AUSTIN, Texas - Claire Saccardi is heartbroken. "Dogs are like the best thing for people, for so many people they are their best friends, and she was that for me," Saccardi said.
Last Thursday, she took her 4-year-old English Cream Golden Retriever "Harper" to Red Bud Isle for a swim. Saccardi says back at home, after a bath, Harper collapsed and couldn't use her front legs.
She struggled to breath and passed away at the vet clinic.
Something caught her eye on Harper's paperwork: "suspect blue-green algae intoxication."
"Blue-green algae toxicity was something I had never heard of," she said.
Saccardi alerted the City of Austin over the weekend. The city sent a press release advising pet owners to not allow pets to swim or drink water from Lady Bird Lake.
City of Austin scientists say there are clumps of algae in the lake...a type that can release a neurotoxin. They say the algae is especially prevalent near Red Bud Isle, covering up to 40% of the water surface. The city says samples of the algae and water have been taken.
Toxicity results will be available early next week.
"She was so healthy. She was perfect. And then two hours later she died. So if it was that bad I wanted to have known," Saccardi said.
"I'm a pet-owner myself and it's certainly tragic when your pet dies right in front of your eyes from something like this," said Dr. Albert Gros, Chief Medical Officer at St. David's South Austin Medical Center. "It's actually a bacteria, they call it Cyanobacteria, 'Cyano' referring to the blue-green color it generates," he said.
Dr. Gros says the neurotoxin can poison the nervous system. Humans are at risk too. "Well they could have vomiting, headache, nausea and severe cases, With the animals, they have difficulty breathing, it paralyzes their respiratory muscles, and they have trouble walking," Gros said.
He says he's concerned about people paddle-boarding or kayaking.
"You can ingest the water, drink it, it can also be from touching your skin or your mucus membranes. So it's contact as well as ingestion," Gros said.
"For many people a dog is a family member so if it can kill your family member and it can affect you and your children then we need to know," Saccardi said.
Bottom line: Keep your pets AWAY FROM LADY BIRD LAKE.