On February 10th, dog handler Robert Chaffin and his charge, a fluffy three-year-old Samoyed named Cruz, shared a steak and a hotel room as they prepared for the Westminster Dog Show. Six days later, while at a show in Colorado, the cuddly "marshmallow" began vomiting up blood. Within hours, Cruz was dead.
Samoyeds are famously friendly dogs whose affectionate disposition is mirrored on their happy faces—the breed's nickname is "the smiley dog"—and Cruz's sudden death stunned his those who knew him. The veterinarian who treated him said his symptoms suggested he had eaten rat poison, but Cruz's owner Lynette Blue declined a necropsy that would have proven this conclusively.
Rat poison doesn't kill dogs immediately, which means that if it was cause of Cruz's death, he would have had to ingest it at some point during his trip to New York. The New Yorker hotel, where he was staying, doesn't use rat poison, and provided safe spaces for its canine guests to play. Chaffin remembered a stranger making "disapproving" remarks to him about Cruz at Westminster, and says he's heard stories of animal-rights activists sabotaging setups—and even poisoning dogs.
Molly Comiskey, the vet, felt it was unlikely Cruz has been deliberately poisoned. Blue and Chaffin were less sure. Is it possible that foul play was involved? And if so, who had the ability—and the motivation?
Who killed Cruz?
Evidence: It would have been difficult to poison Cruz on Robert Chaffin's watch, considering the handler "spent nearly every minute of the [Westminster] trip by his side," strictly supervised the dog's meals, and monitored everything else Cruz tried to eat. Chaffin says he scoured every corner of the hotel room he and Cruz shared searching specifically for rat poison and found none, making it unlikely he would have accidentally infested it there. Chaffin also claims to have encountered a shadowy stranger at Westminster "who glared at him and made a disapproving remark about Cruz's vocal cords having been removed to quiet his bark." Convenient.
Defense: Chaffin admits that it is still possible Cruz somehow ingested the poison accidentally while on his watch; for instance, it "would have been easy for some to throw something" in Cruz's cage while Chaffin's attention was distracted. Chaffin's role as Cruz's guardian makes him the most obvious suspect and, therefore, the most easily framed. Also, how could you kill a dog? :(
The Shadowy Animal Rights Activist
Evidence: Animal rights organizations disapprove of dog shows for a million different reasons. For one thing, they claim competitions foster a demand for purebreds that leaves many mixed breed shelter dogs homeless. They also say that many purebreds are born under substandard conditions in puppymills. Cruz's handler said he's "heard horror stories" about competition dogs being poisoned by animal rights activists who disapprove of the show dog practice.
Defense: Ingrid Newkirk, founder and president of PETA, denied her organization's involvement in Cruz's death on Wednesday, calling it "scurrilous" and "so low to even suggest that." PETA had a high profile presence at Westminster this year, staging a protest (that included at least one member in a dog costume) outside the show; it would have been hard for one of their representatives to slip in undetected. Also, how could you kill a dog? :(
Evidence: Despite the shocking nature of Cruz's death, his owner, Lynette Blue, didn't order a necropsy performed on his body, saying she was confident he had swallowed poison. Raising a show dog is expensive, and it's not uncommon for owners to take out life insurance on their pets (though no such arrangement for Cruz was mentioned in the Times article). While Cruz was a top ranked Samoyed, he didn't take home any prizes at Westminster. Was it time for the owners their losses and start over?
Defense: Blue seemed genuinely saddened by Cruz's death, calling it "devastating" and "one of the most painful experiences of my life." Also, how could you kill a dog? :(
A Jealous Onlooker
Evidence: Westminster has a history of intentional poisoning. In 1895, eight dogs of different breeds belonging to a single owner died after being fed strychnine. The New York Times printed the story on the front page with the headline "Jealousy Believed the Motive"; the article went on to speculate that they were "evidently destroyed to settle some grudge had against the owner of the dogs." Did the owner of some lesser Samoyed decide to put a stop on Cruz's cruise to glory?
Defense: Though they've occurred in the past, intentional poisonings are "extremely rare" at Westminster. Further, Cruz didn't win any prizes at the show, and it seems shortsighted to take down a dog in the middle of the pack. Also, how could you kill a dog? :(
The Hotel Manager
Evidence: Ann Peterson, president and general manager of the New Yorker Hotel, explained to the Times that her hotel went out of its way to accommodate the dogs staying there for Westminster, even setting up an area where they could safely exercise indoors. Is it possible Peterson resented waiting on these dogs like kings? Giving the run of her fine hotel to beasts of the wild? Watching them eat steak while she dined on Subway?
Defense: Peterson said that the hotel did not use "harmful pesticides" anywhere on the premises. If they did, its likely more dogs than Cruz would have become sick. She couldn't have poisoned Cruz's room, since his handler checked it so thoroughly. Also, how could you kill a dog? :(
Evidence: Molly Comiskey, the vet who treated Cruz, was quick to absolve everyone involved from blame, saying "Dogs are dogs. It's not anyone's fault. They eat stuff; they get into things; they make bad decisions." Sounds a little like when you break a glass at a party, hide it under a napkin, and then later, when it's discovered, say "What does it matter who broke it? What's done is done. Let's move on."
Defense: She's a veterinarian, not an undertaker; Cruz was worth a lot more to her alive than dead. She's also right about dogs eating everything, all the time. Also, how could you kill a dog?
Evidence: The Times reports that experts offered "several" other possibilities to explain Cruz's death, including an undiagnosed disorder like hemophilia.
Defense: Cruz's owner said he had no history of blood disorders in his bloodline. Also, hemophilia is about love ("philia"), not hate, so how could it kill a dog? :(
Please provide your own theories regarding the death of Cruz in the discussion space below. Remember, you can only accuse a suspect of having committed the crime in the room in which your piece currently rests, and you must also identify a weapon.
[NYT, image by Jim Cooke]