Posted by: Hallie Levine | February 5, 2014

Death By Chocolate


In an apparent suicide attempt, Ivry overdosed on a 3.5 pound bag of chocolate chips from Costco this past Sunday morning.

Now before you all freak out, I just want to reassure you—she’s totally fine.

But still, when the family dog attempts to (literally) bite the big one—well, it’s an enormous wake up call. Clearly, our canine is experiencing some issues.

Is she going through a midlife crisis? Is she freaking out about her new silvery gray muzzle? Have those snide comments about her girth taken a toll on her self-esteem? Does she sit on the faded, ripped green leather couch in the sun room scratching at her ears thinking, “my grandmother was an award winning agility dog, while I’m just a fat suburban house pet?”

(Ivry and I are roughly the same age—she’s seven, or, in dog years around 42—so excuse me for projecting a bit.)

The facts are as follows:

I brought the boys home after dropping Jo Jo off at Sunday school. As soon as I walked into the house, I knew something was up. Ivry was prancing around on all fours snorting and pawing like a crazed bull in heat, which, given her age seemed unlikely, but I figured maybe she was having a hot flash.

She was so hyper we brought her outside, where she began racing up and down the lawn like she was on speed. The boys tried to engage with her, but Ivry refused to play ball, literally. She scampered around, banging into trees like a drunken sailor.

And then she started puking. Copious amounts of diarrhea-colored puke all over our recently seeded front lawn.

The boys went crazy. “Ivry’s pooping! Ivry’s pooping out of her mouth!” they chortled as I raced inside the house so I could call the vet.

When I stepped into the family room, I saw a sight that froze my heart:a formerly gigantic 56 ounce plastic bag of chocolate chips, sitting on the floor, ripped into shreds. A couple small gobs of brown were left on the carpet, but it was pretty clear—the dog had devoured everything.

“Oh my god,” I said, staring at the mess. Then I realized the pantry door was open. Ivry had managed to paw her way in and had treated herself to a morning of binge eating. Two half eaten loafs of bread lay on the floor as evidence.

“Ivry, what were you thinking?” I asked my agitated dog, who was pacing the floor, clearly in the midst of chocolate induced hallucinations.

She looked at me wild eyed and vomited on the carpet.

I started to panic. I had to be back at Sunday school to pick Jo Jo up and then I had to give a presentation about Down Syndrome to a group of bar mitzvah candidates. Chocolate’s extremely toxic to dogs. Ivry had devoured half of a chocolate cake almost three years earlier and emerged unscathed, ( but this was clearly more dire. I imagined returning with my brood later that afternoon, only to be greeted by the sight of Ivry lying on her back on the floor, paws frozen in rigor mortis. The kids have had to go through a lot this year. I didn’t want to add the death of the family dog on top of it.

So I did what any desperate suburban housewife does in this situation—I called my soon to be ex husband and begged him to take her to the vet.

He did.

He called back an hour later. Ivry would need to be hospitalized for her attempted overdose, with treatment involving emergency IV fluids, charcoal administration, and stomach pumping, all for a grand tune of between $1200-$1800.

“Are you sure?” I kept asking the vet. “It seemed to me that she puked most of it back up.”

“I have never, ever seen a dog consume so much chocolate before,” she said flatly. “Never. It’s remarkable that she’s still standing.”

I sighed and gave her my credit card over the phone.

That whole afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about my dog. Was Ivry perhaps so depressed about all our recent household changes that she’d eaten an entire bag of chocolate (and almost two bags of bread) in an attempt to self medicate? Was this a call for help? Or had she secretly plotted a suicide attempt in an effort to reunite her humans in a smelly vet hospital waiting room, aka Parent Trap?

“I don’t think so,” my sister said when I called her after the kids were in bed. “She’s just a dog. She smelled chocolate and couldn’t control herself.”

Still, I spent the rest of the night eating my way through a tin of my kids’ leftover brownies and bawling over old puppy pictures of Ivry on the internet. Memories flooded back. Her third night at home, when she escaped Houdini like from her crate only to appear covered in poop on our bed. Those sub zero January nights lugging a 16 week old puppy down the elevator of our NYC apartment so she could make wee wee. That evening when she was bored and decided to eat part of our living room wall. The fateful night before we moved to suburbia when Ivry came down with a mysterious raging fever and had to be hospitalized for thousands of dollars at Animal Medical Center.

I called at 9 pm to check in on her.

