Poison grapes, raisins, and chocolate

When a recent email stated that grapes are toxic when eaten by dogs, I worried about my Italian son-in-law, who never found a bottle of wine he couldn’t enjoy.  If grapes are toxic, then he has died a thousand deaths. According to the emails we receive, some of our most popular snacks are poisonous, and may be fatal when eaten!  These urgent messages are often accompanied by instructions to forward the warning to everyone we know.  Personally, I refuse to do so when the fatal treat is high on my list of therapeutic snacks.

Some of the reported deaths are among dogs that consume fatal doses during their spare time.  If you worry about the connection between dogs and humans, consider the first line of drug testing is conducted on rats.  Rats were, after all, the carriers of bubonic plague, a disease transmitted by fleas to humans.  For several years now we have worried about catching Chinese Chicken flu, half of which is fatal in humans.  The connection with humans is not that remote.

The fatal grape alert arrived with copious documentation from a dog doctor “who had heard somewhere about raisins AND grapes causing acute renal failure but hadn’t seen any formal paper on the subject.”  Her patient, a 56 pound Labrador mix, had eaten half a canister of raisins sometime during the previous 24 hours.  When calling the ASPCA she was told as few as six raisins or grapes can be toxic.  What she had heard somewhere is now confirmed somewhere.  After extensive testing for acute kidney failure, the dog was eventually euthanized.  Her final grave caution was “even if you don’t have a dog, you might have friends who do.  This is worth passing on to them.”  So I naturally thought about my Italian son-in-law who loves grapes in all its forms, and has a dog.

I did not forward the grape warning to the Italians, figuring they would pooh-pooh the entire thing.  My wife did send the warning, however, and she received an immediate reply from our daughter, who has the same dog.  Her cryptic, yet colorful response was;

I heard chocolate can kill dogs too, but our unsupervised basset hound once ate two whole bags of miniature Hershey candy bars and all that happened was that he pooped out aluminum wrappers for several days.

This single sentence gives credit where credit is due, and lays all human hysterics aside in view of the clear evidence, dog excrement, known in street vernacular as bulls–t.  Like her father, she rarely accepts such assertions at face value, yet she remains vigilant in the event there is substance to the rumors.  Now she is monitoring two foods, raisins and chocolate, with allegedly fatal consequences when consumed by unsupervised critters.

The rest of her story is of some interest.  As a school principal, she purchased three bags of Hershey’s Miniature Chocolate Bars for her staff and teachers to sweeten their dispositions.  While the treatment’s effectiveness was a mixed bag, only one bag was consumed, so she took two bags home and placed them on the drier in the utility room, where their basset hound sleeps at night.  Believing there was no way a basset hound could reach the top of the drier, she proceeded to forget about the deadly chocolate in the laundry room.

After both bags disappeared, only her three sons, her Italian husband, and the basset hound were possible suspects.  Her discovery of aluminum wrappers in the dog excrement is clear evidence that it was the unsupervised dog, rather than her husband or sons, who ate the chocolate.

Fortunately for her, the ASPCA was not consulted, and she was not told that as few as one miniature Hershey candy bar can be toxic when fed to unsupervised creatures.  Nor was she told that supervising her dog, her children, or her Italian husband would make any appreciable difference.

Now it is the process she engaged in that is of central interest in this story.  Because of her heightened vigilance, she monitored the end-product of the family dog with some care.  Unlike my daughter, I was never able to develop that much interest in dog poop, unless I discover it on the bottom of my shoes, or grandma finds it on her carpet.

In the aftermath of these many deadly allegations, I pondered my own history, and vivid memories of recent events.  Suddenly I recall my own brush with death from toxic food substances which should be added to the growing list.

It started around 5:00am in the morning with the crash of a newly purchased Gateway Media Center computer.  After hours of painful struggle with technical supporters, who spoke little English, I was told the computer’s memory was defective, and must be packaged and shipped for repair and replacement.  During those many hours of anxiety and upset, I managed to eat almost nothing nutritious, although the bar was well stocked with tranquilizing beverages, such as Tennessee sour mash nectar and the aromatic essence of fermented grapes, both red and white.  These tranquilizing snacks allowed me to start the grieving process with a smile.

Later that evening at couples’ bridge the cards were lousy.  I saw three face cards in three hours, and my score was so low it did not require addition.  For therapeutic snacks throughout the long and miserable evening I ate handfuls of premium mixed nuts and drank a liter of diet Coke. Returning home late, I was suddenly hit with an urge to purge from the lower end of the alimentary canal.  It was bright red with fresh blood, a frightening experience knowing that a friend had almost died from a similar hemorrhage a few months earlier.

Without flushing, I fetched a clear glass jar with a secure lid, and delicately scooped up a generous sample of the effluence.  I screwed the lid on tightly, thoroughly washed the exterior of the container, and left immediately for the emergency room at the local hospital.

While it is embarrassing to walk calmly into a packed emergency room with a clear container of bloody crap, I had neither the presence of mind, nor the time to place the jar into either paper or plastic.  At the same time, I did not want to shake the contents, blending the ingredients into a strawberry – chocolate milkshake, and thereby disguise the contents for what it really was.  The premium nuts, blood, and other dark substances remained essentially unblended, due to my careful administration of the clear jug, as I carried it through the reception area and the crowd of spectators.

After an x-ray or two and an hour or two, I was sent home from the emergency room.  As I left, the ER physician returned the glass jar with the lid still screwed on tightly.  With a wry smile, his departing warning was “Here is your Italian gravy.  Administer it carefully”.

To the list of fatal therapeutic treats, raisins, grapes, and chocolate, one must add Tennessee sour mash beverage, an assortment of red and white wines, diet coke, premium mixed nuts, bad cards, technical supporters with poor English, and a crashed Gateway Media Center computer.  I even heard somewhere the other day that a lady drank too much water, and died from excessive hydration.  In the final analysis if it doesn’t kill an old dog while passing through, it may come out fine in the end.

To the list of safe treats should be added partially digested bits of aluminum foil, although I heard somewhere that aluminum causes both Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer.  I must warn my daughter and Italian son-in-law to keep a careful watch on their unsupervised basset hound, who we know ate two bags of aluminum wrappers.

From this irrefutable evidence, it is clear that four unsupervised critters ate copious quantities of allegedly fatal treats.  Three of these four are alive and well today.  The fourth critter is the one who received supervision through the ASPCA, which advised as few as six raisins or grapes may be deadly.  Sure enough, it was!  That poor dog was put out of his misery, while the rest of us critters, unsupervised as we are, continue to suffer in total ignorance.  Do you see a pattern here????

Even if you don’t have a dog, you may have friends that do.  Warn them quickly!

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