My dog’s toxic berry mystery illness

What made my 2-year-old pug sick?

My girlfriend and I rescued Bernie, a 2-year-old pug, last December. He’s a 14-pound runt with a tongue that constantly droops out of his mouth. Bernie enjoys flannel bed sheets, almond butter—and long walks through Midtown.

Last week, Bernie also started enjoying orange-red berries while on his walk. These pea-sized fruits litter Midtown this season; it's hard to keep Bernie from vacuuming them up.

I didn't think much of it until this past Friday morning, when Bernie suddenly began vomiting uncontrollably. Soon, he was passed out on the sidewalk, his gums and tongue white, his body limp. The lil' guy looked near death.

I scooped him up and ran to the Midtown Animal Hospital on P Street. Bernie's doctor immediately took him to the back, hooked him up to an IV and began running tests. “Did he eat anything bad?” the doc asked.

The berries.

I called a business near where Bernie consumed the berries and asked a woman if she could help. She directed me to a southeastern Sacramento-based landscaping expert that works in Midtown, who explained over the phone that some of the plants near the berries were podocarpus.

Fruits on these shrubs are toxic, according to Bernie's doctor and poison control, and cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Bingo!

Hold on: The podocarpus shrubs in question don't actually produce berries. Nearby American sycamore trees, whose canopy blankets many grid streets, do. But these are not harmful to dogs.

So, after a day in intensive care and a weekend of white rice, cottage cheese and boiled chicken (and a $270 vet bill), Bernie is 100 percent, but I have no clue.

Perhaps all we can do is try to be smarter dog lovers. (And keep those rascals from devouring every damn thing in sight.)