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Vet talks safety after trying to save dog from bee attack

Posted at 6:58 PM, Jun 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 19:50:12-04

Here's a follow up to a story that had everyone talking earlier this week, about a 45 pound dog killed by a swarm of bees in Boca Raton.

State experts say it's the first report on a bee stinging death in several years.

A week after the incident, we spoke to the veterinarian who tried to save the dog's life.

Debbie Leonard has taken her pets to Dr. Scott Lund for over 20 years but just one week ago was the worst visit of her life when bees swarmed her 7-year-old Delilah.

"This was our dog and a part of our family, but it could've just as well have been anyone allergic to bees or a small child," said Leonard. “He did everything that he could possibly do."

Dr. Lund removed dozens of stingers from her body but Delilah was stung so many times, she went into toxic shock.

“We found that there were 50 to 60 of those venomous stingers still in the pet. So we started removing them," he said. "Repeated epinephrine doses. We got specialists on the phone. We tried everything. And still unfortunately, we lost Delilah."

Leonard's kids had only let the dog out for a few minutes when a honey comb from a wild hive on her neighbor's tree fell, angering a swarm of wild bees.

"They were relentless," said Rebecca Leonard, Debbie's 14-year-old daughter.

The kids said they were afraid to open the door. they scooped up Delilah once the dog took cover in the garage.

"They did the right thing," said Dr. Lund. "Right thing to do is to grab your pet -- looking out for your own safety -- and then bringing them to the vet. This is a warning to everybody. I told Debbie to go home, lock the kids up. Lock the other dog up.

Her neighbor happens to be a beekeeper and the hive had formed just above her boxes.

Although no laws were broken, Dr. Lund hopes educating the public on these creatures can help prevent another tragedy.

“After seeing what I just saw, I would say bring your pet to the vet no matter what, no matter how many stings," he said.

If your dog gets attacked, grab tweezers or a credit card to remove the stingers. If the stingers are still in the pet, the venom is still flowing.

“The venomous sac is actually pumping so you want to pop the stinger out sideways with a credit card," Dr. Lund said. "By moving a card across it, you actually pull the stingers out and removes the stinger from the pet."

Placing the dog in cold water also helps prevent shock and lower the inevitable fever that will come with multiple bee stings.

"The cool water helps with the swelling and the itchiness. So it soothes the pet," he said. "Unfortunately when they come in, they’re pretty distraught and they’re panting. Their metabolism is racing. So if we can drop their temperature quickly, we won’t have to worry about the second part of the problem, which is heat stress.”

David Westervelt, the Chief Apiary Inspector for the Florida Department of Agriculture, said a crew is heading to the property to check the bees for aggressiveness.

"We will have those samples analyzed. We’ll make sure they are in compliance with the laws," he said. "The African bee is a little more defensive, not aggressive. Defensive means that something has triggered it, then those bees defend that hive,” he said. “The African bees are two to three times more defensive than the European variety."

But he fears he may not be able to give the Leonard family the definitive answer they seek because all the bees are all in the same genetic family.

"The genetic make up of all the honey bees -- because they're all in the same family -- it's impossible to determine where the bees that caused the stinging incident, where they originated at," he said in a phone interview. "Because Florida is considered an Africanized area, we considered any feral or wild bees to be Africanized,” he said. "A queen will mate with multiple drones. So you could have one queen, take a sample of 100 bees and they could be 20 different father lines.”

Westervelt said local beekeepers who have the European bees -- like Leonard's neighbor -- can actually help bring down stinging incidents.

"The less defensive, more gentle bee. That helps dilute the population of the African genetics which reduces the possibility of having stinging incidents," he said. “If you look at the number of beekeepers we have in Florida now, our stinging incidents have actually gone down in numbers from 10 years ago."

Leonard has a 10-year old Rottweiler left. Traumatized, she says her family is still afraid to go outside.

"I'd like to see the city of Boca Raton issue stronger regulations for backyard beekeepers,” she said. “And there needs to be communication that if you’re going to keep hives in your neighborhood, your neighbor needs to know."

Leonard's neighbor was up to date on permits and inspections for her hives. The state inspectors will check to see if those bees are aggressive.

If the bees are fine, the state said charges cannot be pursued because the wild bees came from a hive in the tree, which means it belongs to no one.

“I guess the take home message here is to the best of your ability, search out the neighborhood, search out your backyard. Make sure everything looks good, sounds good,” said Dr. Lund. “If you’re raising bees, or you see a bee hive, communicate with the neighbors.”