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Trouble Brewing in Buffalo NY (Another shot to the industry)


LawnSite Member
Buffalo NY
This article is making headlines in Buffalo ~ Newspaper and TV. Unfortunately I think this is being motivated by environmentalists that are upset that the neighbor notification law was not passed this year. This supposedly happened in April, Why is hitting the media now in OCTOBER?? I think it is the beginning of another movement to pass the notification laws. How much more can this state possibly put on the backs of small business owners? Notice the emphasis in the article about the attachment to the dog and not the responsibility of the owners. We send out warnings on labels, we post signs, we leave notifications at the door and people still don't take the time to either read the literature or respect the signs. The one thing I don't agree with is the fact that the company says stay off lawn 2-4 hours. I recommended staying off lawn until 1/2" of rain waters product in.

Did lawn do dog in?

1 pet dies, 2 sick after chemical use

News Staff Reporter

Whenever Zachary, 7, and Cameron Ellis, 5, latch onto a balloon outside, they kiss it, release it into the sky and say, "This is for you, Diamond."
Diamond, their beloved 71/2-year-old Doberman, died April 26, after a night of vomiting and lethargy, before her owners could get her to the veterinarian.

Diamond's death came less than 24 hours after a lawn treatment company applied a granular fertilizer to the Ellises' Candlestick Court lawn in Lancaster.

Two doors away, following a similar application on the morning of April 25, Missy, a miniature schnauzer, was treated for what her veterinarian thought was rat poisoning. Missy has been in and out of the hospital with a condition that prevents her body from producing enough red blood cells.

Elsewhere on Candlestick Court, an upscale subdivision in Lancaster, a black Labrador named C.J. became sick that same afternoon, and her vomiting and diarrhea lasted for about two days.

Three dogs became sick on the same cul-de-sac, with similar symptoms, following the same type of treatment on the same day from LushLawn Inc.

Two of the three families - Lisa and Todd Ellis, who owned Diamond, and Dianne Michlinski, Missy's owner - have used LushLawn for years, with no ill effects.

They're convinced the company must have used a bad batch of chemicals or applied them improperly to cause those problems on the same day.

"We've used LushLawn for years and recommended them to other people," Todd Ellis said. "I personally think it was an inexperienced employee and/or an improper application."

The incident has shaken these families' confidence in the product.

"They don't tell you what could happen," Michlinski said. "They don't say your dog or child could die if they went out on the grass. If they did, nobody would take that kind of chance."

Lisa Ellis, still mourning the loss of Diamond, added, "I'd like a simple "Yes, it was our fault.' "

Veterinarian's findings

One veterinarian has suggested that Diamond's death resulted from excessive levels of potassium and phosphorous, apparently from ingestion of a granular substance.

Donald R. Potenza, president of the 24-year-old company, declined to comment on the three dogs, pending further investigation.

But the top lawn care official in the state quickly came to LushLawn's defense.

"That granulized fertilizer treatment is used on tens of thousands of lawns in the Buffalo area," said Donald W. Burton, president of the New York State Lawn Care Association. "It's a bit bewildering to us that the relatively benign ingredients phosphorous and potassium would be of such concentration to cause a dog's death.

"It seems extremely unlikely to me," Burton added, noting that potassium and phosphorous also are key ingredients in retail fertilizers used by millions of homeowners.

Whatever happened, a once-healthy Doberman is dead, a schnauzer remains seriously ill five months later, and a black Lab was sick for a few days.

Like many couples, the Ellises had a special sentimental bond with Diamond: She was the first thing they bought with their wedding money.

As they were driving home with their new dog, the newlyweds noticed the dog kept chomping on Lisa Ellis' diamond ring. Thus the name Diamond.

"She was like my first child," Lisa Ellis said.

Diamond had a special sleeping spot, on the Ellises' bed - with her own pillow. In later years, the 80-pound dog became the protector for the couple's three children.

That's why it's so hard for the Ellises to talk about their loss.

Diamond was a house dog, who made only quick trips outside to do her business. For seven years, Diamond had had no problems with the lawn treatments.

Dog stricken that night

On April 25, the LushLawn worker came to the house shortly before 10 a.m. Todd Ellis, who was home, noticed that the employee seemed to be a newer one.

That evening, Diamond started to act a little lethargic and began throwing up grass. She kept throwing up throughout the night and started making sounds like Chewbacca from "Star Wars," the couple said.

The next morning, Todd Ellis planned to take her to the veterinarian. He had to carry her down to the laundry room, where he allowed the boys to give her a hug and a kiss before they left for school. Ellis went upstairs to get dressed shortly before 8:30 a.m.

"When I came downstairs, she had latched onto a big piece of blanket, kind of like a last act," he said. "I knew she was dead. She wasn't breathing anymore."

Only after comparing notes with Michlinski, their neighbor and Lisa Ellis' employer, did the Ellises learn that Missy had been throwing up that morning, too.

The Ellises took their dog's body to a veterinarian's office, which emptied her stomach. The vet called back and asked whether someone had poisoned the dog.

"They found holes in her intestine, holes in her stomach and a significant quantity of granular pellets from the lawn treatment," Todd Ellis said.

The stomach contents were sent to the Cornell Diagnostic Laboratory, which found high levels of phosphorous and potassium, "which could indicate a fertilizer-type product, but [which] is not conclusive," the report said.

The veterinarian then issued what's called a "presumptive diagnosis," that Diamond's death apparently resulted from an ingestion of a granular substance containing high levels of potassium and phosphorous.

