I’m a vet and I recently learned something about being a Pet Parent from my own terrifying experience with our beloved basset, Josie.  

Josie tangled with a Arizona River Toad a few weeks ago.  Nearly killed her.  She didn’t just lick it… she actually mauled it enough to kill it!  

Luckily, we were home.  It was 10 o’clock at night.  Luckily, she started seizuring, loudly, just outside my bedroom window.  Luckily, I was in there, reading a book.  Like a Mom who knows the difference between a “frustrated” cry and an “I’m hurt” cry from their child, I knew that this wasn’t just an “I’m excited” basset yelp!  I raced out to the back yard to find her on her chest, four legs splayed to the sides most alarmingly.  She was yelping senselessly, unresponsive to my voice and blind.  She was definitely blind– the veterinarian in me knew that.  The vet in my head starting cataloging symptoms (we didn’t know about the toad yet).  The basset mommy in my head went from freaking out to “what the he** do I do?” in a microsecond.  I knew she needed to get to a vet clinic.  This wasn’t something that the vet could take care of at home.  But which vet?!  My regular vet (“she’ll open up for this, at this time of night” right – cuz that’s me…) or the 24 hour emergency vet (“they’ll charge me an arm and a leg…” Yup, I thought that, right then.  “But maybe it’s worth it for a rational mind to be applied to this problem” “What’s wrong with my baby Josie!!!????  <freaking out again>). “Get a grip.  Get a catheter in. The clinic, then!”

All this while shouting for my 15 year old son to open the back door.  I set her on the kitchen floor, in the light, to evaluate. Still yelping mindlessly, still not standing, still blind.  Gums beet red. I remembered that I’m good in a crisis. “Son, put on a shirt and shoes, bring Josie to the car.”  

Now.  Add third factor:  15 year old son.  Who LOVES this dog.  It’s his self-proclaimed “emotional support basset”.  He’s never bonded with anything or anyone (pretty sure not even his parents!) like he has with this dog in the last 4 years.  Not given to emotional drama (thank the heavens), he starts asking the rational questions,

“What’s wrong with Josie?” 

“I don’t know”

“Can you fix it?”

“I don’t know”  (honest, but not very comforting, coming from your veterinarian Or your Mom!)

“Just get her in the car. Now!”  … No more questions.  He manned up, right then and there and picked up his baying, pooping, insensible baby girl and carried her to the car.

I made it to the clinic in 4 minutes ( a trip that usually takes 7– no traffic, didn’t care if police “escorted” me to the clinic– we could discuss it there- after I provided emergency care to my baby!) That was a long 4 minutes.  I had lots of time to try to figure out what was going on with our beloved basset.  Arizona River Toad.  It had to be.  Monsoon Season in Arizona. But this is the wackiest response I’d ever seen– not really seizuring- she’s still sitting up, she’s conscious- sort of– she’s vocal- a lot (basset hound, I guess)….

It happened that my husband had just deplaned after a trip out of town. “Call your Dad. Tell him to come directly to the clinic. Josie’s in trouble,” I told my son, tossing him my cell phone. 

My son has never expressed an interest or apptitude for veterinary medicine.  In fact, he gets a little grossed out when I start doing serious stuff involving blood, and he hates to see the animals scared, having to be restrained to help them…  But, again, he manned up. He restrained his baying, unresponsive puppy’s arm so I could place an IV catheter!  My son Rocked!

BUT THIS IS WHAT I LEARNED (besides how much it sucks to be the Pet Parent of a beloved baby and you have no clue what’s wrong, what you can do/ should do/ where to go– I’ve actually been here before…)

While I was working away at that catheter and taking 17 years to draw up a sedative — I’d figured out that my poor baby was having the worst “trip” ever– probably being chased through The Black Forest by giant Basset-Eating Pink  Food Crumbies– I listened to my son try to soothe his best friend and love-hound.  He did what every worried parent does. In clipped phases with the edge of panic on his voice,  “It’s OK, Josie.  Ssshh.  It’s OK.  It’ll be OK.  Hush Josie (for blessed sake, please hush with the baying….).  It’s OK Girl, It’s OK. Mommy will make it better (Oh, cr**, he had to say that?  No pressure, Dr. Mom…).  


“Talk to her like you guys are at home snuggling on the couch.  Tell her she’s a good girl.  Call her “Balrog Jowl-rog”, like you do at home when you are both happy and having fun together.”

He paused, I think putting himself in the right frame of mind.  His tone of voice instantly changed to (something closer to) his happy, everything in life is wonderful, puppy play voice.  

And she instantly calmed down.  It wasn’t the sedative.  It was his tone of voice, the words he used and his entire manner.  He had to find the happy place in himself to say those words with a happy play voice.  He had to shed (or momentarily box away) his fear, to assume the calm needed to even remember happy play voice.  Whatever it was, Josie felt it.  She quieted.  She rested, just a little.  Her boy was at least with her, keeping her safe from those Pink Crumbies.

When Daddy arrived, Josie was quiet. The drugs had done their job.  But when they wore off, and Dad started with the Pet Parent Panic litany, my son told him, “talk to her like we’re all happy, snuggling on the couch, Dad.”  The two of them baby- love- puppy talked Josie through her next set of hallucinations til the new round of sedatives kicked in….  

After pulmonary edema secondary to the Arizona River Toad poison- induced shock was treated, Josie survived.  She doesn’t seem to have suffered any brain damage….  But, she doesn’t have to play Mozart, I guess….  And, she’s still eating her crumbies (you bet your sweet bippies!), so that must not have been what was chasing her through the Black Forest… 

LESSON:  When your pet is panicked, pretend your not.  Put your panic away and talk to them like you would if you were enjoying (whatever the two of you enjoy most together).  Say the goofy things to your pet in the face of panic that you do at home.  It is worth at least half a dose of injectable sedative.

I’ve used this calming technique twice with clients in the my exam room since Josie’s incident and it has worked beautifully.  It calmed both owner and pet….

Dr Deb Bohnke