Was It Rat Bait? Or Anti-Freeze?

Paul Bass PhotoInstead of scampering freely through the yards of West Rock Avenue, this squirrel ended up in a freezer. He wasn’t the first.

Something’s killing critters in lower Westville. The city’s health department isn’t sure quite what.

Two initial suspects: d-CON baits or antifreeze put in a neighbor’s lawn to ward off animals.

But those are just working theories.

Word of mysterious bloodless animal deaths started spreading through the neighborhood three weeks ago.

Mary Hadley came across three separate morning doves lying dead on sidewalks within a block of her Burton Street home.

Then a grackle turned up on a walkway on the side of her house.

“None of the feathers looked messed with,” Hadley recalled. “The bird looked perfectly fine. Except it was dead.”

Hadley considered putting the bird in her freezer and calling the city’s health department. Instead, she left it on the sidewalk—where other animals apparently dined on the carcass. She wishes she had gone with her first instinct.

Around the corner, on Central Avenue, Sarah Forman did call the city when intact dead squirrels started appearing on her property. She found six within a week.

The city’s health department took two of the dead critters and placed them in a freezer at the department’s 54 Meadow St. offices. Officials contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and the state’s agriculture department. None would do a test on the animals for free. And the city didn’t have money to pay for a test.

Senior city sanitarian Brian Wnek wrote back to Forman that he had discussed the issue with a DEP official.

“One thought was starvation,” he reported. “However, last fall saw a bumper crop of acorns, so there’s less chance that they starved to death.”

Then the DEP official asked Wnek to check the squirrels for any sign of blood “around the mouth or anal cavity,” Wnek wrote to Forman. “The presence of blood in these areas could indicate that the squirrels have been poisoned by rat bait (d-CON Baits or any other rodent baits) or by anti-freeze (both of these products have been used in the past (not legally) by neighbors who have had problems with animals in their back yards. The sad part is that it may not be a neighbor who lives close by. These animals, as you know, can travel long distances to find food sources).”

Wnek returned to the freezer—and saw some blood in the spots in question. He therefore told Forman that “one of my best guesses” is that “rat poison or other toxic ingestion” killed the squirrels.  “My advice would be to speak with anyone in the neighborhood to see if they had any rodent issues and if they are using a bait product.”

Forman forwarded Wnek’s email message to neighbors, and asked if others had made finds similar to hers.

Arnold Gorlick and Thuy Pham-Lewis (pictured) did. They live on West Rock Avenue; their yard backs onto Forman’s. On Monday they found their third unmutilated, dead squirrel in their driveway. They double-wrapped the latest carcass (pictured at the top of the story) in plastic and stored it in the kitchen freezer.

They reported that a neighbor did spray a tree recently. Another neighbor noticed a “large black bird” hovering in a yard—raising fears that scavengers might pick up and transmit toxins from the squirrels.

Gorlick (who runs the Madison Arts Cinemas) spoke to people who care for his lawn, who assured him they use only “harmless” materials. He planned to follow up to learn the specific ingredients.

“They did say that this tends to happen this time of year due to annual tree-spraying. The point being that is where the squirrels live—in the trees,” Gorlick wrote in an email message to Wnek. “On the other hand, this is the first time in my 15 years here that I have noticed this pattern. What should I do with my dead squirrel?  Is it of use to you and the Health Dept.?”

At this point, the health department isn’t sure what to do next, but it wants to keep an eye on the situation, according to Environmental Health Director Paul Kowalski. He couldn’t recall a squirrel “die-off” like this one. (He hadn’t known about the birds.)

“Once in a while we hear about baby squirrels falling out of a nest. But not full-grown squirrels at different times,” Kowalksi said.

“In the past we dealt with bird die-off. Certain trees in the city, for a week there’d be dead birds underneath it. That’s how we found out West Nile virus was in this town. When the natural balance of things is disturbed we like to know about it.”

Kowalski said that “seven squirrels in a two or three-house area” don’t concern him too much. His concern is more are dying around town. If so, he wants to know. He vowed to “put more pressure on the DEP to come down here and see what’s going on” if there’s more to see.