Chemicals carry warning

Meanwhile, on the morning following the lawn treatments, Missy, the 5-year-old purebred miniature schnauzer, had become lethargic, was vomiting and couldn't stand up. The veterinarian asked whether she had eaten rat poison.

LushLawn's literature recommends that children and pets stay off the lawn for two to four hours. So Missy, a constant companion who goes to work with Michlinski and even has her own bed there, would not have been on her lawn during the four-hour period.

"That means they did something wrong," Michlinski claimed.

Since April 26, Missy has been given several blood transfusions, been treated with chemotherapy and steroids and diagnosed with "red blood cell aplasia." Her veterinarian says she's likely to be on lifelong medication.

"This has been a nightmare," Michlinski said.

Of the three Candlestick Court dogs that got sick, C.J., the 65-pound black Lab, was the only one whose family didn't have the lawn treatment.

"My dog was on a leash outside in the back yard, and she doesn't go in anyone else's yard," said the dog's owner, Janelle Sierk. "It definitely blew over from my next-door neighbor's yard."

Late last year, a missed deadline in the Erie County Legislature during the budget crisis left the county with a yearlong gap for 2005 in its Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law. That means there's no law requiring prior notification about such lawn treatments.

That gap seems to have had little effect on Diamond's death or Missy's ailments. Both families were LushLawn customers.

While LushLawn officials wouldn't comment, the company has been in business almost a quarter century, and it does between 40,000 and 50,000 treatments each year.

"LushLawn has had a very good record," said Burton, the lawn-care association president. "We have had very few calls of concerns about their service."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com


LawnSite Bronze Member
Lancaster, PA
I'm usually the last to call b.s. on dog issues, but how much fert did the dog ingest? Did the same granular fert magically blow over into neighbors yards?


LawnSite Senior Member
By saying " a significant amount" of fertilizer it gives me pause to think how a large dog consumed enough GRANDULAR fertilizer to kill itself. It would have to have been in a clump OR someone fed that dog the fertilizer and are looking to cash in which is sick and cruel but not beyond human nature.


LawnSite Senior Member
agreed. Sad story, but granular blowing over to the neighbor's yard? Was there a tornado there during application. Did the Dobie eat half the lawn? Or is it more likely that someone has an open bag of fert in their garage and these house dogs that never ever leave the yard were over in someone's open garage ripping things apart and eating anything that looked like food? How many times have you seen dogs on the loose while out working? How many times have you encountered a sweet, wouldn't hurt a fly, loves people dog baring his teeth and acting like a rabid hyena? The fact is, people do not know what their dogs do or how they behave when they are left alone, but they sure believe they do. Is there other possibilities here? Probably more than we can imagine, but more hysteria generated by media and the uninformed practicing crap science.


LawnSite Bronze Member
Actually I think you are all missing something here.

What did the company use on the lawns? What was the rate of application?

The wind blowing would be easy to determine just check the weather reports.

I raised and trained Dobermans for years and can tell you one thing for sure. They will eat anything. So it is not out of the ordinary to think that the dog had an upset stomach to begin with and ate grass to settle it down. That is why dogs eat grass. Then depending on the type of grass it could have collected in clumps. Another issue is tat if fertilizer gets into the dogs paws they will lick it out as it will burn them.

The other interesting thing is that the smaller dog surrvived. Smaller dogs generally are more prone to contracting an illiness resulting from the stomach than are larger dogs.

The black lab may have already had helath problem and breathing in the chemical may have pushed it along. Or it may have had a heart problem. However, I would discount this dog as it was not directly in the yard unless there was over spreading onto the other property.

At any rate I tell all customers to check thier pests paws when the bring them in and to keep them in view while they are in the lawn for just these reasons.


LawnSite Gold Member
This story is fishy. I think this story is made up. You are talking about a substance that is less toxic than table salt, if it was just fertiilizer. Also how does a dog consume any substantial amount after it is spread on the lawn, even two or three times the recommended rate.


LawnSite Platinum Member
I am tempted to e-mail the reporter and suggest they find another line of work. This story is an example of exactly what people mean when they say that there is a bias in journalism. There is speculation presented as fact and there are inaccuracies in the facts that are presented. The "victims" are presented in a sympathetic light, while the respondents, ostensibly included in the article to show some balance, are cast in a defensive, bad guy stance.

If you look at this situation as a lawn care professional, knowing what you know about our industry and profession, and see that, absent some wildly negligent act on the part of the applicator, this could not possibly be the fault of the lawn care company, and extrapolate that to everything else that they write about then you can see why newspaper circulations and television newscast ratings are falling.

They lie. We are on to them. And we will not give them our business or support.


LawnSite Silver Member
Ontario, Canada
Farmers fertilizer pasture fields while cattle, sheep, goats etc are in there all the time. And these animals eat grass to survive, why would they not get sick and die? It's always amazing how you never get to hear the final outcome of stories like this. Can anyone find a followup to this story? Were the results ever proven or disproven?


LawnSite Member
I personally think that we are not hearing the whole story. Example:A number of years ago I read where a guy that golfed alot was suing the golf course he played at alot for he claimed that the ferts they were using was making him real sick. He or his lawyers were claiming that the ferts and pesticides were coming throuhgh his cleats into his body. As everything started coming out it was found that what was really going on is this man after making a putt and finishing the hole would take the golf ball and place it into his mouth thus washing it and by doing so taking in ferts, pesticides, herbicides, and any fungicides. Case was closed.