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What the dog ate

- when good dogs eat bad things

By Lisa Treen, article originally published in Urban Animal Magazine

“Yeah, look it can be quite a common problem in pups his age,” my vet explained. “He’s young and silly and a Garbage Guts. Doesn’t help that he’s a Dalmatian and they have an insatiable appetite. He’ll probably grow out of it at some stage but I guess you just have to be vigilant around him. ”

Garbage Guts, that’s some kind of medical explanation of what my dog Scooter is? I signed the credit card receipt, waved a cheery farewell to the nice reception and vet nurse staff, loaded the groggy hound in the back of the car and headed for home. That was the end of a surprising Saturday.

It had all started well. A nice early morning walk in the local cemetery—but before you think I might be a Goth or Emo, I’m not. Newtown’s oldest cemetery is a very nice place to stroll and is one of the only local areas where dogs can romp freely in a fenced area.


Scooter was having a fun time sniffing the grounds and rolling in the dewy grass. At one point I remember him trotting to the interior of the grounds and spending a great deal of time there. I called him and he eventually came whilst licking his chops. He had eaten something—yet on closer inspection I couldn’t find any trace of the normal discarded remains so often found in the grounds.


Common finds are nearly empty coffee cups, some left-over bread or the Holy Grail for most Newtown dogs—a discarded, foil lined bag that once contained ‘Clem’s Chicken’. Less than an hour later we were back home and I was busy unloading and loading the dishwasher. Then I noticed something very strange.


The Scoot-man has a weird preference to where and how he sits close to the kitchen. It looks weird but is obviously quite a comfortable position as he parks his bum one step higher than his front feet. That’s the way he likes to sit on stairs or a low-to-the-ground couch or dog bed.


Wobbly head—that’s what it looked like. I think the correct medical term is ‘Course head’ but all that means is that the creature looks shaky, wobbly, disorientated. To me, Scooter looked drunk, stoned or ‘out of it’. He was sitting there happy enough but wasn’t fully present. His head would wobble from side to side and when I called him, he bumped into walls like he had no spatial sense. He had been on a course of drugs to combat a skin complaint and the dosage had recently been increased.

Best to call the vet, I decided. And so I rang to talk to my vet about Scooter’s weird behaviour. Immediately the drug dosage increase was ruled out and my vet advised that I go about my business and observe him. If it got worse within the next fifteen minutes or his condition changed then I should call again.


I was on the phone about ten minutes later. “Look, I really know that something’s not right,” I breathlessly explained. “It’s like he’s drunk or stoned or something. He’s happy enough but he’s bumping into furniture and even though he’s seated, it’s like he can’t keep his head straight.”


It was a quick decision on my part to bring him in for a consult and a look over. So by 9:00am, I was driving my way over the Gladesville bridge while a patchy Dalmatian happily sucked in the passing smells and listened to doof doof music whilst trying not to nod off in the back seat.


“He looks fine. Temperature’s normal and he seems happy enough”, explained the vet. “Don’t really see anything wrong with him. BUT…” she paused. “he could have a bit of adrenaline from the excitement of the car drive. That sometimes ‘evens ‘ them up a bit. Makes them seem quite normal even if they’re not. It’s really over to you Lisa. If you want, we can keep him for a while and observe him.”


“Keep him,” I said abruptly. “Keep him because I know that something’s not right”. I was convinced that Scooter had eaten something foul that had affected his motor skills. My befuddled Dalmatian seemed like he was a drunk—all-be-it one of the cutest and happiest drunks I had ever seen.


I didn’t get further than Balmain when my phone buzzed and pulled over.


“Hello Lisa? Dr X here. Look we’ve all been watching him and it would appear he’s eaten something intoxicating. Not sure yet. Possible in your area that it’s alcohol or junkie vomit—perhaps something nastier.”


“Crap”, I said, just under my breath.


“Yes! Crap indeed. Could be. We’re not sure. I suggest inducing vomiting. It’s pretty nasty and he won’t be feeling the best for the rest of the day but it’s the safest way of expelling whatever and how much of what he’s consumed out of his body,” explained the vet.


That took me two seconds to consider and so I gave the go ahead for my sweet five-month-old pup to endure the canine equivalent of a stomach pump. I would pick him up at the end of the day, drive him home and keep him quiet.


Like your best high school buddy, I kept Scooter away from more substances, flashy lights and rave music and rested him in a darkened room , letting his head cool on the tile floors. What he ate that day remains a mystery, but all witnesses testified that what came up from the depths of his stomach was dark and foul smelling—akin to the stench found in the pits of hell.


Not so much mystery is the stuff that I’ve found or caught him eating since then. Scootersauraus-Rex (a nickname given by one of his followers on Twitter) is quite the go-getter and risk-taker when it comes to stealing, thieving or sneaking food.


He’s tall for a Dalmatian—not fat but just quite large for the breed. He’s determined that the reward for ‘surfing’ a kitchen counter, far out-weighs the consequence.


The consequence when he was a puppy was me sneaking up on him and clapping loudly by an ear whilst growling “GET DOWN” in my scariest voice. Sure, he got a shock, looked remorseful and bolted out of the kitchen. But the siren song of sweet smelling food left on counter-tops does not deter this dog.


He is Scootersaurus-Rex. A large canine beast that through evolution, has developed strong hindquarters that he can balance on to scour and graze on counter tops. He is both Omnivore and Herbivore and has a finely-tuned nose for CHEESE.


There are now two tales in Scooter folk-lore that are dubbed the ‘Wheel of Cheese’ and ‘World of Cheese’, respectively. The first occurred when a group of friends came around for drinks and nibblies. I had left a large brie on the kitchen counter to mellow and ripen at room temperature and was tending drinks when a girlfriend raised the alarm. From the backyard she witnessed the lightning fast disappearance of the whole cheese wheel down Scooter’s gullet. Gone in less than 20 seconds 200g of Tasmanian Heritage Triple Cream Brie.


