The adventures of “pot dog” is the most Austin story ever

The adventures of “pot dog” is the most Austin story ever

Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone and knowing for a fact that person is convinced they are lying? Can’t say I ever have. Until last month.

It was a joyous holiday gathering. Our son. His girlfriend. Lots of delicious food. Very tasty wine. In a sharp indigestion, my husband and I were about to find out who died in White Lotus when we felt something was wrong. Our endlessly energetic dog, Collie, an 18-month-old corgi, was calm. Very quiet, in the ominous way of slasher movies and unattended toddlers.

“Where’s the Big Booper?” I ask, using the nickname she’s earned for her relentless facial condescension.

I find Collie cowering in a corner, glassy-eyed and drooling.

“She’s had a stroke!” I shout out to George, my husband.

It is past midnight when we arrive at the 24 hour vet’s office. I expect to be greeted by orderlies rushing out on gurneys, nurses holding defibrillator paddles and yelling, “Clear!” A doctor putting his stethoscope back around his neck as he orders his friends, “Prepare the OR! STAT!” would also be nice.

Instead, the place is deserted.

“Hello!” I call out with a quiver in my voice.


After several more, increasingly frantic screams, a receptionist pulls the crumbs off her chest. She glances over and a knowing smile creases her face as she brags about Collie in an aggressively rough East Texas/Ross Perot accent.

“Did the baby get into something from mom that she shouldn’t have?”

Her question — so casual, so insinuating, so out of left field — bugs me.

“I think she’s had a stroke,” I say.

Completely unfazed, the receptionist continues, “We see this all the time. You are the third case tonight.”

“For a stroke?”

Her eyes meet mine, her warm gaze flickering, and she clarifies, “Marijuana toxicity. We have seen 400 cases this year.”

I blink once, twice, at the strange diagnosis and try to bring her back to present reality by repeating, “I think she’s had a stroke.”

Smiling the weary smile of a detective whose suspect refuses to abandon her obviously ridiculous cover, the receptionist sighs and leads us into an exam room.

The vet, Erica Hartmann, walks in and says with reassuring certainty, “Let’s take a look.” She takes Collie from my arms, places him on a counter, and we both watch as my innocent puppy sways to her feet, his eyes downcast.

“What does this look like?” Hartmann asks with the same baffling casualness the receptionist had shown.

The answer is that Collie looks like my college roommate who will ask if we have any Doritos. But I refuse to give this answer. The implication offends me. “Do I look like a rock?” I almost blurt out. But before I can, the answer pops into my head, yes! Yes, in fact I look just like all my gum-swallowing aging friends, feasting on edible delights.

“But we don’t have marijuana in the house,” I explain.

Hartmann nods in a professional, non-judgmental manner. “There’s so much marijuana in Austin. It’s everywhere. She could have eaten something on a walk.”

This feels like the moment the detective gives the perp a chance to plead guilty.

“We didn’t go for a walk,” I say, starting to sound uncooperative even to myself.

With a patient smile, she takes Collie in to administer fluids and check vitals.

Alone in the exam room, my husband and I try to open the case. Maybe Collie got into our son’s girlfriend’s bag? We’re still trying to solve the mystery of when, just a fraction under $350 poorer, we take our hung-over dog out in the car.

“Well, it was a steep price,” my husband concludes.

“But how?” I ask, wishing our car was wired so the vet would know we weren’t lying.

At home, George scours the house for the tiniest bit of food. I turn to Google for clues and find an interview on the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center site with Senior Director Tina Whismer, who informs us that in the past few years since pot has been gradually legalized throughout country, the site has experienced a 400% increase in calls for what it calls “pot dog”. Whismer attributes this increase to the dramatic increase in the potency of marijuana. “This is not your father’s grass.”

She also stresses how important it is to be honest with your vet. “Veterinarians will not judge. We are not the drug police.”

Cleaning our house results in nothing. Determined to solve this mystery, not being the “drug cop,” I call our son and, borrowing the non-judgmental tone of the vets, share our adventure and expect him to accept a gum in his pocket, a snack in his bag. But no. And then, he recalls, “She wasn’t bugging me. I was sitting on the floor and she was doing her usual thing, jumping in my face, bending my nose and then, all of a sudden, she stopped and started licking the bottom of my shoe.”

“Check your shoe.”

“There’s something grim about the steps.”

“Great?” I ask. “Maybe even ‘with bubblegum?’

“Yeah, it smells like marijuana.”

He had been in a club and had stepped on something of a cannabinoid nature; The 20-pound collie had licked enough to cause all the dangerous symptoms we saw. We had hit the spot.

The next morning, I wake up early to check on him. Collie opens her eyes and immediately gives me a good look. Relief.

Now to find out who died in the White Lotus.

Sarah Bird is a novelist, screenwriter and journalist in Austin. Her latest book, Last Dance on the Starlight Pier, has been named among the best books of 2022 by the Texas Observer and the Austin Chronicle. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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