It began as an average evening. We came home from work and noticed the shredded cardboard.
What had happened? Suddenly, we realized, Miss Audrey Hepburn had ingested half of a chocolate cake.
Not just any cake. This was a dark chocolate birthday cake with fudge icing, secured, so we thought, in the cupboard.
Not just any dog. Miss Audrey Hepburn has a history. She came to live with us in March 2004. Our son Andrew was home on medical leave from the Marine Corps. He felt that a dog was an important addition to the family. If the chemotherapy worked, he would return to Annapolis with a dog. If it did not, then his parents would have someone to take care of. Within the month, we inherited Miss Hepburn, a black Lab mix, a traumatized, submissive rescue dog.
Particularly submissive to The Cat.
In April 2009 Miss Hepburn had emergency surgery for gastric dilatation and volvulus, also known as "bloat." Her stomach had twisted, a condition that killed Marley of the book and film, "Marley and Me." It is the No. 2 killer of all dogs. The most obvious signs of bloat are abdominal distention (swollen belly) and nonproductive vomiting or retching.
Audrey exhibited none of these symptoms when we left the house for the vet hospital. We were forced to go to the vet when The Cat, normally heartless, continued to express concern about Miss Hepburn's condition.
This time, The Cat was unconcerned, which we took as a good sign. The Cat continued to give Miss Hepburn dismissive looks as if to say, "Boy, that was dumb."
Miss Hepburn responded by throwing up.
By the time we got to the vet, Miss Hepburn again looked chipper. Maybe a little too chipper. Chocolate is like speed for dogs. It makes their hearts race, it can cause arrhythmias and heart attacks.
Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine. Theobromine is a xanthine compound in the same family of caffeine and it is toxic to dogs. Dogs metabolize theobromine more slowly than humans and are at greater risk than cats because cats cannot taste sweet food.
Dogs, on the other hand, do enjoy a good piece of cake now and again.
The vet felt that Miss Hepburn had sufficiently vomited at home, so she gave Miss Hepburn some charcoal to soak up the remaining chocolate, followed by the doggie equivalent of Pepto Bismol.
The vet described the event as a "dietary indiscretion."
Luckily for us, Miss Hepburn's heart was fine. Everyone was happy to see her at the vet's and their bill wasn't that bad.
We'll be walking down Foothill Boulevard momentarily.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.