Three dogs died last weekend after eating poisoned meatballs during a canine cross-country race in southern France, prompting an investigation by the local police.
On Sunday at about 6:30 a.m., the first contestants started to arrive for the second round of France’s national canicross championships, a 2.7-kilometer race in which people run, cycle or ride scooters alongside their dogs, competing for prizes such as dog food and medals.
Within minutes of arriving at the parking lot near where the race was to begin, one dog started vomiting and trembling, according to a veterinarian who was on the site. Then a second dog started exhibiting the same symptoms of poisoning. Then a third.
All three dogs were dead within 15 minutes.
“They were just suffocating with all the foam and everything,” said the veterinarian, Bérengère Poletti, who works for the Federation of Canine Sports and Leisure, the group that organized the championship in the town of Vauvert.
“I don’t know who did this, what are the reasons, but it’s just horrible,” she said.
The event’s organizers canceled the race and quickly found the source of the poison: More than 50 meatballs, each with dark seeds inside, had been scattered around the parking lot, on the side of the road and around the bushes close to where the race would have begun, Dr. Poletti said. A fourth dog, a husky named Togo, exhibited similar symptoms after sniffing the vomit of one of the other dogs, but was recovering after receiving treatment at a veterinary clinic in Montpellier, France.
The prosecutor’s office in Nîmes opened an investigation on Sunday. Dr. Poletti said there had not been any threats made to the dogs beforehand. The dogs that died were due to run alongside their owners as they cycled.
In France, the offense of abuse or cruelty toward a domestic animal carries a five-year prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros (about $79,000), said Cécile Gensac, the public prosecutor of Nîmes, in a statement on Monday.
Yvon Lasbleiz, president of the International Canicross Federation, said in a statement on Monday that the dogs that died, Oslo, Palma and Opale, two German Shorthaired Pointers and a Belgian Shepherd, had been sources of unconditional love for their owners. “This weekend a particularly heinous act hit our sport and our whole community during the French Championship,” he said.
The fourth dog is recovering well, Dr. Poletti said on Thursday. “This morning he started to look like a normal dog, a happy dog,” she said, and spoke of her tears of joy when she saw how much he had improved.
Dr. Poletti said that laboratory tests were being conducted on the meatballs to determine the type of poison that was used, but that the veterinarians on site had suspected slug repellent. The levels of toxicity in the meatballs were so high that the veterinarians were unlikely to have been able to save the dogs even at a clinic, she said.
In canicross, runners or cyclists wear belts or harnesses that are attached via a bungee cord to their dogs. The dogs also wear harnesses, allowing them to pull the runners or cyclists forward. Canicross athletes say the activity is a good way to stay fit and that it can lessen anxiety among dogs. Especially popular in continental Europe, canicross has gained popularity in recent years, particularly during the pandemic, said Calvin Mudd, the director and founder of Canicross UK, which runs canicross training sessions.
After the deadly incident over the weekend, condolences poured into France from other canicross groups. The canicross federation of Italy sent a letter of solidarity to the Federation of Canine Sports and Leisure. “It was an act of terror, and shocks all the people practicing dog sports and in general dog lovers all over the world,” a spokesperson for the Italian group said.