Not Scooby Doobie: Discarded Joints Pose a Danger to Dogs

NEW YORK (AP) — Bondi, an 8-month-old toy poodle, had just returned from a walk when he started stumbling. His head wobbled and soon he was barely able to stand, so his owner, Colleen Briggs, took him to the vet.

The good doctor quickly made a diagnosis: Bondi was on drugs.

On his walk, a nose must have led Bondi to a discarded joint, which he ate.

“I was doing the usual thing: I was exploring everything, I was smelling everything,” said Briggs, who began noticing the pot shops springing up in New York City, the frequent puffs of marijuana as he walked his Manhattan neighborhood and the unfinished joints he ate. Now they litter the sidewalks.

In places like New York City, where the first legal recreational marijuana dispensary opened last year, users can smoke it outdoors. As a result, more dogs are finding and eating discarded joints and edibles, raising alarm among veterinarians and pet owners who blame the sharp rise in poisonings on smokers who are ignorant of the harm they can cause by littering.

Marijuana poisonings, which are almost never fatal, were once rare among pets, even when medical dispensaries began to open, according to New York City veterinarian Dr. Amy Attas. Until recently, many occurred at home, when pets got into their owners’ hiding places.

“The reason we’re seeing so many cases is people are using marijuana on the street and then throwing away the unwanted ends of their joints,” Attas said. “And that’s a real problem because dogs will eat them.”

In the first three months of the year, it had already seen six cases, which is about the same number it has treated in the last three decades. Multiply that by the number of vets working in New York City, she said, and the result underscores the growing problem.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said cases are rising across the country. Last year, there was an 11% increase from the approximately 6,200 cases reported in 2021, and in the last five years there has been a 300% increase.

“It’s amazing to me how prevalent this is now,” Attas said.

Twenty-one states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, and in large urban areas like New York, you can’t escape the smell of marijuana in public.

In many cases, owners don’t know their dogs have eaten a leftover joint until they begin to show signs of toxicity. Even then, owners may not understand what is making their pets sick.

Sue Scott panicked when her 9-month-old tawny pug, Circe, collapsed after a recent walk. Circe’s paws were spread out on the ground, her head tossing from side to side and drooling.

“A million things were going through my head,” said Scott, 68. Marijuana poisoning was not among them. “I never would have thought of that,” he said.

Scott made a video call to Dr. Attas, who said that Circe was showing all the signs of being high. He now keeps Circe on a shorter leash, mindful of where she sticks her nose.

“I don’t know if you know pugs, they’re constantly looking for their next bite,” said Scott, who has owned four other pugs, none of whom came home stoned. “But sometimes it is quite difficult to control them because they are very fast. They’ll just jump on something.”

Although dogs rarely die from marijuana poisoning, treatment can be expensive and sometimes requires a trip to the animal emergency room, a stomach pump, and IV fluids.

The stress on the patient and his owner is also enormous.

Bondi has been poisoned three times, the first time last fall, her owner, Briggs, said.

Even as Briggs became more attentive while walking her pup, she acknowledged that she must have been distracted when Bondi got sick a second time. At that point, she let Bondi get over her euphoria.

“Taking him out… it’s a really intense situation. So I’m always looking at the ground, and now it’s everywhere,” she said of the spent joints she and Bondi find on walks.

“One time,” Briggs said, “I caught it and pulled it out of his mouth.”