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posted by: What is news? on May 19, 2010  11:03am

7 Dead Squirrels is a problem?  Slow news day?  We live in a country that aborts 1.2 million babies each year while a whole neighborhood gets in an uproar about a couple dead squirrels?

posted by: Cedarhillresident on May 19, 2010  11:19am

Good story. Will keep an eye out in the East Rock area

posted by: Robertmegna on May 19, 2010  11:31am

Somebody may be using a poison called Avitrol improperly or unlawfully. Its a dried corn treated with poison used mainly for nuisance birds. Normally the substance is only available to licensed pest control persons. Normally this sort of thing happens as a result of negligence on behalf of the licensed person who does not properly target the nuisance bird in their extermination. As a former wildlife control person I have seen this sort of scenario before and actually investigated something similar that went on when pigeons were poisoned at the Knights of Columbus building some years ago.

posted by: Craziness Abounds on May 19, 2010  12:20pm

I love how there is always a total kook that brings up Abortion out of nowhere regarding Any and All possible situations.  Please stick to the topic, you wacko.

posted by: Bill on May 19, 2010  12:23pm

I have to agree with “What is news”, the doesn’t seem to be an perspective as to what’s important anymore. There is more concern for animals than the unborn. They are the kooks.

posted by: Craziness? on May 19, 2010  12:45pm

interesting how whether in print or in person, those with weak arguments resort to personal attacks.  Calling your neighbor a wacko never improves how you or your positions are perceived.

posted by: wildlife on May 19, 2010  2:41pm

You pro-life people are, quite frankly, annoying.  No matter what the topic, you manage to drag “dead” babies into it.  There are other things in this world to be concerned about - like poisons in our environment!

posted by: mom on May 19, 2010  3:02pm

If you want to talk about humans - what ever is killing the animals, i.e. poisons, can possibly kill children playing in yards nearby.
I believe that is probably the concern.
Comparing this to the abortion issue is beyond ridiculous.

posted by: Drew on May 19, 2010  3:19pm

Squirrels are waaaaaay cuter than human babies!

posted by: HewNaven?? on May 19, 2010  3:53pm

You can bet this is important news. If something is systematically eliminating any part of our ecosystem, we’d better be aware, lest it lead to our own extinction.

BTW, you can add two bloodless, dead birds I spotted near Beaver Pond to the list. I didn’t think much of it until I read this story.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 19, 2010  4:44pm

posted by: What is news? on May 19, 2010 12:03pm
7 Dead Squirrels is a problem?  Slow news day?  We live in a country that aborts 1.2 million babies each year while a whole neighborhood gets in an uproar about a couple dead squirrels?

posted by: Bill on May 19, 2010 1:23pm
I have to agree with “What is news”, the doesn’t seem to be an perspective as to what’s important anymore. There is more concern for animals than the unborn. They are the kooks.

Give me a break.Enjoy this.


posted by: 777 on May 19, 2010  6:20pm

The sanctity of a fetus trumps all my other concerns, too, but while drinking my way back home to Fair Haven after work, I spotted a dead squirrel across from Archie Moore’s—body in tact but dead.  On my other drinking route, I’ve noticed dead birds on State Street.  Never considered myself a millenarianist, but perhaps the end times are near?

posted by: fingers on May 19, 2010  6:56pm

If someone IS using antifreeze on their lawn, the whole neighborhood will suffer…there has been a lot of rain lately and the antifreeze, or bait, will get into the water system. Do you want to drink water that is mixed with antifreeze?

posted by: Animal Lover on Central Ave on May 20, 2010  12:22am

Update:  A neighborhood cat was found dead near the SW corner of Central & Elm last weekend.  Same story as the squirrels- an otherwise healthy animal died overnight, with no signs of blood or any other trauma.

My heart shudders to think of all of the dogs going for walks through our neighborhood each day.  Let’s try to figure out the epicenter of the incidents, so that we can help other animals avoid the same fate as the squirrels, doves, and cat.

