TARGET 8: Dog owners worried about local ponds quality standards

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COLUMBIA - An investigation by KOMU 8 News has revealed information about the water quality at local dog parks, provided by Columbia Parks and Recreation, was not entirely accurate.

The owner of an 8-month old pit bull/Lab mix named Thelma blames the lake water at the Twin Lakes Recreation Area's dog park for making her pet severely ill.

KOMU 8 News first covered this story last fall, after many dog owners expressed concern about water quality.We talked with Columbia Parks and Recreation, which said the health department tests the water monthly, and the results always come back clean.

After the story aired, we made some calls and later found out that information was incorrect. At the Twin Lakes Recreation Area, the large boating area where dogs play is tested, but only once a month during the summer. The other water areas in Columbia's dog parks aren't tested at all.

Just a month ago, KOMU 8 News received Thelma's story. Her owner said she takes Thelma to the dog park everyday, and one of her favorite things to do, besides find leftover tennis balls, is playing in the water.About a month ago, Thelma became ill and spent 24 hours with diarrhea and vomiting.

Her owner took her to the vet, and Thelma was diagnosed with overgrowth of bacteria.

Veterinarian Melissa Boldan said, "Dogs, their GI track is so susceptible to having these shifts."

She took care of Thelma that day, and said her type of bacteria usually comes from stress, poor dieting, or a ground water source. Boldan put Thelma on an antibiotic and pro biotic to fix her digestive problems, but said most of the issues stem from dogs drinking the water while they're playing in it.

"If a your dog drinks out of a water source, similar to you and I, there's bacteria in there that their gut's not use to," Boldan said.

The Boone County/Columbia Public Health Department tests the boating area water for E. coli June through August, and in 2014, the test results didn't show high counts of the bacteria.

KOMU 8 News had the water tested by the MU extension Soil and Plant Testing Lab to find out if the water is hazardous to animals. The water testing analysis did not account for bacteria, but tested for other contaminants that could make animals sick.

The test results we received showed the water has a moderately alkaline pH level of 7.77. According to MU extension, a pH level over 7.0 leaves the neutral phase and could cause digestive and psychological upsets in animals when ingested.

When KOMU 8 News called and spoke with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources water-testing department, an employee said, if there are animals using the bathroom near the water, it would always be contaminated.

When told about our research, and the new cases of dogs diagnosed with bacterial infections, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said the department does not test the water all year long, but will post a sign if there are high counts of fecal chloroform within the water.

"The problem with the dog park is you have a lot of dogs concentrated in an area, and those dogs are going to the bathroom, and therefore, even if the owner picks it up, there's still trace amounts left," Griggs said. "Then when it rains, all of that goes into the lake. My advice would be never let your dog go swimming right after a heavy rain."

As for adding some type of filtration to clean the water, Parks and Recreation said it can't be done.

"There's nothing you can do," Griggs said. "We can treat for all that, but the chemicals we would use to treat the water are just as dangerous and poisonous to all the animals in the water, including humans and their dogs. The problem with that is we don't want your dog drinking water that's been treated with chlorine or any other chemicals that kill bacteria."

Griggs said letting nature take its course is the best thing to do with high fecal counts.

"For everyone that wants us to treat the water, there's probably ten more that would die if we treated the water. We just don't need more chemicals out there. So it's kind of a tough thing for us to do," Griggs said.

The veterinarian Boldan said, besides putting your pet on a regular pro biotic or keeping them out of the water, there's one thing to do.

"Bring plenty of water with you and bring them a bowl, especially on the hot days when they're really running, chasing their friends, and having a good time, so they can stay hydrated and you reduce the risk of this," Boldan said.