WORRIED dog owners are launching a fund to pay for further investigations into a toxin killing pets in the forest.

Three more dogs have been infected in the last week, with two dying and the other remaining seriously ill.

A pair of whippets called Poppy and Ashley owned by Michael Lowe and his daughter Hayley were taken ill after being exercised at Holmsley - the same area where one of the other recent victims was affected.

And five-year-old flat coated retriever Erin - who was only ever walked at St Catherine's Hill in Christchurch - was put to sleep on Monday after suffering acute kidney failure, despite having dialysis in London.

Five-year-old Poppy was taken to the vets after developing what looked like a cut, and suddenly lost her appetite.

She was put on a drip but suffered kidney failure, started vomiting blood and died three days later.

Four-year-old Ashley fell ill after being taken for a walk in the same area on the same day - but appears to be recover¬ing.

Miss Lowe said: “I'm too frightened to take my other dog anywhere.

“If I lost another dog I don't know what I'd do.”

Poppy's death comes just days after Harley, a three-year-old crossbreed, became ill after cutting his leg - also at Holmsley.

Four days later he started being sick and died after suffering acute kidney failure. Vets suspect the disease is a version of Alabama Rot, first seen in the United States in the 1980s and thought to be related to a toxin produced by E.coli.

It has killed almost 20 dogs across the UK, including at least 12 in the New Forest.

And many more cases could be related, fear owners.

One person who lost their dog, commenting on a newspaper story online, said they feared their dog had died recently from the toxin, but no autopsy was carried out.

They said: “We were too distressed at the time to request an autopsy and we were not offered one. Wish they could find a reason or a cure.”

Extensive testing has been carried out by the Environment Agency, the district council and the Forestry Commission at areas known to have been used by dogs who died from the toxin, including the Latchmore Brook area, Verely, and around Moors Valley.

Blood from dogs which have died was even sent off to a kidney expert in Texas last year.

But still no cause has been indentified.

Now the New Forest Dog group is hoping to move that research on by setting up a fund for David Walker of Anderson Moores Veterinary specialists to investigate further. Any surplus cash will be donated to the Animal Health Trust.

NFDOG chairman Heather Gould said: “The fund will be opened with a donation of £2,000 from NFDOG.

“We want to get this off the ground quickly and do something to show we care about the problem and the very worried dog owners, not just in the New Forest, but around a number of areas in England.”

Kate Hurcombe, who put the idea forward to the committee, said: “We just have to do something, and if every dog walk¬er in the forest gave a small donation we would be off to a flying start.”

To donate go to www.newforestdog.org.uk or send a cheque, made payable to NFDOG Research fund, to Hon Treasurer, Woodcote, Balmer Lawn Road, Brockenhurst, SO42 7TT.

David Walker from Anderson Moores said: “We are incredibly grateful to NFDOG for all they have been doing to raise awareness of this disease. This fund will greatly help us in trying to identify the underlying cause.”