“A nightmare” is how a resident of Avondale describes his experience since moving to that community two years ago.
Steve Wheeler worked in British Columbia for 10 years, putting some money away and making a plan to move home.
“I was up there busting my ass so we could come back here and get a little shack,” he says.
He and his girlfriend, Sheena Chaytor, moved back with their dog, Lady, and found themselves a place in Avondale with a bit of land, access to the ocean and just a few neighbours.
One month later, their dog was poisoned.
Wheeler says they were having dinner with his family. Lady was an older dog by this time and was off the leash. She went under a boat on an area bypass and emerged chewing on what appeared to be a bone. An hour later, Lady fell over and went into convulsions.
She had a seizure and was throwing up with discharge coming from her eyes and nose.
“The vet said she had been exposed to slug bait,” says Wheeler.
Almost a year to the date of the first incident, Wheeler and Chaytor were walking their dogs on leashes. By this time, they had gotten two other lab mix puppies. They had taken them down to the ocean near their home for some exercise. They were coming back up again onto the area bypass near their home with the dogs on leashes when Lady pulled toward what looked like some macaroni salad.
“She got one chomp of it. We drag her back into the house, cleaned her up the best we could and, sure enough, 45 minutes later it all happened again. The exact same nightmare,” says Wheeler.
Lady spent two days in a veterinary hospital in Bay Roberts. A toxicology report showed a lot of toxins in her system. Lady survived, but the vet had a chilling message for Wheeler about the effect these incidents would have on his dog.
“These things will catch up to her,” Wheeler says the vet told him.
Perhaps the scariest incident was yet to come.
Lady passed away in February. She was old, says Wheeler, and had a tumor. They decided to have her put down, but she died that morning at home from her illness. If her life was cut short by the poisonings, the couple will never know for sure.
“If we wanted to pursue it to the point where we could actually do a full toxicology screening and have things presented to the RCMP and everything — that was going to cost us thousands of dollars,” Wheeler says.
With less than a month behind them since the death of their dog, Wheeler was walking his two puppies on leash and again walked out onto the municipal bypass near his home. One of the puppies snatched something up.
“She had it in her mouth,” he says. “At that point I just jumped down, ripped her mouth open and it fell out.”
He rushed home with his dogs, put them safely inside and went back down to the road. What the pup had tried to eat was one of two sausages laid in the road stuffed with three pronged fishhooks.
Wheeler says he’s been in touch with the police. There are about 10 people living on their one- kilometre road. He says more than half of them have dogs of their own.
There is one neighbour they’ve had some issues with from the first day they moved into their home in the country. Somebody has reported them to the police several times in the two years they’ve been there. The RCMP showed up once, he says, stating somebody complained their dogs had chased them, even though his dogs were on the leash at the time.
Now Wheeler says he never ties his dogs on outside. He has a kennel he puts them in if they have to go out and he and his girlfriend have to be so vigilant on walks that neither of them will walk the dogs alone.
“We can’t even go one person with the two dogs anymore,” he says. “The more eyes the better.”
Wheeler says he’s at a loss about what to do. He has his suspicions about who it is, but has no way to prove it. The RCMP did confirm it is still an active investigation.
Wheeler says if his dogs managed to get out now off leash by mistake, he would panic.
“The automatic fear is my dogs are going to die.”
Some people have said to him that whoever is doing it has an issue with his dogs, but he doesn’t think it’s as simple as that.
“It’s not about dogs,” he says. “It’s premeditated and it’s sick.”
Somebody who simply doesn’t like dogs wouldn’t do these things to somebody’s family, he says.
When asked if he’s thought about leaving, Wheeler pauses.
“It’s everything I’ve worked for,” he says. “We should have the right to be able to enjoy our family and enjoy the land that we’ve purchased here.”
He says they didn’t speak to the media before because they don’t want the attention. It’s a solution they’re after.
But after the incident with the fishhooks, he says they felt like they had no choice but to do something else.