A Capitol idea: Keep canines and cocoa mulch apart

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2009 - 9:44 PM

This week in lawmaking: Our elected reps spent an hour debating a requirement to post signs warning consumers that cocoa mulch is poisonous for dogs. Like a knucklebone eaten by a Pekinese, it passed, narrowly. In case the House wraps up early and still feels frisky, here are some other things dogs eat:

The meatless skeleton of a chicken dragged from the garbage in the dead of the night.

The federal tax code, if dipped in gravy.

You, if it comes to that, and you're not in a position to argue.

And so on. Dog's mouths are nature's version of Amazon's One-Click: Me Want/Me Have. Many years ago my dog harked up a straight pin an inch and a half long. I stared at the mess in amazement -- are you auditioning to be a circus sword swallower? A pin? Branching out into the metal food group now? He was saved by the wisdom of his stomach, which serves as the closest thing to a conscience a dog will ever get.

But some things cannot be so easily returned. The same dog ate a piece of nicotine gum. I chastised him, of course -- I'll let you out in the middle of the night to do the other things, but if you're thinking of whining because you want to go out for a cigarette, forget it. As a new dog owner unaware of the cast-iron properties of canine innards, I took him to an all-night vet, where we sat with half a dozen other beasts who'd eaten a cow femur, a disposable razor, half a pound of hazelnut coffee, the transmission from a '63 Nash, and other assorted delicacies. Including cocoa, I'm sure.

That dog is now 14. He has trouble getting up the stairs, and is either deaf as a brick or tired of my conversation, but otherwise he is the same companion we've had since the first Clinton term.

Not to say a warning isn't wise, but the more warnings we get, the more we ignore the warnings. The other day, in a fit of haste and absent-mindedness, I almost walked in front of a light-rail train. Despite the fact that the bright shiny contraptions rumble past Strib HQ all the time with the scissor-grinding glissando of the wheels and the KANG KANG KANG of the bell, I was still a few steps away from being Tragic Jam. You could insist the city put up signs: WARNING. TRAIN. DO NOT BE IN FRONT OF IT, but if I haven't gotten the point by now, no sign would help. (Unless it said THIS BAG IS NOT A TOY, which always confuses me. It's not?)

Likewise cocoa mulch: Modern dog owners know that cocoa is bad for dogs. In a parallel canine universe, Hermann Goering had a Hershey's Kiss secreted in his mouth so he could do away with himself before trial, right? Except that every dog owner has come across Fido hoovering up foil-covered chocolate at some point, and the dog was fine, apart from deploying some chaff the next day. However, I'm not a vet, so perhaps we should ask an authority. Let's welcome Dr. Kathleen McJunkin from Blue Cross Animal Hospital, and ask her about mulch: overblown concern, or reasonable precaution?

"When the mulch first came out I thought it was coolest stuff -- but then one of my husband's dog was chewing on the mulch, and he had the same symptoms of chocolate toxicity." Which are, in case you're taking notes: "Vomiting, restlessness, hyperactivity, tachycardia." She'd been thinking of getting cocoa mulch, but decided against it. She notes: "The smaller the dog, the less it would take. I don't think it's worth the risk. I think there should be a warning on the bag."

She also notes that new studies suggest dogs might have a problem with grapes. We're still learning about dogs and their tolerances, and "something's always coming up."

Yes indeed, as any dog owner will attest. The greater mystery, of course, is why dogs eat so much stuff that's bad for them, and ... .

Sorry, my lunch is here. Steak! I'll get back to you on that last point?

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/buzz

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