That cheese incident made me more vigilant when entertaining, however the day you let your guard down is the prime opportunity for a cheese thief to spin back into action. Only this time is was a selection of cheese. There was a Morbier from France, a Dutch Gouda, Belgian Feta, Parmigiano from Italy and a frisky goats curd from New Zealand. A moment of distraction and the platter was left with only a few crackers and the Parmigiano intact. Scooter clearly prefers the softer, creamy style cheese or merely believes Italy needs to up its game. This incident is now referred to as the ‘World of Cheese’.


Although not good for any dog’s insides or their cholesterol levels, cheese is a relatively harmless substance to ingest. Much more harmful are the items we never expect them to find, let alone eat.


August last year, I was on deadline for a publication and about to put the finishing organisational touches to a large event the company I work for produces. Pressed for time, all systems around the office were go and there was not much time to even slow down for a cup of tea. But dogs never pick convenient times for you to race them to emergency vets.


I was checking over some files when I heard crunching and chewing noises behind me. Scooter was probably gnawing on a toy or a piece of paper but when I looked around to inspect I got an awful surprise. Rat Poison! A whole carton of rat poison—the green pellet kind—and lord knows how much Scooter had eaten. I rang Sydney Uni Vets immediately. Bring him straight down, I was told. Rat poison isn’t something you wait around for and if a small amount can kill a rat then a fair quantity can do some serious damage to the insides of a pet.


Within 15 minutes I was down there and in a consult room. Within 20 minutes they had induced vomiting. From there it was a number of tests and lots of questions and answers. Five weeks worth of daily medication and a dog with a sore tummy is what I returned home with.


Deadlines and the pressures of work can always be put on hold for a pet emergency.


The most recent incident occurred just before Christmas and involved the making of pies. I had given over the kitchen to the making of flaky pastry pockets of meaty goodness to a friend. It’s quite a process making meat pies—punching out the right sized round for the bottom and the top, scooping just the right amount of pie filling and then baking them to a golden colour and temperature. I was happy to stay well away from the whole procedure.


The pie making was a success and a group of us were happy to scoff these little rustic, meaty morsels—they were delicious. Scooter also scoffed the remnants of raw pastry that had been balled up on the bench. I knew about it at the time—there was war cry from the kitchen when it happened—I just didn’t know how much uncooked flaky pastry the bugger stole that night. I was to find out the very next morning.


Sleeping in only happens when I’m away from the dogs on holiday. They never give me a chance to wallow in bed until all hours. 5:45am is generally the wake-up call from a dog or two. So I was amazed to get to 6:30am without so much as even a whine or bark from either of them and that gave me an uneasy feeling in the bottom of my gut.


I went downstairs to investigate and it would seem that something wasn’t quite right with somebody else’s gut. There was a foul doggie smell and Scooter was up but looked pathetic. He had the hang-dog look—sheepish and uncomfortable. Poor pup whimpered when I patted his bloated belly. He couldn’t sit and laying down was painful. He looked rough enough that I rang the local emergency vet. We jumped into the car and waited patiently for the consult.


It turned out that Scooter’s insides had become a canine equivalent of a dough-raising oven. The puff pastry had expanded and risen in the depths of his warm belly. After a thorough probing, the vet decided that it was bad but not life threatening. It would be better to take him home and let him sleep it off and if anything changed then I should get him back into care. It was expected that Scooter would have the runs and be a bit miserable.


My misery was the short drive back home in morning peak hour traffic. I had just received by brand new car a couple of weeks prior. It still had that new car smell and had gleaming interiors. That changed on the journey home.


A baby gate has since been erected across the entry to my kitchen. It would seem the only possible barrier and remedy to the counter surfing and mounting vet bills. For a dog who has had his share of emergency trips to the vet, he sure likes vets. Being probed, prodded and made to vomit hasn’t made him wary of anyone in a white coat. He just wags his tail and grins all the while probably thinking of the next loaf of bread and chunk of cheese.  


I’ve had friends who’ve weathered their dogs’ ravenous appetites for destruction. Most of the memorable stories seem to feature Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Beagles.


A neighbourhood Goldie has quite a rap sheet for consumption of weird and seemingly inedible and unpassable substances. She was once found licking the remnants of a bucket of wet cement. She also took to garden hoses and watering systems like they were fine cabanossi. Quite recently she took fifteen minutes to pass a whole shoelace.


Another friend’s Lab has demolished most of a 15 kilo bag of dry dog food. His chocolate consumption of a bag of holiday Santa’s is also legendary—foil covering and all.


A friend’s Beagle once took a flying run at a cake laid out on a picnic blanket. He literally ploughed one side of the cake. It was all while an ABC crew were filming for a TV series. I just hope they managed to capture the impromptu Beagle cake gorge on film.


Scootersaurus too has been guilty of stealing cake. It was a quiet Sunday morning at the church grounds and I should have turned on my heels when I saw the sign outside church. “Join us for morning tea and fellowship after service.”


After a round of the cemetery he got whiff of something and darted into the back of the church. There, two large trestle tables were groaning under the amount of lamingtons, eclairs, finger sandwiches and sponge cakes.


I scurried after him and watched in silent horror as he quickly did a calculation of what table to go for and what to scoop. The lamingtons were his prize, after a quick lap and reconnoitre. As the sermon was in full swing I grabbed him and ushered him out in hushed tones.


“Please God can this not be a sermon on gluttony and greed,” I pleaded.


Only a young mum trying to jiggle her baby back to sleep saw the whole sorry incident—and God of course.

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