Big Black Dog and the Cherry Tree

I woke this morning with great expectations of a few relaxing hours with the dogs. I had a doctor appointment for myself at 10:45 so I was using a half of a sick day. Usually I hold out for a very early or very late appointment but this was an appointment where you had to just take what you could get. As a result I was going to have a few extra hours to let the dogs stay out of their kennels and play. They have had a few long days of more than normal crate time as my husband has been out-of-town and as the only dog parent home they were living on my schedule. The dog walker at noon helped, but I was happy they would get some more playtime.

As always I went outside with the dogs. Jackson is fifteen months old and still explores the world by putting everything into his mouth instead of just smelling it with his nose. Because of this I tend to stay close to him to make sure he is not consuming something that could hurt us.

Over the last few days Jackson has been obsessed with our fairly new Bing cherry tree. A month or so ago we planted apple, pear and a cherry tree in our back yard. He was doing a great job of staying off of the trees, not killing them with his urine, and not chewing them. I know my way around my lab enough to know what is going on in his mind when he sees those trees: best.stick.ever.

This morning Jackson was intent on removing all of the leaves off of several branches and eating them. Not just chewing and spitting out, but actually eating and swallowing. He did this in record time. I body blocked, used the off command that he knows very well. I circled the tree, trying to keep my own body between the pup and the tree. I failed miserably. The more I blocked him, the more of a game it became. I raised my voice. NO! I even broke out the dreaded b-a-d-d-o-g. He darted in and out around me to get to the tree to eat more leaves with speed that should not have been possible with that stocky body.

Finally I grabbed his collar and led him to the back door in what was probably a violation of all of our positive reinforcement training that we had done in the last year. It was old school training. It did not hurt him, was not cruel, and gave him the reminder that he must listen to me.

Once inside I sat and waited for him to cool down and stop panting, as we do every day to prevent bloat. He drank water and flopped in front of the central air vent. In the meantime I decided on a whim to check my pet poison app on my phone. I was not too concerned as many of the dog treats I bought contained cherries so I knew the fruit was safe for canine consumption.

My heart skipped a beat as I read that cherry tree leaves contain cyanide and were deadly when consumed in toxic amounts. But what was a toxic amount?? How many leaves had he had?

Our veterinarian is on my speed dial so I called the office. None of the doctors would be in for an hour. I phoned the pet poison control line, paid my $40.00 and spoke to a vet about the issue. She eased my mind that Jackson had not consumed many leaves and that the issue was usually with horses and cattle that grazed and ate a lot of leaves.

My mind somewhat eased, I went outside an yanked the tree out of the ground. It came out easily and I put it in our front yard to deal with it later. The pet sitter was coming today and I wanted to make sure Jackson did not get to any more leaves. He still looked like a normal dog, panting and giving me the labrador eye that says “Uh, Mom, where’s my food?”

As I scooped the dog food into bowls I kept thinking of the leaves full of cyanide sitting in my puppy’s stomach. I stopped filling the bowls, called the vet’s office again and arranged for Jackson to stay in their medical day care area under observation. There was no way I was leaving my baby in his crate, helpless, while I left and went to my doctor and to work. No way. If they could not have taken him, I would have cancelled the doctor and skipped work today without even a second thought.

Now, fourteen hours later, we have learned that the number of leaves he ingested would not have been a toxic amount. The pet poison hotline also told my vet that the dried leaves contain a higher concentration. The most important information came from my husband, who ironically was attending a hazardous materials training class and spoke to one of his instructors. The Bing cherry tree is a different type of tree and the leaves are not toxic.

I will always go with the “better safe than sorry” mindset. An $80 fee is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. Racing to the vet in pajamas, unbrushed teeth, and wild bed head is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. Arriving late at my own appointment and forgetting to eat is nothing compared to peace of mind of having a safe and healthy puppy. These are the moments you sign up for when you take on a dog. It is part of the committment to keep them safe.

As I watch him sleep I flash forward to ten years from now, when his muzzle will turn white and he will sleep more than he plays. I imagine stroking his beautiful face, telling him the story of how he scared momma half to death one summer morning when he started to chow down on Bing cherry tree leaves, and how it was a false alarm. I imagine him picking up his big blocky head, giving me a lick on the face, as if to say “Momma, I have no idea what you are saying, but I’m glad I am here with you”.

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