Sunday, 14 October 2012

The mysterious case of the dog in the wood

For this week’s investigation I’ve unleashed my inner private eye as we’re on the trail of a killer. Something which lurks in the trees and preys on the innocent. Aside from at least 14 corpses, it leaves little trace, though its victim is man’s best friend.

Over the last three years in East Anglia and the East Midlands, around 150 healthy dogs have fallen seriously ill and a number have died from a mysterious disease. The immediate cause of death appears to be multiple organ failure following earlier symptoms of sickness and lethargy. The only clue left by the serial killer is a pattern of time and place – it strikes in the autumn after a walk in the woods. It now has a name ‘Seasonal Canine Illness”.

We interviewed a vet nurse from a village in Norfolk who was one of the first to raise the alarm. In her experience, unexplained deaths of healthy animals are thankfully rare but particularly difficult for owners to stomach. She enlisted the help of the Animal Health Trust who have a wider research brief into canine diseases. There we met a doctor doing his best CSI. His lab may have lacked the moody purple lighting, a soundtrack from The Who and translucent pin boards but the key ingredients were still there: maps of the attacks, post-mortem results and a picture of the prime suspect.

First for a scientific shakedown were toxic fungi implicated by the forest crime scene and the season, then blue green algae then invasive plants. But all had an alibi. They couldn’t be seen at the scene and also the organ trauma was not consistent with poisoning – the culprit wasn’t eaten.

As news of the puzzle spread a plant and fungus expert joined the search. His forensic knowledge is frequently tapped by the police to shed light on the relationship between corpses and undergrowth. In the best tradition of tireless investigators, this expert was re-treading the route of most frequent attacks only for him to become the latest victim. His legs became swollen, scabby, and extensively bitten. Something, well, many things, had been feeding on his skin.
He survived and tomorrow we’re going back to round up the prime suspect. See if the mystery is solved on the 21st October.    

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