“What’s that up ahead?” Katie pointed down the dirt road we were traversing for our evening walk. Only a block from our house, yet with enough empty lots to support some of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem, we were about to encounter one of the deadliest creatures that Mexico has to offer. Wylie raced ahead to investigate the slow moving animal, his head dipped down, he sniffed, and then perhaps licked, the Sonoran Desert Toad (Bufo alvarius). When we saw what it was, seven inches long and over a pound, we immediately called Wylie off, but we were too late. Within seconds he was foaming at the mouth and shaking his head to rid himself of the taste. He had been poisoned by the toxins that the toad secretes from its skin, a defensive mechanism to keep over zealous golden retrievers at bay. Hallucinations, convulsions, paralysis, asphyxia and death will follow if the dose is sufficient.
We raced back to the house and scrubbed his tongue, gums and nose for the better part of five minutes. The foaming ceased, but his jaws were convulsing and his breathing and heart rate were elevated, so we jumped in the car at 8:00 pm on Saturday night in a small town in Mexico and went searching for a vet. We found him at his house behind the office, and after he got some clothes on, he invited us in and proceeded to check Wylie over. By this time his symptoms had subsided, but he got a shot of antihistamine and anti-inflammatory just to make sure, and we talked of Peru and sailing and dogs that had died. The vet said that Wylie was lucky, that most dogs will die from the poison within 25 minutes if they don’t get their mouths washed and flushed of the toxins.
Looking back, we can only imagine the visions he might have had that night. Right now, his tail is wagging and he’s playful with his rawhide; a full recovery looks promising. Hopefully he’ll remember this experience and learn from it, as the toads are prevalent, especially in this rainy monsoon season. So far he’s been sprayed by a skunk and almost killed by a toad, so that just leaves the scorpions, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, raccoons, pufferfish, ticks, and cholla cactus. The desert’s rough on a dog.