The tragic deaths of Sam and Jessie, a pair of dogs in East Tennessee who both fell victim to antifreeze poisoning, could keep some of their canine comrades from suffering a similar fate.
Legislation has already passed the state Senate and is pending in the House to add a bittering agent to antifreeze to make the sweet tasting and smelling liquid unpalatable for dogs and children.
The bill resulted from the sad story of Haley Ham, an 11-year old girl from Sevierville, and Sam, her golden retriever.
Haley and Sam were best friends, going everywhere together, recalled Ginni Ham, Haley’s mother.
“They were very, very, very close,” Ginni Ham said, standing next to Haley who was too shy to speak. “She referred to him as her little brother. He was just the most loving dog you’ve ever met in your life.”
But the duo of Haley and Sam were tragically broken apart.
One day last year, a person, who is unknown at this point, concocted a stew of onions, chocolate, rawhide and antifreeze, came onto the Ham’s property, and fed the tainted gruel to Sam, Ginni Ham said.
For three days, Sam suffered in a veterinary hospital before having to be put down.
“Haley was heartbroken, and it was devastating for us as a family,” Ginni Ham said.
The motivations of the unknown perpetrator are not clear.
Soon after though, matters became worse as Jessie, a black hound that did not belong to the family but often accompanied Haley when she would play outside also died as a result of antifreeze poisoning.
Less than a teaspoon of ethylene glycol in antifreeze can cause nausea, vomiting, depression of the central nervous system, heart and kidney failure, seizures, coma, and death, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
At the time of the dogs’ deaths, Haley Ham did not know what antifreeze was.
Some research on the Internet instructed the youngster about the substance and how a handful of states were passing legislation adding a bittering agent to antifreeze to keep pets from ingesting it.
She began writing letters to politicians and starting online and written petitions in a movement to have the bittering agent – called denatonium benzoate – added to antifreeze.
“After he died, she wrote everybody from the president down,” said James Ham, Haley’s father.
A letter to the Ham’s state Senator, Raymond Finney (R-Maryville), finally did begin the process of trying to get Tennessee’s law changed.
And the Haley Ham Act of 2008 unanimously passed the state Senate this year.
But Tuesday in the House, with the Ham family watching the Agriculture Committee debate the measure, the bill was delayed for two weeks after some lawmakers raised questions about its necessity.
Those concerns arose from the willingness of the antifreeze industry to add the bittering agent.
“If manufacturers already want to do this, then why are we putting into the code what they already want to do?” asked state Rep. Eric Swafford (R-Pikeville).
Leighann McCollum, the state’s director of the Humane Society of the United States, said antifreeze manufacturers have been trying at the federal level for years to pass a bill requiring a bittering agent to give them liability protection.
But McCollum explained that large environmental groups have blocked the antifreeze manufacturers’ efforts as a result of wanting to study the possible environmental problems that the bittering agent may cause.
Having been blocked at the federal level, the antifreeze industry is not trying to pass identical laws in each state and have those states mandate the bittering agent. Tennessee’s bill is the “model” legislation, McCollum said.
“They want it to be consistent,” McCollum said.
Swafford was not convinced.
“They want us to mandate something that takes some liability off of them because they have concerns that what you’re wanting them to do might be harmful to the environment,” Swafford said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Janis Sontany (D-Nashville), was delayed so the Agriculture Committee could hear testimony from the antifreeze industry. The legislation would cost 2-cents per gallon of antifreeze.