We need to take two courses of action:

1) Have you noticed any dead animals in your yard over the last few weeks?  Post it here and on SeeClickFix.

2) If the city and state DEP offices are too broke/cheap to pay for testing of the animals- let’s pool money and pay for the testing ourselves.

posted by: JMS on May 20, 2010  4:34am

Threefifths… thanks for the George Carlin clip. I had never seen that before (love that guy). And love the fact that pro-life zealots can find twisted logic to inject their anti-choice venom into the most totally unrelated conversations. While we’re at it let’s bring in some PETA people to complain about the squirrel’s uncomfortably cramped postmortem freezer environment.

I will keep an eye out for mysterious critter carcass’s around the neighborhood. I would also be concerned for the use of any unusually potent posion out in the open. In my neighborhood many of us support the Pesticide Free Lawn movement in an effort to avoid harmful chemical exposure to neighborhood kids and pets. There are several organizations promoting such awareness…





posted by: gyuri on May 20, 2010  7:34am

Westville and Fair Haven? Birds and squirrels? Perhaps the “harmless” spray material came from the ever quality conscious China? Perhaps plague and the DEP doesn’t care to investigate?

posted by: Louis A. Magnarelli, Director on May 20, 2010  8:01am

A clarification needs to be made. Scientists and other staff members at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station assist towns and cities in finding solutions for unexplained multiple animal deaths in neighborhoods. We have contacted the City of New Haven Health Department and have offered our help.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on May 20, 2010  9:45am

Of course this is news!  Important, too, because children live in every neighborhood in New Haven, and could be affected or poisoned by whatever is killing these animals.

If we can alert the public, and then work to find out who and how, then we can keep ourselves and our children safe.

This is like when I found drug bags on my lawn.  I didn’t let my kids play outside until I crawled around making sure they were all gone, and spoke to the police.

Remember the old adage: Better to be safe, than sorry.

posted by: wildlife on May 20, 2010  10:20am

Animal Lover on Central Ave.:  I don’t live in NH but I would contribute funds to find an answer to this die-off mystery!

posted by: Wil on May 20, 2010  11:26am

Anybody else finding dead animals??  I live in Fair Haven & just found a “newly” dead bird like 20 minutes ago…  PS What is News?  Abortion has been legal for 40 years. 

posted by: Martha Smith on May 20, 2010  12:18pm

Hmm, I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but yesterday morning I noticed two dead birds on the sidewalk on the north side of Humphrey Street, between State and Orange.  It was strange to see the two, dead in the same apparent manner.

I didn’t linger, partly because it wasn’t a pleasant sight, but also because I was walking my dog and didn’t want her “investigating” the situation.  The birds were gone this morning.

posted by: akb8a on May 20, 2010  12:35pm


CT. Agricultural Experiment Station is such a great resource.  Can you tell us if the City has accepted the offer for assistance and also, if homeowners should contact the center directly with more finds like these?

posted by: Bruce on May 20, 2010  3:44pm

Thank you for publishing this story.  I think some people are missing the purpose of a hyper-local news source like the NHI.  This is exactly the sort of community issue that can benefit from local exposure.  If you weighed the importance of every single news story to abortion, war, etc., nothing else would get covered.  There is a critical need for stories like this.

posted by: Nan Bartow on May 20, 2010  9:35pm

Louis A. Magnarelli, Director at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station, thank you for your kind and thoughtful offer to investigate the causes of unexplained multiple animal deaths in our neighborhoods. Thanks also for contacting the City of New Haven Health Department and for offering your help. Your information is useful in this case and will be helpful in future incidents of this type.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on May 21, 2010  7:48am

Is there any chance this is related to the spraying of trees?  I remember there were some issues a few years ago with the spraying they did for the West Nile Virus.

posted by: mc on May 22, 2010  4:38pm

... to the first poster and her ridiculous abortion comment. Whatever is killing those squirrels could be dangerous to pregnant women, or children, or all of us! Animals dropping dead is completely out of the ordinary. You really don’t think this is news? I do.