Las Vegas Sun

January 29, 2023

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For years, someone has been poisoning dogs in this Las Vegas neighborhood

Dog Poisoning

Steve Marcus

Teri and Sean Cornwall pose with Mara Jade, left, and Chewy, two of their four Shih Tzu, at their home Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. The couple want to find the person responsible for poisoning dogs in the Lakes area of Las Vegas.

Dog Poisoning Mystery

A plaque in memory of Leila is shown in the backyard of the Cornwall home Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Leila was poisoned and died in 2019. The Cornwalls want to find the person responsible for poisoning dogs in the Lakes area of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

For Sean Cornwall, March 28, 2019, is a date he will always remember.

Cornwall had just let his three Shih Tzus — Chewy, Luke and Leia — in from the yard, when about one hour later all three started convulsing. He and his wife rushed the dogs to the nearest animal hospital, and the veterinarian initially thought it was THC poisoning.

The only problem with that, Cornwall said, is that neither he nor his wife keeps products containing THC — the active chemical in marijuana products — in the house. And the seizures persisted.

“They were all having seizures simultaneously,” Cornwall said. “(The vet) pumped their stomachs and gave them charcoal.”

Chewy and Luke eventually made a full recovery. But the vet couldn’t stabilize Leia, as she suffered through about 11 hours of seizures until her brain began hemorrhaging. It was eventually decided that Leia, weeks away from turning 3, needed to be euthanized.

“She was the puppy of our other two,” Cornwall said. “We brought her into the world, we were there when she was born. We don’t have kids, so these are our kids, essentially.”

Cornwall had the contents of Leia’s stomach sent to a specialized lab in California. He learned that his dogs had ingested meatballs laced with strychnine sorghum seeds, a strong pesticide used to kill rats, moles and gophers.

Cornwall also learned that several of his neighbors in his master-planned community, known as The Lakes, also had dogs sickened by these mysterious meatballs.

“My wife and I have gone door-to-door warning people, everyone who we know that has dogs,” he said. “I have a stack of fliers in my truck.”

By Cornwall’s own estimates, 15 neighborhood dogs have been poisoned through similar means dating as far back as 2014. The most recent attack came this Halloween when Cornwall’s next-door neighbor, Sandra Eells, had to take her 4-month-old Belgian Malinois puppy to an emergency vet for strychnine poisoning after she began experiencing seizures.

”I was very afraid and I thought that by now we were safe to have a dog,” Eells said. “After three years and I didn’t hear anything else, I thought it was safe to have a dog.”

Metro Police has been out to the neighborhood several times, and the matter is under investigation by Summerlin Area Command, the department said in a statement to the Sun.

“At this time there are no investigative updates, however it is a priority,” the statement said.

Cornwall has asked Metro to install cameras on the street neighboring his backyard, where he said five other neighbors have, but was told last week that the department doesn’t have the resources to make that possible.

Metro spokesman Larry Hadfield told KLAS-TV, Channel 8 that the department “must look at the totality of the circumstances and the effectiveness of putting up surveillance equipment in a specific area.”

“We must also consider the other crimes that are occurring elsewhere in the community and only have a certain amount of taxpayer-funded equipment at our disposal,” Hadfield said. “As always, citizens, HOAs and business all around the valley have the option to install their own surveillance equipment on their properties or common areas to monitor and deter criminal activity.”

Foster Realty, which manages the homeowners association at The Lakes, did not provide comment in time for this story’s publication.

Click to enlarge photo

A view of poisoned meat found in a backyard in the Lakes area of Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Sean Cornwall)

Cornwall has fundraised $3,000 and is offering $2,000 of his own money for any tips leading to an arrest in the case. That’s on top of the $5,000 being offered by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), combining for a $10,000 reward.

Cornwall has also started a GoFundMe to fundraise for more tools to work with animal rights advocates to catch the perpetrator.

“I hate to use the word kill zone, but that’s basically what it is,” Cornwall said. “If you’re in that area and you have a dog, you have to constantly be checking your yard.”

Eells, Cornwall and other neighbors said that even putting up security cameras hasn’t worked. Cornwall has installed 30 cameras facing his front and back yards.

“He’s done it from the front of people’s yards over their gates, and the back, too,” Cornwall said. “And he’s smart. He looks for cameras and when he sees them, he’ll try different approaches.”

Connie Robertson-Butler’s German shepherd was the first reported poisoning back in 2014, and was targeted again in 2018. She said even though her dog made a full recovery, she always accompanies her dogs outside just in case another poisoned meatball gets thrown into her yard.

“I don’t know if the person might come by while they’re outside and I’m inside,” Robertson-Butler said. “He’s bold.”

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman, whose district includes The Lakes, said that since she’s been made aware of the most recent string of poisoning attempts, her office has been in communication with Metro to step up enforcement.

“This is a situation I take very seriously,” Seaman said. “My biggest concern, besides dog, is small children or toddlers in the backyard that can pick up whatever it is they’re throwing and get ahold of this.”

Cornwall said some in the neighborhood have considered moving. And even though anxiety and vet bills have been mounting for some, others have said they’re not going to be intimidated.

They just hope that the culprit doesn’t escalate the attacks to people.

“I would think they either have a behavior disorder or some kind of up-and-coming psychopath,” Cornwall said. “It’s the step leading up to being a serial killer, before they start killing humans. So either this guy is just a complete coward and this is what he’s happy with, or he’s working his way up for the next step.”