It was a regular Friday night for the Thornton family.
Derek Thornton took the family dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Charlie, out “for a quick pee break” before bed, around 8:30 p.m., near Morgan Crossing in South Surrey.
Then, around 9:15 p.m., Thornton’s son called him over, as he noticed Charlie was not acting normal.
“My son called me over and said ‘Charlie’s acting weird,’ so I went and looked at him,” Thornton said.
“He was whimpering abnormally, and lying down as if he was sleeping… his eyes were sort of glassed over, sort of cloudy and flickering – not normal eyes,” he said.
“So I start calling his name and snapping my fingers and shaking his head, but he was totally unresponsive. His body, at that point, was pretty limp and lifeless, so I yelled for my wife to find me a vet that’s open.”
Fortunately, a local veterinarian was open until 10 p.m., so he and his wife carried Charlie – who is 80 pounds – down the hall, to the elevator, and to the car.
“By the time we put him in the back seat, we’re both a bit panicked… we’re thinking we’re putting a dead dog in the back seat to go to the vet to get pronounced,” he recalled. “Our kids are upstairs bawling their eyes out, having watched this.”
They got to the vet and the vet wanted to know what happened, but Thornton didn’t know how to answer.
“I didn’t know what to tell them. I didn’t know what I was looking at… I don’t know what he got into, I don’t know if he had a seizure or stroke, he didn’t eat anything.”
The vet was able to help stabilize Charlie’s vitals – his heart rate was down to 40 and his breath rate was down to 3, “which is extremely low,” Thornton said.
They called an emergency veterinary hospital in Langley, as Charlie would likely have to transfer there, and the veterinarian there asked them if they happened to have any Naloxone, Thornton said, and when the local vet said they had two doses, the Langley vet told them to try that and call back in 10 minutes.
“So they gave him the first dose, and his breath rate went up to 20,” said Thornton.
“They gave him a second dose five minutes later, and he stood up. In five or six minutes and two doses, he went from the brink of death to ‘I’m back!’”
The Langley vet explained that Naloxone is a test and cure at once – if it doesn’t work, they’re looking for something else and if it does work, it only works on opioids, Thornton said.
Charlie stayed overnight in Langley for observation, and a toxicity screen “effectively confirmed a fentanyl overdose.”
Thornton and his wife were asked if they have anything in the home, which they definitely do not, said Thornton.
“Where on Earth could he possibly have gotten into fentanyl?” he queried the vet.
“She said it’s happening pretty commonly now… she said cases as bad as his, she’s getting once a quarter.”
THC overdoses are more common, but Thornton was shocked at how easily it can happen.
“There was nothing abnormal about the walk. It was such a regular walk. It could’ve just been some powder spilled on the grass, and he could’ve just grazed over it while he was sniffing for a spot and snorted up some fentanyl – and that’s all it takes,” he said.
“There’s nothing we couldn’ve done. We can’t let him not sniff.”
Smaller dogs and young children in the neighbourhood often walk in the same areas, Thornton noted.
“The day before, on the very same route, we were following a two-and-a-half or three-year-old (child) doing bear crawls down the sidewalk, because it’s fun for (a kid that age) to do… what if he put his hand in a pile of fentanyl, or touches his newborn baby brother’s hand after? It’s so upsetting, to know that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it,” he said.
“It can happen to anybody. It can happen anywhere.”
They went and got a Naloxone kit right away, in case something similar ever happens again.
“Pharmacies are giving them away for free, so we went and got one and now we have one in the house.”
Thornton, who posted to Facebook about the ordeal, just wants parents of children and fur-babies to be aware the issue exists.
“Obviously, this is a bigger problem than just us… bigger than a lot of people know.”