NEWS:   Residents of a condominium complex in Des Plaines, Illinois claimed hot dogs injected with rat poison were scattered on their lawn.

In early October 2015, a purported incident involving hot dogs laced with rat poison prompted concern among social media users (along with some confusion about the scope of the problem).

On 6 October 2015, Facebook user Mel Dziedzic (a receptionist at Riser Animal Hospital) published a status update warning to pet owners in Des Plaines:

ATTENTION:

Today a client brought in these pieces of hot dog that were placed around front lawns in Des Plaines. They are hot dogs that have been injected with rat poison. Everybody knows that you do not need to put rat poison in hot dogs for rats to eat it. It pains me to say it, but the creep that put these out was trying to harm dogs. PLEASE be careful when walking your pets. Dogs pick up so many things before we can even catch them, so just please remember that people are horrible and that the outside ground unfortunately cannot always be trusted.

According to Dziedzic, the hot dog pieces were brought into the animal hospital on 6 October 2015 (the same day the warning was shared). On 7 October 2015, Chicago-area news outlet WMAQ reported:

At least seven pieces of hot dog were brought into Riser Animal Hospital in Des Plaines Tuesday, and the hospital believes they may have been put out in lawns to harm animals.

A dog owner brought the hot dog pieces into the hospital after her dog became ill.

The wording of that reporting led worried pet owners to surmise an animal was sickened by the contaminated hot dogs. However, Dziedzic clarified in a comment on the post:

Her pet came in for having diarrhea, she doesn’t think he ate any. Probably just a fluke.

Much of WMAQ‘s coverage of the claims appeared in an embedded video, not the body of the article:

In the video, Daniel Ivanov claimed his dog happened upon one of the hot dogs on 7 October 2015 (and that he removed one from his pet’s mouth). WMAQ said that a woman found seven pieces of hot dog scattered on the lawn on 5 October 2015; it wasn’t clear whether that was the same female resident referenced by Dziedzic, who visited the hospital on 6 October 2015 for an unrelated pet complaint.

Oddly, WMAQ reported that residents all believed they knew who was responsible for the attempted pet poisonings, before coverage immediately segued into an interview with a resident (offering no further background on who that party might be). Moreover, the station said police opted to speak to the condominium’s board (and not the individual suspected of poisoning local pets). The network also emphasized there were “no reports of serious illness,” when it appeared that no pets were sickened by the laced treats.

On 7 October 2015, the Chicago Tribune reported that police responded to a woman’s report of tainted hot dogs on 6 October 2015 (but were unable to locate any hot dog pieces). That article described the hot dogs as tainted with an “unknown substance”:

Hot dogs tainted with an unknown substance were found Tuesday morning outside a condominium building in the 1200 block of East Perry Street in Des Plaines, according to police.

Des Plaines police Chief Bill Kushner said a woman walking her dog told police she discovered pieces of hot dogs injected with what appeared to be a bluish-green substance on the lawn next to the condominium building.

Kushner said officers arrived about 9:15 a.m. at the building but were unable to find any hot dog pieces on the lawn, and no one police spoke with in the area said they had witnessed any suspicious activit … Kushner said in his three years at the Des Plaines Police Department this is the first time he’s ever heard a report of this nature.

Anyone who finds what appears to be tainted food on the ground should call the police and “leave it to the professionals to recover it,” Kushner said.

Not long after the story attracted national attention, the claim evolved to be a warning issued by police (not a receptionist at an animal hospital):

Police warn pet owners after hot dogs filled with rat poison found in suburbs

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) – Police have…

Posted by Law Enforcement Today on Thursday, October 8, 2015

And while the warning was localized, some social media users interpreted it more generally:

Reports of hot dogs laced with rat poison scattered to harm pets were not a new phenomenon, nor were general rumors about sabotaged treats. On Twitter, similar reports from far-flung areas appeared intermittently starting in at least 2011:

In November 2014, a family pet in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan died after what police believed was an intentional poisoning (threatening graffiti was left on the home of the victims). But December 2014 rumors of similarly laced hot dogs reported by KHON in Ewa Beach, Hawaii later proved unsubstantiated (per an April 2015 update):

The Department of Agriculture said hot dogs found in Ewa Beach are not stuffed with rat poison. Officials say they ran tests on the hot dogs and compared them to four common rat poisons. They all came back negative. The department is now testing for further compounds.

Other reports from 2013 described owners’ suspicions of poisoned dog treats (but no definitive proof that pets were sickened that way):

Columbus police Officer Eric Richards, the community liaison for the precinct that includes Clintonville, said he has heard from several residents who suspect that their dogs ate rat poison. All were in the Beechwold area where Heringhaus lives.

A police report filed on Aug. 13 says two dogs at the same address on E. Jeffrey Place got sick after eating rat-poisoned dog treats tossed into their yard. The dogs were treated for several days and survived, the report said.

A similar report in March 2015 in Schaumburg, Illinois referenced food “apparently laced with rat poison”:

[Owner Hiro] Oshida says these are the dog treats that were tainted. The green substance suspected to be rat poison was hidden in the soft center.

“We checked the area for calls for police service, barking dog complaints and things like that, and we’ve had none. So if there’s a disgruntled neighbor, they certainly haven’t been calling the police department about any problem with the dog,” said Sgt. John Nebl, Schaumburg Police Dept.

Police are calling this an isolated incident. There have been no reports of similar poisonings in the area.

Police haven’t released any further information about the reports of rat poison in hot dogs in Des Plaines, and WMAQ didn’t disclose how residents’ suspicions were being handled (or why police spoke with the condo board instead of the party rumored to be responsible). But while fears of contaminated dog bait are rife, incidents in which such claims are ultimately corroborated are far rarer than those in which the suspicion of owners (who’ve likely heard such rumors) colored initial reporting of the incidents. It’s unlikely additional information will emerge in Des Plaines, as the purportedly contaminated hot dogs were discarded before police were able to investigate.