By Dave DeLuca
In a recent issue of The Advocate, our own Johnny Beaver opined somewhat sarcastically on a potentially dangerous situation at the downtown dog park. Several signs posted within the bark park warn of a not-so-hidden danger: toxic nuts.
According to the largest sign: “IF INGESTED, THIS BEAUTIFUL HORSE CHESTNUT IS TOXIC TO BOTH HUMANS AND ANIMALS. PLEASE HELP US BY PICKING UP THE CHESTNUTS AND PLACING THEM IN THE BUCKET.”
A massive conker, or horse chestnut, tree looms over the park, dropping thousands of seeds. The bucket made available to concerned dog owners is regularly emptied by city workers. One could not help but wonder why a fenced-in dog park would be built under a toxic tree. It’s easy to see why Johnny classified the situation as a bona fide culture fail.
His words struck a chord.
Matt Sanchez, Chair of the Commission of Civic Beautification & Urban Forestry, (CBUF) reached out to The Advocate on behalf of the vilified tree. Sanchez is a graduate of the OSU College of Forestry and he specialized in Urban Forestry. He is a volunteer for the city, not an employee. But he does speak on behalf of CBUF.
He met me at the dog park to explain the value of this particular Aesculus hippocastanum tree.
“The removal of this tree is currently not possible for the dog park. In fact the tree has a significant worth as far as ecosystem values are concerned (shade, stormwater capture, carbon sequestration, etc.)”
Horse chestnut trees are common around the city, but they are rarely allowed to reach their full height and canopy size. The tree only needs occasional minor pruning, thanks to its location away from power lines and roads. This particular tree helps protect park patrons from the pollution created by nearby busy roads like HWY 34 and 99. It also helps keep dog owners cool and protected from the elements.
He also commented on the controversial seeds.
“While it is unfortunate that the fruit the horse chestnut produces is considered poisonous, the system currently in place has been successful.”
According to Sanchez, no incidents of dog poisonings have been reported to the city.
I did my due diligence regarding the effects of conker seeds on man’s best friend by talking to several local vets.
There were no reported horse chestnut poisonings at Town and Country Animal Clinic, the Corvallis Veterinary Hospital, the OSU Small Animal Clinic or Willamette Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Steve Callahan at Willamette Vet explained why it is not much of a real danger.
“I guess if they ate a whole bunch of them it could cause vomiting or diarrhea. But it’s not really a toxin like it’s going to kill them or make them really sick if they eat one or two.”
Callahan also stated that dogs are unlikely to eat them at all.
“They’re not very amenable to being eaten, either. They have a big green outer crust and the nut is hard to get to.”
In summary, the nuts are hard for dogs to eat and not all that toxic anyway. No dogs are really in any danger. The signage within the park warns pet owners of a danger that does not exist. This saga began with a question. Why would someone build a dog park around a dangerous tree? It ends with a different question. Why would someone erect a “dangerous tree” sign in a dog park, when the tree wasn’t dangerous?
According to a representative of Corvallis Parks and Recreation, the sign and nut pickup were initiated with community involvement during the development of the fenced dog park.
Best intentions aside, all they did was make dog owners worry over nothing.
At the time of this writing, the big warning sign has disappeared.