Health department investigating whether chemicals were to blame in pet deaths

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Death of Pets Blamed on Mystery Odor

LAKEWOOD -- The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department says it's a mystery what killed two pets at a home in Lakewood. Their investigators weren't able to figure out what caused the strange odor that's still plaguing the home two days later.

Like a lot of pet owners, Donald Stilson has pictures of his cat and bird on his phone -- and one shows the relationship between Ninja and Poe.

"Even though the bird was in the cage, it would play with the cat," he says. "The cat never made an aggressive move, it's like they were brother and sister the whole time."

Friday night, he and his girlfriend left their home in Lakewood. He returned Saturday morning to check on the animals.

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Health department investigating whether chemicals were to blame in pet deaths
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"I was wondering why the cat didn't come to me. But when I flung the door open, I noticed a smell. And then I saw the cat at the other end of the house."

Both animals had died. Stilson called West Pierce Fire and Rescue to report the smell, and a hazardous materials team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord also responded.

"It was an overpowering smell, it was a putrid smell," he says. "To me, it had smelled like something had burned, something electrical had burned."

Investigators didn't find anything that burned, so they started looking at what chemicals were in the house.

"My lady did put some carpet stuff down on the floor, and I vacuumed it up like we're supposed to," says Stilson. "I don't see how that could do anything to harm an animal."

So far, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department cannot say for sure that a chemical was to blame, but they're recommending Stilson's landlord hire an expert before allowing anyone to move back in.

"We would like to have this independent third party, industrial hygienist or other professional, evaluate the site and provide some degree of confidence to both the property owner as well as the tenant," says John Sherman, the assistant director of the environmental health division.

He says it is tragic for someone to lose a pet. That's why he wants to remind people to be cautious with household cleaners and chemicals.

"That small print on the back of every product you and I have at home, it's important to read the small print," Sherman says. "What are the precautionary measures we could take, whether it's ventilation or leaving the premises for some time, those are all important measure to protect our health and that of our pets as well."

Stilson says he doesn't think he'll be able to live in the Lakewood home anymore, but he does want answers.

"We lost our pets, they're like our kids," he says. "I want to know what did this."

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department says if you have any concern about the hazardous chemicals that may be inside your home, they can help you dispose of them safely. Go here for more information.

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