The Coastal Star

Paws Up for Pets: Pet owners turn to bufo buster to rid yards of toxic toads


Jeannine Tilford of Palm Beach Gardens is on a mission to stop pets from encountering bufo toads. She captures the nocturnal creatures by hand, one yard at a time. Photos provided

By Arden Moore

By day, Jeannine Tilford teaches high school biology and environmental science. By night, she hunts for dangerous toads to protect dogs, in coastal cities from Fort Pierce down to Miami.

She is fast becoming a hero among dog lovers because she is on a mission to rid backyards, lakes, canals and shorelines of highly toxic and lethal bufo toads, also known as cane toads.

Among the grateful are Judy and Bob McDough of Delray Beach, who own a pair of Pembroke Welsh corgi brothers named Sherman and Morgan.

“I knew nothing about these toads when we moved here a few years ago, and these toads are all over the place,” says Judy McDough. “The manmade lakes behind our house are perfect breeding grounds for these toads, and when it rains, it seems they come out in numbers.”

So the McDoughs, like many others in recent months, turned to Tilford, known as the bufo buster.

“Many people moving to Florida are not aware of the danger of the bufo toad to their pets, and I’ve spent my whole life looking for something unique to do,” says Tilford, who launched Toad Busters in March 2017. “I love animals, and I worked as a veterinary technician and my background is science education. I needed extra money as I am on a teacher salary, and this bufo busters business has just taken off.”

Bufo toads are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night when they feed and breed. By day, these toads typically bury themselves under bushes or concrete slabs. In order to capture these dog-dangerous toads — and to avoid being mistaken for a flashlight-wielding burglar prowling in dark backyards — Tilford purposely dons a blinking LED vest.

“I look like a walking Christmas tree, which keeps people from calling the police, and it has gotten me more business,” says Tilford, who is registered as a nuisance wildlife trapper with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “I wear a head lamp to keep my hands free. I catch the toads by hand, wearing gloves and safety glasses.”

Judy McDough schedules Tilford to round up bufo toads on her property every two weeks. In addition, Tilford taught her how to humanely capture these toxic toads using a net.

McDough also reinforces the “back off” training cue in her corgis and is grateful that a 24-hour veterinary hospital is near her home.

“Fortunately, my dogs seem to be more interested in going after chameleons than these toads,” she says. “I always go out with them in the backyard at night.”

Tilford is on a one-woman mission to educate pet owners and protect pets from encounters with bufo toads. She has conditioned her dogs, a dachshund named Squeaky and a Yorkshire terrier-poodle mix named Lilly, to stay clear of any trespassing toad.

“One of my former dogs, a Jack Russell terrier, got hold of a toad in my patio and almost died,” says Tilford. “People need to know just how dangerous these toads are.”

About bufo toads

• Bufo toads are not native to Florida. They were imported in the 1930s to help farmers rid sugar-cane fields of white grubs.

• Bufo toads come in these color combinations: olive-brown, reddish brown or grayish yellow.

• Bufo toads sport big, flattened heads, large, stocky bodies and short limbs. Each can be up to 6 inches in length and weigh up to 4.4 pounds.

• These toads can live up to 15 years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.

• Their diet consists of insects, snails, mice and lizards, but they are attracted to dog or cat food left unattended in bowls in porches.

• Bufo toads release a milky-white toxin known as bufotoxin that is capable of disrupting normal functioning of the heart.

• Pets who bite or eat a Bufo toad can become sick and die within 15 minutes if not medically treated.

• Pets who “play” by pawing or licking these toads can also be exposed to this rapid-acting toxin.

• Bufo toxin can develop within a few seconds of exposure. Symptoms include crying, pawing at the mouth, excessive drooling, head-shaking, difficulty breathing, stumbling, convulsions and collapse.

• Immediately flush your pet’s mouth out with water for 10 minutes to prevent further venom absorption. Wipe the dog’s mouth with a rag and immediately call the nearest veterinary clinic to say you are en route. There is no vaccine or anti-venom for this toxin, so veterinary treatment calls for providing intravenous fluids, oxygen and medications to control the affected pet’s body temperature and heart rate until it recovers.

• To reach Toad Busters, visit www.bufobusters.com or call 202-8192.

Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first-aid instructor.  She hosts the Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more by visiting  www.ardenmoore.com.

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