Cannabis and canines don’t mix (w/video)

Dog attending agility event this weekend at Sonoma County Fairgrounds nearly dies after ingesting marijuana from Emerald Cup, which was also being held at Santa Rosa site.|

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.

Vets in Mendocino County also report frequent cases of dogs being treated for marijuana ingestion. Vets say incidents are the most common in Humboldt County, the heart of marijuana country.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Illinois handled more than 180,000 cases about pets exposed to possibly poisonous substances in 2012, the most recent numbers available. Human prescription medicines were the top culprit, with “plants” including marijuana - in the top 10.

Marijuana deaths are rare - PetCare has seen two - but the herb is poisonous to animals, like the onions, chocolate or medication canines also occasionally get into.

“Unfortunately, people are pretty cavalier about it,” Henry said. “They don’t realize it’s a toxin.

“People’s stashes get left around and, lately, the newest trends are to make all sorts of concoctions with marijuana.”

Unfortunately for dogs, those things are often tasty: candy bars, butter, brownies or cookies.

“Things that an animal would say, ‘Hey, a treat for me!’?” Henry said. “The more creative people are getting, the more we’re seeing pets get into it.”

Cats, on the contrary, turn their noses up at pot and don’t care for sweets, so they rarely are affected, Henry said.

Rae’s symptoms were classic: wobbliness, incontinence, extreme lethargy, a coma-like state. But THC can also lower body temperature and slow the heart rate, sometimes fatally if untreated.

Treatment can include subcutaneous hydration, as with Rae, the use of charcoal to soak up toxins, induced vomiting or ventilator support and hospitalization.

It can take pets 18 to 36 hours to recover, according to the Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour animal poison control service.

Rae was back to herself the following day, Szczepanski said.

But she is still left with a sense of anger and frustration that someone’s thoughtlessness could have killed her dog. She adopted Rae from a shelter two years ago and the collie is now a happy, healthy master-level agility dog.

“What if this had happened to a child? A dog’s a dog, and we love our dogs. But what if this happened to a child?” she said. “Wouldn’t the community be in an uproar? It’s more of an awareness thing to me. It’s not to be taken lightly.”

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@ On Twitter @loriacarter.

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