Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Pets, Pesticides and P'd-off

UPDATE: Well, I survived the HOA board meeting and I'm pleased to report that it was successful. I made my case. I managed to keep my cool. (I had decided that being calm, straightforward and solution-focused would probably net better results than letting my ire guide me down a less constructive path -- after all, it wasn't clear where the buck stopped on this particular issue.) I explained the consequences of the lack of notification/flagging on our dogs' health. The wincing when I described our puppy sneezing bloody mucous was pretty universal. 

The HOA board and landscape committee members who were present at the meeting not only heard my plea, but some of them also had dogs and were equally appalled at the lack of flagging. Others seemed less personally worried about it, but all were in agreement that what I was asking for was perfectly reasonable and should be done.

By the way, it's the subcontractor's fault. Of course, it's always easy to blame the subcontractor, but flagging was asked for as part of the plan. Apparently it was just not clear to the subcontractor (or possibly not adequately explained) what constitutes proper flagging. I volunteered to help them provide more specific guidance as to how many flags and where they should be placed. Nobody took me up on it, but a few people nodded. 

As for advance notification, I'm pretty sure the board thinks that it's every resident's job to check the website often, but they agreed that a more proactive form of advance notification would probably reach more people more effectively. They all agreed that posting notices on mailboxes 24-48 hours in advance of spraying should be the process from now on. I don't recall any actual resolution along those lines, but I'm going to believe them until I see the guys out spraying the lawns again.

I also managed to get in a plug for "Integrated Pest Management" with a focus on natural pest controls as an alternative to the automatic annual spraying of pesticides whether we actually have pest problems or not. I agreed to send a bunch of web links to the landscaping committee (which I did) and they promised to look into it. 

Now we wait to see if these promises are kept. But I did see a lot of nodding heads in the audience and among the board, so I think things will be done differently next time. 


It has taken me nearly three weeks to calm down enough to write this post. But we've been busy tending to two sick dogs who were sick because some ignoramus (or group of ignoramuses...still trying to figure that out) decided it was OK to spray all the grass in our neighborhood with pesticide chemicals and not bother to proactively notify the residents or even post flags noting that chemicals had been sprayed.

Who is ultimately responsible? Not yet sure. You see, the homeowners' association (HOA) board in our community has a landscaping committee that hired a landscape maintenance company to take care of all the community's landscaping including the grass and trees lining the streets as well as a few nice big grassy lawns where residents go with their children and dogs to play. That company subcontracted to another company who are "experts" in the application of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other things that end in "icide," which is basically Latin for "kills things."

One day recently, we took the dogs out for a walk and noticed when we came back that there was a strange metallic smell about them, which they had tracked into (and all over) our house. The dogs were licking their feet constantly and sneezing and reverse-sneezing. This was my first clue something had been done to our lawns. We washed the dogs' feet and I checked our community's Yahoo! group and saw nothing. I looked up our community website (which many residents don't even know exists). On it I saw a one-sentence notice that spraying was slated for that very day.

Weird, I thought. There were none of those little brightly colored flags stuck into the lawns anywhere around the areas where we took the dogs out to walk and do their business. There were no flags on the big lawn where our neighbors' 3-year-old grandchild had been playing all afternoon with his friend. Something was amiss, so I sent an email to ask if something had been sprayed, if so when and what. (You see, we and our neighbors have a "no spray" order around our houses because we actually like things like bees and frogs and salamanders and other visiters to our gardens.) Apparently those requests don't apply to anything that looks like grass, because I was informed that a moss killer and pesticide had been applied to all the grass that day. (The fact that the moss had turned brown by the next morning confirmed it.)

They sent me the materials safety data sheets. Of course, those are always scary things to look at, but these said that the chemicals they used are not to be touched, especially when wet, because skin irritation and damage to the mucous membranes could occur, as well as a host of other potential problems if the stuff is ingested. Ingested...like from a 3-year-old rubbing an eye or putting a finger in his mouth, like from a dog licking his feet or sniffing it up his big, sensitive dog nose... Yet, there was not a flag in sight.

I complained. Other neighbors complained.

The next morning two flags showed up at the far end of our multi-block street, right across the street from one another. Nothing else for the rest of the street for another couple of blocks on around the corner.  There was one there. The day AFTER. Nothing on the long swaths of lawn that run between the houses. Nothing on the larger lawns where dogs and children play. The grass still smelled like metal, as did our house. By that time, Day 2, our dogs both had constantly running noses and and the reverse sneezing had kept us up a good portion of the night.