“She’s fine,” the nurse said brightly. “She’s just lying here, looking at me.”

I wondered if all her fat had acted as a buffer to absorb the chocolate.

“Can I Skype with her?” I asked.

The nurse was silent for a moment. “Why we’ve never had that request before,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have Skype here, so no, I guess you can’t.”

“I miss her,” I said, tearing up. “Can you at least put the phone to her ear so she can hear my voice?”

“Our phones don’t reach that far,” she said warily.

The next morning, the newspapers were filled with news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose. But thankfully, unlike certain aging celebrities, my dog survived. I picked her up the next morning. She was definitely subdued. I couldn’t tell if her mood was pure melancholia or simply exhaustion from having spent the whole night being force fed charcoal. She seemed slimmer, probably due to the fact that she’d essentially undergone a canine colonic for the last 12 hours.

We passed the newly opened Dinosaur Barbeque on our way home. I debated stopping. Maybe Ivry wanted a side of ribs after her ordeal? Then I nixed the idea. It seemed the equivalent to bringing an alcoholic to a bar immediately after they’d been discharged from the Betty Ford center.

Ivry’s been home now for almost 48 hours. That first night, she was on doggie lockdown. She was only allowed to eat chicken and rice and I watched her like a hawk (although at one point I caved in and shared a chocolate chip cookie with her. I ate the chocolate chips, she ate the white parts.) The kids have been instructed to keep pantry doors closed and to no longer feed her from the table. The point is, whether the overdose was accidental or deliberate, the dog’s well on her way to becoming morbidly obese. This binge-until-you-burst mentality has got to stop.

Still, I can sympathize. As another middle aged woman going through some major life changes, I’m well aware of the urge to overeat when you’re feeling down in the dumps and stressed. I’m on my way to Salt Lake City for a work related trip now, but when I return Ivry and I are going on a cleanse. Plenty of fresh healthy food and long runs to keep our spirits up so we don’t self-medicate with tins of brownies or fresh baked cookies or bags of chocolate chips.

And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure there’s a canine 12 step program somewhere. Or doggie rehab.



  1. Glad Ivry is okay!! Sad to hear you are getting a divorce, hope things settle down soon for you all.

  2. I have read many of your posts and found them to be excellent and insightful. We can all learn a thing or two from them. I’ve certainly learned more about Down Syndrome (including the correct way to write it).

    However, I am truly surprised by some of the things in this post, particularly since you have in the past shown great sensitivity and concern, for example, about the use of certain words which are offensive to you and your family.

    Your post about your dog is inappropriate in several ways because of the way you essentially mock suicide and addictions, two very serious concerns in today’s society. You may have been trying to put a humorous spin on a stressful situation, and that is understandable. But I hope you will consider this in future writings, in the same way your readers now consider some of their words and actions having read your blog.

    • Hi Sky.

      Your points are well taken. I was writing it rather tongue in cheek but I do understand where you are coming from. I was not trying to mock suicide or addictions, as I have friends who have grappled with the latter. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  3. There are people who get humor and irony and there are people who don’t. I, for one, would not want to hand over this world to the humorless and the “ultra politically correct” (even if pcness certainly is warrranted in some situations). Anyway, I just wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed every word of your post!

  4. Dear MM,
    I “get humor.” If you re-read my post you’ll see I was surprised that this blogger in particular used phrases like “an apparent suicide attempt,” “canine 12 step program,” and “doggie rehab” when in past writings she has been very sensitive to words and their impact (and lack of humor) on others.
    The use of the R-word is as offensive to the blogger as suicide jokes are to me – I lost my mother this way after she took her own life following a long battle with depression.
    I don’t push political correctness. I can laugh as much as the next person. I guess I was surprised by the inconsistency and wanted to make Ms. Levine Sklar aware in as polite a manner as possible. I hope I achieved that.
    Thank you.

  5. Just read your hilariously funny article in the Ladies’ Home Journal. I had a dog just like Ivry, and your article brought back so many fond memories! You are a great writer, and I am looking forward to reading more from you!!
    Another doglover…..

  6. Hi Hallie,

    I’ve been reading some of your articles in particular one titled “Your Lungs. A users manual”, I loved it. I have asthma & COPD so the topic was very relevant . I only have between 22-30% lung capacity but still manage to compete in Ironman events. Next year I’m planning to come to New York to do your marathon. Thanks again .

    Russell Winwood

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