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DNR caution
The Department of Natural Resources cautions anyone using reservoirs or lakes for recreation to be aware of blue-green algae, which can cause skin and eye irritations, nausea, stomach aches and tingling fingers and toes.
Boaters, swimmers and dog owners should:
•Avoid ingesting lake water
•Avoid contact with algae blooms, which generally appear as a scum on the water surface
•Shower with soapy water after swimming
•Bring clean water for your dog to drink on hikes or other outings
•Keep dogs close and on a leash
•Bathe your dog with soapy water as soon as possible after a swim
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Dave King, shown filling up his pontoon Friday at Salamonie Reservoir, wasn’t as concerned with the blue-green algae as he was with low water levels. The reservoir is down by 14 feet.

State warns of toxic algae after lake trip dooms dogs

They brought the four dogs back from the Salamonie Reservoir in the early evening, hosed them down outside the house to get the dirty water off and then gave them their dinner.

And that’s when the trouble started.

Dakota, the 6-year-old German shorthaired pointer, didn’t eat at first, which wasn’t terribly unusual. But she was lethargic, and within minutes of devouring their food, so were the three others.

“Well, we thought maybe they got too hot,” said Marge Young, who along with her husband had taken the dogs to swim in the reservoir on Sunday. “We just left them alone to let them rest. We didn’t think too much about it.”

Within hours all the dogs were vomiting.

By the morning, Dakota was dead. Ellie, a 4-year-old black Labrador mix, died the next night. The Wabash couple whisked the other dogs – by then suffering from severe liver problems – to the vet.

The likely culprit for the dogs’ ills: blue-green algae.

The plight of Marge and Larry Young’s dogs – along with one belonging to their daughter – has sparked the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to issue extra warnings about the potentially toxic algae.

Known to cause rashes, skin and eye irritations as well as nausea, stomachaches and tingling in the fingers and toes, there are possibly high levels of the algae – also known as cyanobacteria – at many Indiana lakes and reservoirs, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Currently, the Department of Natural Resources lists warnings on its website about high levels of the algae at six state parks, including Chain O’ Lakes and the Salamonie Reservoir.

“It started showing up in 2001,” said Ginger Murphy, the assistant director of stewardship for Indiana state parks and reservoirs. “We only started seeing issues or having concerns about it in the last couple of years.”

It’s hard to spot, and testing for it can be somewhat difficult, Murphy said.

It can appear greener than normal algae, Murphy said, and can show up as scum on top of the water or sit below the water.

According to IDEM, it can be blue, green, reddish purple or brown.

When conditions are right, the algae multiplies quickly and can rise to the surface in the form of mats, according to IDEM.

Some algae, though, may stay suspended under the water’s surface, and sometimes microscopic cells of the algae don’t appear at all.

And while tests may reveal high levels of it in some parts of a lake, tests in other parts of that same lake may not pick up any signs of the algae.

This can change constantly, Murphy said, with one area being high in algae levels one day and low the next.

Plus, blooms of algae don’t always produce the toxins that can make people or pets sick, Murphy said.

The algae can be fueled by summer heat, sunlight and fertilizer runoff from lawns and farms, the DNR said. Drought and low water levels in lakes and reservoirs can increase the quantity of the algae or its toxins.

“It does not always cause a problem,” Murphy said. “You don’t always know what is going to pop up or when.”

While the DNR had some warning signs and notices posted at the entrance gate of Salamonie on Sunday, the Youngs entered from a different area, unaware of the possible danger.

“There were no signs at all,” Marge Young said. “There are a lot of entrances to that reservoir.”

The Youngs also did not see – if there were any – physical signs of the algae before allowing the dogs to play in the water.

Murphy said the Youngs allowed the dogs to play in a cove that is not a typical recreation area where people swim or get in the water. It was also a part of the reservoir that had not been tested for blue-green algae.

But the DNR has since put signs – redesigned with larger lettering – in that area plus other remote areas in case visitors come in through somewhere other than the main entrance.

Despite the possible high levels of the algae, swimmers are not barred from the water.

“People have to make their own decisions to go in the water or not,” Murphy said.

As news of the Youngs’ dogs spread, the DNR began updating its websites for state parks.

Friday, a high blue-green algae level was listed for Chain O’ Lakes, and early that evening the department released a statement asking all Hoosiers to be cautious of the algae no matter where they are swimming.

For Marge Young, a longtime animal lover who gets many of her dogs from rescue shelters, losing a pet is always difficult. Usually, though, she has to put them to sleep humanely.

How she and her husband lost the two dogs after Salamonie was especially difficult.

“This is new to us,” she said, adding that she knew next to nothing about blue-green algae until her visit to the vet. “It’s a hard lesson to learn.”

She’s disappointed her dogs died, but she’s not angry. She’s hoping the other dogs will recover.

They’re currently taking medication to combat their liver problems, and the Youngs are hopeful they’ll pull through.

But she wants others to know about Dakota and Ellie.

And like her, to learn and be prepared.

“I hope it proves positive that someone else can save their animals,” Marge Young said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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