Bondi, an 8-month-old doggie, had just returned from a walk when he started faltering. His head wobbled and soon he could barely stand, so his owner, Colin Briggs, took him to the vet.
The good doctor quickly made the diagnosis: Bundy was stoned.
As he walked, a sniff of it must have led Bondy to a neglected joint, which he was eating.
“He was doing that as usual—exploring everything, sniffing everything,” said Briggs, who began noticing the pot shops dotting all over New York City, the recurring smells of marijuana as she cycled through the Manhattan borough, and the now-unfinished joints littering the sidewalks.
In places like New York City, where the first legal recreational dispensary opened last year, users can smoke it in the open. As a result, more dogs are coming across joints and discarded food — and eating them, sparking concern among veterinarians and pet owners who blame a sharp rise in poisonings on smokers unaware of the harm they can cause by littering.
Cases of marijuana poisoning, which is almost never fatal, were rare among pets, even as medical dispensaries began to open, according to Dr. Amy Atas, a New York City veterinarian. Until recently, a lot happened in the home, when pets ran into their owners’ lairs.
“The reason we see so many cases is because people use marijuana on the street and then scrape the unwanted ends to their joints,” Attas said. “And that’s a real problem because the dogs will eat those.”
In the first three months of the year, she had already seen six cases, the same number she had treated over the past three decades. Multiply that by the number of vets working in New York City, she said, and the result underscores the breadth of the problem.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said cases are on the rise nationwide. Last year, there was an 11% increase from about 6,200 cases reported in 2021, and over the past five years, there has been a 300% increase.
“To me, it’s unbelievable how prevalent this is now,” said Attas.
Twenty-one states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, and in big metropolitan areas like New York, a whiff of pot in public is inevitable.
In many cases, owners are not aware that their dogs have eaten the remains of the joint until they begin to show signs of toxicity. Even then, owners may not understand what is hurting their pets.
Sue Scott was in a panic when her 9-month-old tiny dog, Circe, collapsed after a recent walk. Circe’s paws parted on the floor, her head bobbed to and fro and her saliva drooled.
“There were a million things going through my head,” said Scott, 68. And marijuana intoxication was not among them. “I would never have thought of that,” she said.
Scott made a video call to Dr. Attas, who said that Circe was showing all signs of his high. She now keeps Circe on a shorter leash, and is mindful of where she pokes her nose.
“I don’t know if you know a pug — she’s constantly looking for the next bite,” said Scott, who owns four other dogs, none of whom came home stoned. “But sometimes it’s very hard to control them because they’re so fast. They’ll lunge at something.”
Although dogs rarely die from marijuana poisoning, treatment can be expensive, sometimes requiring a trip to the animal emergency room, a stomach pump, and intravenous fluids.
The pressure on the patient and their owner is also enormous.
His owner, Briggs, said Bundy was poisoned three times, the first time last fall.
Even as Briggs became more alert when walking her puppy, she admitted that she might get distracted when Bundy fell ill a second time. At the time, I let Bundy get on his high.
“Walking with him…it’s a really tough situation. So I’m always looking at the floor, and he’s everywhere now,” she said of the expended joints she and Bondy encounter while walking.
“One time, I caught him and pulled him out of his mouth,” Briggs said.
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