The tossed cannabis that became a canine curiosity

OVER THE SCARE: Cynthia Painter and her dog Senator got a medical scare when she took him for a walk.
OVER THE SCARE: Cynthia Painter and her dog Senator got a medical scare when she took him for a walk. (Katherine Frey/the Washington Post)
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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The patient arrived at the Friendship Heights hospital slack-jawed and glassy-eyed.

"He was very twitchy," reports Nicola Moore, the physician who admitted him. "His pupils were dilated. When he walked, he looked . . . " Well, he looked stoned.

The caretaker who accompanied him to the hospital was concerned. Her charge had been completely listless for hours, ever since lunchtime when, as was his custom, he'd gone out to urinate on the lawn.

The patient was Senator, a six-pound, 5-month-old toy poodle. Tox screens confirmed what Moore, a veterinarian at the Friendship Hospital for Animals, had suspected. Senator was on drugs. Marijuana. High as a kite.

What happened: Cynthia Painter, a Chevy Chase housewife who recently relocated from Atlanta, had taken Senator for a walk around her well-appointed building with his best friend, a neighborhood Shih Tzu. Senator picked up what looked like a cigarette butt, which Painter immediately wrested away. "I'm not afraid to stick my hands in there," she confides. "I've had kids."

But the tobacky, it seems, was wacky.

"It's actually pretty frequent," says Ashley Hughes, another veterinarian at the hospital. "Pot, I would say maybe every three months. And medications -- we get a lot of dogs in here for Adderall toxicity." On rare occasions, they'll get a dog on cocaine, or one on crack, or one that drank a whole sea of vodka. (The owner kept it in water bottles around the house.)

That's how it usually happens. The dogs are using because the owners are using. Moore and Hughes could remember few other cases in which a pet had ingested street drugs (which makes sense, if you think about it. You're not going to leave a high-value item like a joint outside on the ground).

"The owners bring them in because they're unsteady, or they look like they're having a seizure," Hughes says. "But really, they're just really high."

Any urban pet owner will tell you that they never fully appreciated the diverse microcosm of the sidewalk until they walked a dog there. "Garbage, pizza rinds, rat poison," says Sarah Bownman, a veterinarian at CityPaws clinic in Northwest Washington, rattling off the more common villains. "People come from [nearby] Meridian Park because their dogs got into human waste."

"Meat products," says Gary Weitzman, CEO of the Washington Animal Rescue League. "One of my dogs is a witching rod for chicken bones."

As for Senator, after a few days of appearing "not quite himself," he is back to normal. In fact, Painter says, "he is spoiled rotten."

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