by Gina Gareri-Watkins
It’s early Saturday morning and the dogs have apparently eaten the one remaining holiday assortment of chocolate candy and dried fruit. Having just walked into a morning and living room literally filled with crap, I’m once again reminded that pets do not lower your blood pressure in my house: Family pets have historically given me nothing but headaches. This past month I flushed the family fish, the box turtle escaped its outdoor pen, and my youngest daughter’s mouse died after three years and one last spin on the wheel while I was dusting its cage. To make today’s situation worse, my daughters’ two collies have eaten the potentially toxic combination of raisins and chocolate.
I’m going to get a lot of grief for the following statement, but for me dogs are burdens, barely pets, and certainly not family members. This means I did not immediately rush them to the animal hospital downtown to have their stomachs pumped. When I looked at what had just been deposited on my sofa, carpet, and walls I reasoned there really wasn’t much left inside to do them any more harm. Instead I confined them for the remainder of the day to a location whose surface could be easily power-washed, namely the back deck. It wasn’t until nine hours later, when one dog yakked up a reconstituted fruit and nut loaf flecked with blood, that I finally called our veterinarian.
I could tell she was annoyed with me.
“When did she eat the fruit and candy?” she asked.
I struggled with the math and eventually came up with nine hours earlier.
“Well, it’s a little late to do anything about it now,” she answered irritably.
“What would you have done if I had called earlier?” I responded innocently.
“I would have given her a shot to stop the vomiting, put her on IVs, and kept her overnight for observation.”
Good thing I waited, I told myself, as that sounded really expensive.
I did feel a twinge of guilt when the vet proceeded to explain it’s not really the chocolate that’s toxic but the raisins. They’re deadly once they make their way through the digestive system, which coincidentally takes about nine hours. The chocolate would have to be dark and nearly pure to prove fatal, which is rare in Atlanta cupboards, but for some unknown reason grapes are poisonous to all dogs. Local vets realized it three years ago, but naturally I wasn’t on their email list. I get email warnings from friends all the time about static electricity fires at gas pumps, but no one ever bothered to mention this. And it takes only three ounces to kill a 50-pound dog, which is what ours weighs. Unfortunately it takes a week to notice your dog is dying, and only when she drains the water bowl and all the toilets indicating the onset of kidney failure. My husband asked me why we didn’t feed them raisins sooner. He’s an animal lover, too.
My girlfriend, Darlene, called that same day.
“Hey. Want to go into the city for lunch today?” she asked.
“I can’t. I’m waiting for the dog to die,” I answered.
“Okay. Catch you later then,” she said as she hung up.
I love Darlene’s attitude toward pets. Her one problem, however, is that she owns a Border Collie whose main problem is that he’s a Border Collie (anyone with first-hand experience with this breed knows exactly what I’m talking about). Darlene also sometimes slips and mistakenly assumes that the rest of us actually like her dog. She has a practical attitude towards cats, though. As a youngster, Darlene’s ancient feline accompanied her throughout the college years only to eventually die in a suburban laundry room—half in and out of its litter box—when both our daughters were playing at Darlene’s house. Everyone’s nightmare of being found dead on the toilet, but the girls didn’t seem to mind as they spent the afternoon poking the dead body. They eventually grew bored and went outside to play, but not before moaning about giving the deceased cat a proper burial.
Darlene’s husband was naturally out of town, and cremation was too expensive (and a bit backed up at the vet’s, besides), so having grown up on a farm in Ohio, Darlene’s eyes naturally traveled back and forth from the dead cat to the trash can in her garage. As it was trash night in the neighborhood, Kitty eventually went out with the garbage. That story forever bonds me with Darlene, but I’m fairly certain when the inevitable happens I can’t physically or emotionally hoist the 50-pound family dog into the trash barrel.
If I did, I’m certain my kids would put me in there, too.
Author’s note: The dog survived, but the sofa did not.