by Amy Howie
We ventured off on a hike we have done plenty of times, expecting our usual outcome: amazing, expansive views, fresh smells of nature, and the sounds only a vast canyon can provide.
It was Father’s Day 2017 when my husband and I decided to take our three daughters to the Blodgett Canyon Overlook near Hamilton, Montana, a short hike where the reward of a spectacular view is quickly attained. Pulling up to the trailhead, we were surprised at how many people had the same agenda.
As we headed up the trail, our dog, Vinny, led the way. Vinny always seems to turn heads as he barrels up and down hills and rugged terrain despite being a small Shih Tzu-Poodle mix. As we approached the overlook, I noticed Vinny about 15 feet in front of me, curious as usual. His head was buried in a hole, probably after some squirrel or chipmunk that had run for cover. Not ten seconds later, he pulled away sharply, and I was shocked to see that he was foaming at the mouth and shaking his head violently. My first reaction was to take my water from my Camelback and wash his mouth out. That was a difficult task for sure as Vinny was pretty much freaking out. I walked back to the hole to figure out what could have caused this, my mind instantly envisioning a rattlesnake. I peered into the hole, and, to my surprise, a large greenish-brownish toad sat almost lifelessly a few inches inside.
I was surprised to find a toad way up on the Blodgett Canyon Overlook…and I wondered how this encounter between my dog and this toad led to such a disturbing next 45 minutes.
Over the next 20 minutes, I was convinced my dog was going to die.
“Happy Father’s Day,” I thought to myself as Vinny walked off into the forest to possibly find his final resting place, unresponsive to my call, still foaming profusely at the mouth. “Can licking a toad lead to death?” I typed into my smart phone. We’ve been told time and time again to never look up medical diagnosis online as you are always given a grim outlook. That is indeed what I found. To my dismay, I came to the conclusion that Vinny had in fact licked a poisonous toad: the Bufo genus, consisting of about 150 species of toads, can be poisonous to dogs and cause hallucinations in humans. Hmmm, so my dog was tripping and dying. Awesome.
We decided to make our way back down as our grand plans of enjoying some time at the overlook were definitely stifled by our seemingly-dying dog.
All of us, including our salivating, wandering, passive dog, made it back down to the truck. I sat him in my lap as we drove back home, wondering how long before he would kick the bucket. The info I’d found online professed these toads would claim dogs’ lives in about 30 minutes without medical attention.
It then dawned on me that I’d never looked specifically at what species of toads are actually found in Montana. As we made our way back towards Missoula, further research led me to believe that Vinny had actually licked a western toad, Anaxyrus boreas (formerly Bufo boreas). These toads, when threatened, excrete a mild, white poison from their parotid glands and warts. This mild poison has a very bitter taste (poisons are typically alkaline in nature to deter people and predators) which would cause an animal to salivate profusely to rid it of the taste. As I continued my research, I found that western toads do not have the ability to kill with their secretions, but those secretions might have minor psychoactive properties.
Hmm…so my dog wasn’t going to die after all. Deep breath and sigh.
Our enjoyment of our hike was definitely affected by the dog and toad encounter, but I’m grateful that, despite the excitement, it ended well. And little Vinny probably had a hike unlike he has ever had before.
I wonder what a dog sees when he’s tripping on toads?