5-5-2021 Jonna Carter Column

Murray rockin' the Ray-Bans. (JONNA CARTER PHOTO)

There's talk of Fryeburg becoming a "marijuana mecca." With the preponderance of medical marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up locally, and recreational outlets on the horizon, there needs to be awareness of a very real threat posed by cannabis. I was uninformed as are many, and fortunate not to have had a tragic ending. Heed my cautionary tale.

It was early spring and I was on Maine's Chebeague Island with some girlfriends. I let my not overly bright hound mix Murray out for his morning perambulation. What Murray lacked in smarts he more than made up for in amiability. He was friend to all and the chillest dog ever.

Murray had a routine and enjoyed his neighborhood rounds. With the summer houses still closed up he wouldn't be disturbing anyone. And this was an island, so he was contained and presumably safe. Off he trotted, and in a little while I heard the signature bark at the door announcing his return.

After lunch the group of us decided to walk the beach. I went to rouse Murray who was napping, tuckered out from his morning excursion, but he didn't stir. I kneeled next to his bed as he struggled to lift his head and began spasming violently. Was he having a stroke? Had he eaten something poisonous? This was a veterinary emergency and we were on an island. Help was across a body of water. Three of us hoisted Murray's bed with Murray in it into the car and sped down to the ferry.

Thankfully the ferry was in port with the captain and deckhand aboard. When they saw the shape Murray was in they fired up the engine. My friend Cheryl came with me. I called Portland Veterinary Emergency while the ferry captain called a taxi to meet us at the dock and drive us the five miles to the parking lot where we transferred Murray, still on his bed, to Cheryl's car.

With Murray obviously suffering, the 20-minute drive to Portland seemed endless. The convulsions persisted and he'd lost control of his bladder. I called my son Christopher who lived in Portland and told him Murray was dying. I couldn't bear to call my daughter in New York. Murray was her baby.

We pulled into the clinic parking lot where they were waiting with a stretcher. They whisked Murray away and I broke down. Christopher arrived soon after.

We were led to an exam room and eventually the doctor came in and said, "Murray's fine." (I well knew that Murray was not fine. In the busy ER she'd evidently confused Murray with another dog.) She continued, "Murray has marijuana toxicity."

I must have looked completely stunned as I tried to process this. I was incredulous. "Are you telling me Murray's a stoner?"

Knowing there were six of us at Chebeague, my son was staring down Cheryl and me. "Which one of you broads brought the weed?"

"Christopher!" I exclaimed.

"Mom, you're so naive. My money's on Vicki."

The doctor continued. "You'll be able to take him home in a couple of hours, once he's able to walk, but he'll need to be closely monitored. He's going to be pretty out of it for a day or two."

She went on to say that the preponderance of medical marijuana and increased potency had contributed to an epidemic of marijuana-related veterinary emergencies, and some dogs die. Smaller dogs, less able to metabolize the drug, are particularly vulnerable. The bigger risk for Murray, not being a small dog, was clearly marijuana being a gateway drug.

Nobody was more surprised than I when CBD oil began to be marketed for dogs. Although it's THC that's toxic, the Murray incident has caused me to be pretty gun-shy about any of the myriad chemical compounds of cannabis. And while it's available, it's not yet FDA-approved for pets.

Murray lived a long life, and despite having had his freedom curtailed, a happy one. He was reined in for safety — but also, as recreational marijuana had not yet been legalized in Maine, he needed to be leashed to ensure that he not run afoul of the law.

I've often wondered whose plants or stash Murray pilfered, and I imagine somebody was none too happy to discover his/her supply if not missing, considerably depleted.

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