(Don't) Pick Their Poison

We’d barely had Lilly three weeks when my wife and I started packing for a business trip to Toronto that had been planned months before. Though we hated the idea of leaving Lilly so early into her adjustment with us, we knew that she would be in a friend’s very capable hands.

While un-stuffing a backpack, I exhumed a rotted plum engulfed in a noxious sphere of mold. I immediately bagged the feted fruit, walked down the hall, tossed it down the trash chute and congratulated myself for being a responsible doggy-dad.

Upon my return, I found Lilly lazing on the ottoman. She was gnawing on the remains of a zip-lock bag she had pulled from the open backpack while I was out briefly on my trash run.

I lunged toward her and shouted, “No!” to which she promptly surrendered the bag. To my horror, the bag contained five cubes of gum sweetened with xylitol, a sugar substitute. I remembered putting a dozen or so cubes in the bag before my last day-long hike. I never chewed the gum. That meant that Lilly had ingested seven pieces.

Heart pounding, I called out to Susan. We both remembered reading an article about house-proofing for your pet in the weeks before Lilly’s arrival. In sufficient quantities, xylitol can cause liver failure, seizures and death in canines.

Susan promptly called our vet. Though it was unlikely that Lilly had ingested enough xylitol to cause severe damage, the vet “strongly recommended” that we bring Lilly in for lab work and leave her for one-two days of observation. We promptly agreed.

Susan drove to the vet’s office while I cradled a dazed and disoriented Lilly in my lap. I’ll never forget the fidgeting and the helpless pacing in the vet’s waiting room as Lilly had her stomach pumped. I’ll also not forget the utter sense of desolation as Susan and I looked at her through the metal grate of the cage where she lay recovering. I believed that I’d failed and betrayed her. Words cannot describe my gratitude and relief when we got the news of Lilly’s clear liver panels and her spunky antics in the wee hours of the next morning.

As responsible pet-parents, we may plan to the Nth degree. We may design the most hazard-free environment, take every precaution, consider every contingency and we may STILL miss something. We may still have a fleeting lapse of attention. It can happen to anyone.

It happened to us.

Losing Lilly would have been a needless tragedy. Had this happened, I know that I would be hard-pressed to forgive myself for my moment of carelessness.

Benign neglect lurks everywhere, even in places we may never have thought of: that high retaining wall next to your neighbor’s blooming hyacinth; a thin wedge between the kitchen cabinets and fridge where an orphaned coat button beckons to be played with; an open clothes dryer brimming with slightly damp, but oh-so-warm towels in need of a 10-minute spin. The American Humane Society and Petfinder boast informative reference pages to heighten environmental awareness and knowledge of toxic substances.

In the name of pet safety, it always pays for us to crouch down from our lofty vista to the height of our four-legged friends so that we can see life as they do. Given all that our pets do to save us from ourselves, the least we can do is keep them from falling through those enticing – but potentially deadly – trap doors of our world.