When Pete May went with his daughters to a music festival, the idea was to supervise them while allowing them some freedom. He never imagined his dog would be the one to get involved with drugs
We had arrived for the weekend at the Hertfordshire festival Standon Calling with our daughters, Lola, 15, and Nell, 12, Lola's French-exchange friend, Marie, 15, and Lola's 16-year-old friend Izzy. They wanted to see King Charles, Bastille and lots of other bands I hadn't heard of. By coming to the festival with the girls, we could supervise them while allowing them some freedom, and also bring our dog, Vulcan.
The dog enjoyed sniffing around the crowds and looking for dropped bits of burrito, and wasn't fazed by the music that went on until 5am. He also took to weeing with more ease than the humans, who had to queue for the portable toilets. Several other dog owners were there, and many hippies and crusties stopped to stroke him.
After a night in the tent, we woke to a sweltering summer day. Later, we ate lunch at one of the stalls and all seemed to be going well until we noticed that Vulcan had become unsteady on his feet and couldn't walk straight. At first we thought he had sunstroke or sound disorientation from the relentless bass from the speakers. But as we tried to give him water and lay him down, we saw that his pupils were dilated. Then we tried to get him to walk, but he swayed and fell. His right side appeared to be paralysed. This was serious.
It was at this point that it occurred to us that he might have eaten drugs that had been left on the ground. We were camped among numerous hedonists and although we had kept him on a lead, he could easily have found something in the grass. Was it acid, MDMA, speed, ketamine, dope, legal highs or alcohol?
Vulcan lay slumped on the ground, looking close to death, and Lola frantically looked up the effects of drugs on pets on her phone. She eventually decided his symptoms matched those for hallucinogenics.
There was no vet on site but after some frenzied calls we managed to find one nearby, so my wife Nicola left with Nell to drive Vulcan to an emergency appointment. At the surgery, the vet gave him an injection to induce vomiting, and then – bizarrely – he and his nurse smelled the vomit for clues as to what he had eaten. The vet later confirmed that Vulcan had been poisoned, probably by drugs, and was hypothermic, disoriented and uncoordinated. Which sounded like Keith Richards or Shaun Ryder on a bad evening.
Vulcan was a sad sight that night, slumped in a cage at the surgery, on a drip to keep his internal organs functioning, and surrounded by towels.
Nicola's mum lived nearby, so she and Nell decided to stay with her. My task was to spend a tense night watching King Charles on the main stage while supervising Lola, Marie and Izzy.
How could I cope with my weeping daughters and wife if Vulcan expired? He wouldn't make his fourth birthday, which was a week away. And what a stupid death it would be too. The festival was advertised as being dog-friendly and the thought of Vulcan getting sorted for Es and whizz had never occurred to us.
Vulcan had been a good friend to me, despite his problems with cats and squirrels. We'd been to the pub together, where Vulcan proved an amiable drinking companion in the beer garden. And we were the only males in a house full of females, bonded by testosterone and playing with a rubber chicken.
My brother-in-law arrived and confided that his friend's dog once scavenged some LSD in a London park and survived. A friend had texted Nicola to say that her dog had swallowed all her contraceptive pills and consequently lost all its hair.
King Charles played a great set, though it all felt a little remote. We returned to our sleeping quarters. Next morning we awoke in our sweaty tents fearing terrible news. But at 10am came a text from Nicola saying that Vulcan was alive – he had stopped swaying, was able to walk and his eyes were back to normal colour. The vet's poison hotline suggested it might have been an opiate that Vulcan had swallowed, though no one could be sure.
The festival had a day to run, but at midday on the Sunday we collected the dog and retreated to drug-free London. Luckily, Vulcan had been a good age for this to happen and soon reverted to his normal self. Drugs can severely damage or kill puppies and older dogs. We were left with a vet's bill of £288, but at least Vulcan was alive.
The organisers of Standon Calling had done their best to search bags on entry, but you can rarely keep festivals drug-free. If you must take drugs to dog-friendly festivals (this one even had a dog competition), then please keep them away from pets.
My daughters are now experts on hallucinogens and their effects on pets. We have to explain to the parents of a French exchange student that not all English chiens take drugs. And Vulcan, though tired, now thinks that squirrels and dogs should just, like, throw some shapes together and chillax.
Friday 13 September 2013
Image: Pete May with his family and their dog Vulcan, who became seriously ill at a music festival. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian