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As temps rise, poisonous lake algae threatens to kill more dogs in Minnesota

Gus didn't have a dog at home in St. Peter, but on those summer days at his grandparents' cabin, he considered Layla as his.

Gus didn't have a dog at home in St. Peter, but on those summer days at his grandparents' cabin, he considered Layla as his.

Each summer, Jack and Terry Lundbohm welcome their grandson to their cabin on Lake of the Woods. The land of sky blue waters is a welcome change for the youngster, who lives further south in the pastures of St. Peter. Where else can a pet-less tyke spend endless hours by the lake, chucking a tennis ball for grandma and grandpa's dog? 

On a thick August day last year, Gus and his grandparents' dog Layla were doing just that. Of the five dogs Jack and Terry have owned over the past 35 years, Layla was by far the biggest water hound of the bunch.

"Some dogs take off and they're off running in the woods," Terry tells City Pages. "When we'd be up at the cabin and Layla was somewhere we couldn't see her, we could always find her in the water."

Layla was in the water for two hours solid late last summer, retrieving the ball for Gus, who agreeably tossed it again and again. The fun ended when Gus was brought inside the cabin for a rinse. The waterlogged dog, meanwhile, was left to air dry outside. 

Not more than 45 minutes later, Layla was dead.

"She was stiff as a statue with two legs pointed straight up," says Terry. "There was no warning. One moment she was fine then — "

Layla makes 18. That's the number of dogs in the state that have died from suspected blue-green algae poisoning during the past 10-plus years, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

 

A warming planet is turning crystal lakes into petrie dishes for poison scum. Fertile waters afford a longer and longer growing season for blue-green algae. Larger blooms feed off nitrogen and phosphorus, the runoff from animal feedlots and lawn fertilizer. More fuel under more agreeable growing conditions means greater potential for blue-green algae, which can sometimes be toxic.

Lakes in southern Minnesota have been prone to the toxic slime problem for years, due largely to cropland runoff. But climate change is pushing the poison's reach farther north. Currently, scientists say there's no way to stop its bloom.  

The Lundbohms have their own answers to the problem. Their new dog Spot's a water hound just as much as Layla was. But unlike his predecessor, Spot isn't enjoying carte blanche access to the lake.

 

"We hose him off every time he comes out of the water," says Terry. "We don't allow him to drink the lake water. When it comes later in the summer and the water's gotten warmer, Spot won't be swimming."