The manager from the landscaping company came by the house. He talked to my husband, which was good, because I was livid and not feeling very diplomatic. I'm told he was a nice guy and seemed personally upset that there hadn't been sufficient flagging or notification to residents -- apparently he thought that was supposed to happen. But it didn't. Not sure whose fault that was. Buck officially passed.

The dog nose situation went from bad to worse. Remy, who was not yet 6 months old at the time, developed dark speckles all over his smooth brown nose, and there was a constant stream of snot coming out of him. Kirby's nose and eyes ran constantly. When Remy started sneezing out blood-tinged snot, we took him to the vet, who read the materials safety data sheets and said Remy's and Kirby's symptoms were consistent with exposure to the chemicals. The dogs showed no other signs of illness like a cold or kennel cough. We found out that neighbor dogs were also having issues.

I apprised the HOA board and landscaping committee, mentioned the health situation with dogs, mentioned the livid neighbors whose grandchild was exposed for a good part of the day, mentioned how the chemicals still smelled active when wet with morning dew (even several days later). I asked why there wasn't better notification in advance of the spraying and expressed that, at the very least, even if they can't afford to tell us in advance, they should flag areas that have been treated so people with children and dogs don't get exposed to the wet chemicals.

I got a somewhat terse and official-sounding note back suggesting that email wasn't a good way to get through to them and that I should show up at the next HOA board meeting and voice my complaints there. It kind of seemed like the "snarky email reply template."

I replied, nonetheless, wanting to put it in writing. I re-asserted my contention that it shouldn't be a matter of having to come to an HOA board meeting to request something that is so basic, such a matter of decency and common courtesy. Even if issues like "to spray or not to spray" and proper advance notification are debatable, there is absolutely no way to justify the spraying of toxic and irritating chemicals all around our homes without adequately flagging the areas that have been treated so that we can avoid them.

No reply. Apparently, as I was told, email is not a good way to get through to them.

The HOA board meeting is tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to it, but I haven't lost my head of steam over the issue. About the time Remy started seeming better, our Kirby became quite ill. He developed a secondary sinus infection (when his nose completely crusted over with green mucous we took him to the vet). He's on antibiotics and Benadryl and it's been nearly a week and he's still not entirely better. He can breathe a bit easier now (he was having a hard time breathing through his nose at all), but he still violently reverse-sneezes multiple times throughout the day and night and he seems to be suffering from some hearing loss as well. We are hoping that will clear up when the sinuses do.

All because the simple act of putting a little flag in the ground next to a treated area was either too costly or too bothersome or just not thought of at all. And whose decision (or negligence) was that? The HOA? The landscape committee? The landscape maintenance company? The pesticide sprayer they contracted with?

It's coming up on three weeks since the chemical application. The little blue flags that were sparsely put out the day after the application are still there. So if they never remove the flags, how will we know the next time the DO spray? Negligence x 2.

Needless to say, this isn't over. Once we get to the issue of common decency of letting people know when their neighborhood lawns have been sprayed, we get to the issue of whether to spray at all. In this particular case, one of the things they said they sprayed for was the crane fly, which isn't even a major pest in our area, causes little to no damage that lawns don't repair by themselves over a couple of weeks and for which there are numerous safer alternatives than pesticides. (By the way, the pesticides they use to kill crane flies also kills the crane fly's natural predators...so it can make matters worse over time.)

Yes, it's not enough that they sprayed without proper flagging, but also that they sprayed when they didn't have to. And, by the way, three weeks later the fresh green moss is coming up in between the stripes where they sprayed (as evidenced by the brown dead moss). Because they didn't actually remove any of the moss or replant any grass, all that spraying did absolutely no good.

And the icing on the cake is that we PAID for all this unnecessary chemical application with our HOA dues.

Think of the money the HOA would save if they didn't spray for bugs we don't have a problem with! It might even be enough to buy some of those little plastic flags to plant next time they spray our yards for some other pest.

PO'd and signing off for now. More to come...


Di and Barney said...

My heart goes out to you and your precious little boys. I stopped using chemicals in my lawns because of my concerns with how it affects the dogs and cats.
Hold them close and let your heart lead the way on how to deal with the responsible parties.

ScruffyDog said...

Thank you for your kind thoughts!

each day an adventure in alaska said...

hope the pups are doing well...i'd be totally annoyed too. just trolling blogs..betsy in alaska