By Mike Rush
St. Louis (KSDK) - When it came time to fence in their backyard, the Larsh family opted for an electronic one. It not only cost less than a traditional fence, it promised to keep the family's dog safe and secure.
But did it? 5 on Your Side's Mike Rush shows us what happened when that fence was installed.
The Larsh family was planning to have company and thought by installing an electronic fence, their beloved pet could stay outside in the backyard. It didn't turn out that way and tonight, 5 on Your Side tells you why and what's being done about it. We want to warn you, some of the pictures are graphic.
"We were told if we would have left it on him a few more days he could have died from infection," said Michelle Larsh, Duke's owner.
The Larsh family has had Duke since he was just a puppy. He's not just a pet, he's like one of the family. The golden retriever mix is on the mend. Earlier in the summer the family installed an electronic fence and placed the collar that came with it on Duke's neck.
"We had it on high at first and he yelped a big yelp, so we were like okay, that's a little too high, cause he was really loud, so we put it on a medium if not low," said Larsh.
The collar communicates with a line that's buried in the yard here, so if the dog crosses that line, you hear the beep, and the dog gets a shock. The goal is to get them to stay behind the line, but after using it for about three or four days Duke would have nothing to do with it.
"You would have to drag him to get him to go to the bathroom , so I just stop doing it," said Larsh.
Then came the smell.
"This is the smell that I have been smelling for the past five days, so there was only one solution go look at his neck," said Kyle Zembrycki, Duke's buddy. "I swear you could basically see bone where the shock collar was, it totally penetrated his skin."
The vet cleaned Duke's wound and stitched him up. He was sent home with two different types of medicine. The bill was almost $550, the diagnosis "pressure necrosis."
"Whenever any outside pressure is applied on a constant basis to the tissue, and that tissue succumbs to that pressure and dies," said veterinarian Dr. Brett Ziegler. "Necrosis simply means cell death."
5 on Your Side contacted High Tech Pet, the company that makes the electronic fence and its collar. We offered President Nick Bonge the opportunity for an interview; he refused, but sent us an email.
High Tech Pet acknowledged that Duke suffered a "severe case" of what we assume was "pressure necrosis," a condition in their experience happens in about "1 in 30,000" animals. Bonge goes on to say High Tech Pet is giving the Larsh family a "full refund" and reimbursing what it calls "the largest vet bill they have ever seen."
"They recommended that you take it off every night, but I was like, 'recommending' is two different things, you guys need to make it mandatory that we take it off the dogs every night," said Zembrycki.
A couple of days later, 5 on Your Side received another email from High Tech Pet. The company decided to be even more proactive, creating a web page cautioning consumers about "pressure necrosis." It urges owners to check pets' necks underneath their collars on a regular basis.
"Read the manual. If it says 'recommend take it off,' just take the recommending as mandatory," said Zembrycki.
Duke's still a bit skiddish when he's taken to the backyard, but other than that, he's back to his old playful self.
"If I would have lost Duke, it would have been, it would have been bad," said Zembrycki.
Dr. Ziegler says Duke's injury had nothing to do with electricity. Another word that used to describe what happened to Duke is gangrene.
Ziegler says he sees the same wounds from pinch collars, choke chains and even regular collars that are left on pets as they grow. But there is a simple solution. Pet owners should take collars for electronic fences off, when their pets are in the house. And every time you put any type of collar on a pet, check to make sure it's not too tight and that there are no sores underneath the collar.
Dr. Brett Ziegler with the Fairview Heights Animal Clinic/Animal Hospital of O'Fallon explains pressure necrosis:
"Whenever any outside pressure is applied on a constant basis to the tissue, and that tissue succumbs to that pressure and dies. Necrosis simply means cell death, so as that tissue dies it becomes softer and therefore your pressure goes in further, and then you end up with infection in those areas of necrosis. And that will start to expand in those other areas. Another term that is often used to describe this is gangrene, enough pressure necrosis will lead to a gangrenous infection in that area.
"In most cases where we have a collar or a shock collar where there for these fences, most of the time there's just a little bit of a hair loss and a scab or a sore, an abrasion on the surface of the skin.
"This has nothing to do with the electricity or the voltage coming through it, as a matter of fact we see the same kind of problem with pinch collars, choker chain, and even regular dog collars when they've been put on young dogs, and they aren't monitoring them, and as they grow the collar doesn't obviously get any bigger but the neck does, and the same thing occurs causing this pressure necrosis in a complete circumference of the neck, and that collar will get embedded, and I've seen them get down even as deep as an inch into the tissue.
"This is very simple to prevent. The biggest thing you need to do is when you're talking about the collars that are used for these invisible fences is, when the dogs are inside, if it's visible, take the collar off. Don't leave it on them during the day. when they're outside, fit it properly, know which mark it goes to, and check it make sure it's not too tight, and constantly, not just once a day, but every time you put the collar on, you check the neck and make sure there aren't any sores."
Editor's note: The pet containment system referred to in this 5 On Your Side report is not known as "invisible fence."