Marla Harriman took her dog Oliver to an emergency veterinarian after he spent the day vomiting.
She hadn’t changed anything in her dogs’ routine, and she cooks their food to keep them safe.
But she remembered a Nextdoor post warning pet owners about mulch in some public spaces. She had taken her dogs for a walk that day, including walking on mulch.
She is one of at least a dozen pet owners who blame mulch on their dog’s lethargy or even death — though the proof is hard to pinpoint.
Santa Barbara County and MarBorg Industries offer free mulch made from recycled green waste. What residents put in their green bins is then turned into groundcover.
The county Public Works Department advises residents to leave certain plants out of the bins to avoid toxicity in the mulch or jamming the recycling machines. The list of restricted plants is long and includes palm fronds, agave, poison oak and more.
Sago palm is highly toxic to dogs and can cause liver failure if ingested. (Sago palm is not one of the area’s many palm trees but is a short palm plant.)
Some community members wonder if a poisonous plant tarnished batches of mulch.
One location they worry about is the Douglas Family Preserve, a popular Santa Barbara spot for off-leash dogs. Many say their dogs became sick after a trip to the preserve.
But the Douglas Preserve didn’t receive new mulch this year, Santa Barbara Parks Manager Matthew Parker told the News-Press Wednesday. But he said it is possible mulch made from the city’s tree clippings could’ve been spread there.
“We hadn’t put any mulch out there in a long time, and I was surprised there were claims it was toxic,” he said.
Previously, a dog has become sick after eating a mushroom at the preserve, but the Parks Department didn’t see any mushrooms there this year.
“My recommendation is just to keep a good eye on the dogs. Don’t let them wander out of eyesight,” Mr. Parker said. “You should be aware of what dogs are getting into.”
At an off-leash spot, it is more likely an owner could miss seeing their dog eat something strange.
Lael Wageneck, public information officer at Public Works, had similar advice.
“We care about animal safety, but people should definitely not let their pets eat mulch because it is a mix of what is in your green bin. And what is in your green bin is not safe to ingest,” he said.
The department periodically tests its mulch for toxicity. If it’s dangerous, the department replaces any recent mulching and gets rid of the batch, Mr. Wageneck said.
When the department was alerted to an incident of a dog becoming sick in the Storke Ranch area after eating mulch, it replaced the mulch out of caution.
Mr. Wageneck has served in Public Works for five years, and April’s incident was the first case he heard of a dog eating mulch.
He isn’t sure what MarBorg’s protocol is for its recycled mulch, and it’s hard to distinguish between Public Works and MarBorg mulch.
MarBorg could not be reached for comment.