeds that can get caught in a dogs’ fur, paws, mouth and throat.

“They can get stuck in the dog’s feet — between their toes is really common, and then it can cause a local reaction and can lead to infection and… festering irritation that the dogs are trying to lick,” said Dr. Crystal Makwana with the Mahogany Veterinary Clinic.

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However, in some cases, the plant’s seeds can cause a more severe reaction.

“If the plant material starts what we call migrating, so if they’ve swallowed them, these tiny little needle-like, sharp little plant material can migrate through the tissues,” Makwana said.

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“So an extreme case would be if that were to go into the lungs or the heart — that’s when a dog could become like significantly ill.”

For Mahogany resident Dana Burrows, controlling and removing the plant is personal.

Her two-year-old Labradoodle Bella passed away in 2020 after a seed migrated and caused a stomach blockage.

Bella, a two-year-old labradoodle belonging to Dana Burrows, passed away in 2020 from ingesting a foxtail seed. July 14, 2021. Dana Burrows

She says many of her neighbors have gone through similar experiences, spending thousands of dollars to have the barbs removed from their dogs’ skin.

“We’ve all spent thousands of dollars. My dog wasn’t so lucky, but I’ve got two other dogs, and I’ve got a cat. We have to watch them every day out in my yard because it’s growing in my yard — it’s growing everywhere,” said Burrows.

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Burrows herself has spent more than $10,000 on surgery to remove barbs from her dogs, as well as clean-up, and converting her backyard to a safe space for her pets.

“The kids and I picked up 19 bags from the alley and then we used weed killer on the roots that we couldn’t get to. We sprayed and bought all that ourselves. I paid somebody to come and mow the front of our whole entire block with a bag, just so we can get rid of the foxtail.”

Mahogany residents are partnering together to remove the plants, which are sprouting all over the area.

“Pockets of neighbors are popping up and going out and cutting it down and bagging the weed on their own,” said Mahogany resident Evan Spencer.

“It’s a nuisance for me in my backyard, but for folks like Dana, it’s all-consuming, and it takes over their lives.”

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Burrows lives near a large undeveloped plot of land in Mahogany, which has become overrun with the foxtails.

Foxtail is not provincially designated as a noxious weed, so the City of Calgary is not required to mitigate it on private land.

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In an emailed statement, the City of Calgary said it only manages the weed through mowing in that are groomed parks, rather than with pesticides.

“Foxtail barley located in natural areas is not mowed as these designated spaces are kept intact in order to protect vegetation and wildlife,” the city said.

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The community of Mahogany is managed by Hopewell Residential. A statement from the company said “significant efforts have been undertaken to mitigate weed growth throughout vacant Mahogany lands.”

“In addition to our continued standard lot maintenance program, Hopewell has been working with a horticulturalist to safely spray and remove weeds throughout the community, as of this spring,” the association said.

The association said it has also been mowing unwanted vegetation to limit spread and prevent growth in large vacant areas in the community.

“While this is a city-wide issue, Hopewell is making every effort to ensure we mitigate future growth. This is an ongoing maintenance issue that may take several seasons to fully suppress the unwanted vegetation,” the association said.

Makwana says her clinic hasn’t seen any dogs with foxtail issues yet this season, but she expects them to come along with dry conditions typical in August.

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Dr. Crystal Makwana in the Mahogany Veterinary Clinic on July 14, 2021. Kevin Billo/Global News

Her advice to dog owners is to pay attention and avoid the plants.

“After going for a walk, having a feel of your dog, clear away any little plant material that might be stuck on there.”

“If your dog is off-leash in an area where there are foxtails, it’s best to have them on leash. And when you see them, just making sure that you’ve got control of them where they’re not going to be sniffing or potentially chewing on some of the foxtails,” she said.

For Burrows and other residents, they hope the conversation around foxtail mitigation is a highlighted in the upcoming municipal election.

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