The hot, dry conditions in Lethbridge so far this summer have made a familiar pest even more of a nightmare for dog owners in the city.
Foxtail grass — a plant that can be particularly harmful for pets — has been thriving so far this year, leaving many residents calling in complaints to the City of Lethbridge.
The city’s director of community services Mike Fox said staff are aware of the issue, but the weed is moving more quickly than crews can keep up with.
“With the dry weather we’ve had, it’s actually been able to outgrow the grass,” Fox said.
“We’re seeing it develop faster, and sometimes it’s on places where we snip but deal with in a different timely matter — set on the prioritization within our city — so it gets the chance to develop more, and we’ve been missing a little bit of it.”
City council recently cut the parks budget by about half-a-million dollars a year. But earlier this week, Coun. Blaine Hyggen brought forward a motion that was passed to top up the budget with an additional $100,000 for the remainder of 2021.
Hyggen said complaints about foxtail grass were at the top of the list for frustrated residents. His motion was passed by council.
Fox said the city has already received more weed complaints at this point in 2021 than it did over the entire calendar year of 2020, many of those about foxtail grass.
The weed isn’t noxious but it can be particularly harmful to dogs, often leaving owners with hefty vet bills.
“The tip of the seed actually is kind of pointy, and all the little hairs that come off of the seed point in one direction,” said Radiance Dyck, a registered veterinary technician at Coulee Veterinary Clinic.
“So once it punctures the skin or gets into one of the orifices it keeps going further in, and doesn’t easily reverse back out.”
The result can be wounds that leave dogs in pain, but Dyck cautions owners about trying to remove foxtails themselves.
“You run the risk of breaking part of it off and leaving that part underneath the skin, and that will keep burrowing in deeper and cause that infection,” she said.
“Usually what we recommend is bringing the pet in, having them sedated, and then we do kind of an exploratory procedure where we flush everything out.”
Coughing, hacking, sneezing and chewing on paws are common symptoms. Dyck said at this time of year, the clinic gets calls on nearly a daily basis.
“You can do all the right things — you can clip them out of your yard and walk just on the sidewalk and not go into grassy areas — but the wind here blows foxtails in from everywhere,” Dyck said.
Fox said the city has been in talks with developers about keeping the weed under control on private land and he hopes residents will do the same, even if they don’t have pets of their own.
A petition has been started online urging the city to take further action. It has already received more than 600 signatures.