Pet owners say their dogs nearly died after ingesting fentanyl while out on a walk

Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 4:30 PM EDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV/Gray News) - Residents in a Portland-area neighborhood say their pets nearly died after coming into contact with fentanyl while they were out on a walk.

Emily Englebright told KPTV that she was taking her two chihuahua puppies on a quick walk last week in southwest Portland when one of her pets stopped to sniff at something on the sidewalk.

“[Fivel] grabbed something on the way into my apartment, I thought it was just a piece of bark dust, I’m not sure what it was,” she said.

Englebright has lived in the North Hollow Apartments on Southwest Taylor Street for about four months. She owns two long-haired chihuahuas; 5-month-old Fivel and 1-year-old Fabel.

They walked back up to her unit, and minutes later, Fivel was lying flat on the ground.

“I just scooped him up and ran to DoveLewis,” Englebright said, referring to a local emergency veterinary clinic. “By the time we got there, he was completely unresponsive, he was white. I thought he was dead when I handed him over. It was awful.”

The emergency veterinarians administered Narcan, and Fivel started to perk up.

“She [the veterinarian] thought most likely it was fentanyl that caused it, and she actually already had three fentanyl cases that night,” Englebright said.

Another resident, McKenzie Stevens, also shared a similar experience while walking her friend’s dog, Todd.

“We were walking down by the square. He [Todd] was sniffing like he normally does, but he got a piece of tinfoil on his paw, and he started licking it to the point that it was raw,” Stevens said.

It didn’t take long for the frightening symptoms to appear.

“He looked like he was on his deathbed,” Stevens said. “He was very lethargic and wouldn’t respond to his name. He wouldn’t even really look up at us, his nose was running and he was barely breathing.”

Stevens said they tried to take Todd to the DoveLewis emergency clinic, but they were turned away due to an outstanding bill.

Todd’s owner, Shawn, was able to get and administer the Narcan himself, and it was just in time, according to Stevens.

“We actually thought he died a couple of times,” Stevens said.

Staff at DoveLewis said they have seen an increase in these incidents in recent days.

“It’s becoming more and more common, and we have seen an increase recently,” said Tess Payne, with the DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital.

Staff said they have documented three apparent fentanyl exposures within the past few weeks, a number they say has gone up since fentanyl patches became more widely used and pets could gain access to them.

Veterinarians said whenever a pet may be exposed to fentanyl, it’s crucial to act fast.

“Fentanyl is really fast acting so some of the symptoms can be shown as quickly as 15 minutes,” Payne said. “Lower respiratory rate, maybe difficulty breathing, your pet might have difficulty walking, some animals’ pupils might change, and it could go as far as them having seizures.”

Treatment is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all.

“Narcan is certainly an option, but it’s not a silver bullet,” Payne added. “After treatment, an animal might need supportive care and continued monitoring for some time before they’re out of the woods.”

She said it’s important to closely monitor an animal’s behavior while walking, whether it is out in nature or in the city, and to make sure they don’t ingest any bodily fluids that might contain drugs.

Narcan was enough to save Fivel and Todd, but the fear was enough for Stevens to make a change.

“It was definitely something terrifying, and made me not walk him downtown anymore,” she said.

For Englebright, it was enough to make her decide to move.

“I still almost tear up a bit when I think about it because I don’t have human kids, they are my kids,” she said. “I’m still kind of processing it because that was awful. I thought I was going to lose him.”