The mystery of the poisoning of six dogs in High Park took two new twists yesterday.
Police said one of the two dogs killed had snacked on bread drenched with suspicious liquid that was left on the ground.
And, in a claim regarded as implausible by some residents, police Det. Suzanne Pinto linked the dog attacks to "recent" discoveries in the park of a number of dead raccoons – including two that someone apparently arranged in poses after their deaths, one "with his paws in front of him, holding a bouquet of flowers."
"There is something obviously concerning and bizarre in the park," Pinto said.
Eight dogs have become sick on walks since June 16. Six, including the two that died, were likely poisoned by antifreeze, in most cases from contaminated bowls on the park’s "Dog Hill," Pinto said. Two others were not related to the antifreeze poisoning.
But the discovery of the suspicious bread – which had not yet been tested for antifreeze yesterday afternoon – in a forested area two or three metres off a path used by dog walkers has heightened concerns.
In a news conference on Dog Hill, Pinto made two statements that were later disputed by the chair of the High Park Community Advisory Council.
The officer said the poisonings were almost certainly related to the ongoing dispute between dog owners and other park users over the "off-leash" boundaries.
She said the presence of as many as a dozen dead raccoons in recent weeks suggests someone was testing the poison on wildlife first.
The two "posed" raccoons, however, were actually found in late 2007, said council chair Robin Sorys, while a raccoon discovered Monday was "badly decomposed."
Pinto also drew a connection between the poisonings and the long-running battle between dog owners, who want to preserve the off-leash Dog Hill and trails, and others who want to shrink those areas to better protect the park’s natural environment.
In late May, the High Park advisory council voted 11 to 8 in favour of shrinking Dog Hill and abbreviating off-leash trails. On June 4, however, city officials declined to take a position on the issue, asking council to create a working group to develop alternate solutions.
"Whenever you’ve got a heated issue and a number of people involved in it, the odds are there’s going to be one or two people who will take it a step further and go criminal," Pinto said.
Karen Yukich, chair of the park’s Natural Environment Committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But Sorys took exception, saying the police officer seemed to be implying "the good, law-abiding" people associated with the advisory committee were potential suspects in the poisonings.
"I have no idea what she’s basing that on," Sorys said, adding no park supporter would "do something so destructive."
Roy Siokalo, a dog owner out walking yesterday, agreed with Sorys, saying he doubted an off-leash opponent was responsible.
The bread, discovered yesterday afternoon, was drenched in a suspicious liquid that appeared to be antifreeze, Pinto said. The owner of the killed dog confirmed her pet had sampled it before becoming ill.
"She smelled this, and specifically went for it," Pinto said.
The park’s off-leash areas will stay closed until police are sure all traces of poison have been found and removed.
For dogs, Pinto said, High Park is not yet safe.