Border collie Rae raced through her first agility course like a champ at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds this past weekend, weaving and jumping with the nimble responsiveness for which her breed is known.
But a few hours after a “potty walk” around the grounds, her owner, Diane Szczepanski of Sebastopol, noticed her almost 3-year-old dog was kind of out of it.
Soon after, the dog fell deathly ill, trembling on the kitchen floor, semi- comatose and having lost bladder control, Szczepanski said.
A frantic trip to the pet emergency room and $300 later, Rae is fine — with a diagnosis of marijuana toxicity. The Emerald Cup, a celebration of all things cannabis, was being held at the fairgrounds over the weekend at the same time as the canine agility competition. Apparently, Rae had ingested some kind of pot — in a discarded joint, loose or maybe in one of the many creative edible products made with the herb.
“Come on, be responsible,” Szczepanski said of the pot aficionados who were sharing the fairgrounds. “Don’t throw your butts on the ground. It’s not funny.
“If this was not addressed, she could have died. I cannot even describe in words the panic and worry (that) ensued.”
Szczepanski wants to alert other people to the dangers of pot and animals, particularly dogs, who, as any dog owner knows, aren’t terribly discriminating about what they put in their mouths.
Tim Blake, the producer and founder of the Emerald Cup, felt terrible that Szczepanski’s dog got sick, and he said he would pay for her vet bill.
“I have three animals myself. I don’t want anybody to get sick from cannabis,” he said.
The problem apparently occurred with overlap — dog owners in the pot area and pot users in the dog area — even though there were signs and barricades, Sonoma County Fair interim director Katie Young said.
Both events were also held the same weekend last year, she said, without any problems. And promoters of both events knew the other was also booked this year.
“It’s such a big facility, and there are so many varied buildings. We try to make the best use of the facility each weekend and often we book multiple events,” she said. “We want every event to be successful.”
If organizers of both events still want the same weekend next year, Young said fair officials will consider other measures to keep them separate.
“We’ll certainly revisit it for next year,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone is safe and happy.”
Blake, too, said he will look at changing policies for next year.
“All of a sudden, at one point, we were overrun with dogs,” he said. “Some looked professional, so they may have been from the agility event. But some people were saying they were companion animals.”
He said the Emerald Cup may bar attendees from bringing their dogs next year for safety reasons. Service animals — ones actually certified to help someone — are allowed by fair policy, Young said.
Szczepanski said she has no problem with pot users.
“But I resent the irresponsible behavior that goes with substance abuse,” she said. “To me, this is like leaving alcohol out around a 3 year old.”
The veterinarian who treated Rae, Dr. Kim Henry of PetCare Veterinary Hospital in Santa Rosa, agreed. She said their offices treat about five to 10 dogs with marijuana poisoning each week.