KN, p. 173 “Don’t Poison the Dogs and Cats – Part 2”


We love to garden and we work on ours whenever the weather and our work schedules will allow. Hammett, our family friendly Irish Setter, is still with us. He’s a bit slower in the field, but is healthy otherwise. We’d like to keep him that way, so our garden needs to be dog friendly as much as possible.


This year we went to the new garden center in town to pick up some flowering ground covers to fill in shady spots between the larger plants under the trees, along with a few new flowering trees for the backyard. The owner of the garden center knows Hammett snuffles at everything, so she steered us toward plants that are safe for both dogs and cats.


But, as we wandered through the aisles of glorious flowers and foliage, she mentioned a very popular groundcover that is a no-no for any gardener with pets that like to sample the new greenery in the yard.


Portulaca, a groundcover that has many colorful varieties,


can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Ferns and Burro’s Tail might be a better choice. No flowers, but safer if your dog chews everything in sight.



Calla Lily


We knew that day lilies were not a good idea for cats, but thought that calla lilies might work for dogs, especially after we saw the beautiful pink one at the garden center. Nope. They can cause burning, irritation of the mouth, tongue and lips, and excessive drooling. Sheila sighed and put the pot back on the bench.


We had a row of peonies in the back that were out of Hammett’s way, but because of flooding, we had to move them.

Unfortunately, we discovered that peonies are a bad idea for dogs because eating the flowers can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. I was a little surprised at depression being listed as a symptom, but then if the poor dog gets sick…I guess that would be an issue while he mopes around recovering. We solved our problem by fencing the peony area. Hammett has been trained to avoid fences.



Everybody in the family knows that the garden is a work in progress, especially since the wet weather more or less drowned a few specimens. With that in mind, the cousins bring us small plants or clippings whenever they stop by. We’ve enjoyed expanding the flower beds, but one gift was a well-meaning near mistake. Hibiscus


also causes vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. After we heard about the problems, we planted it next to the peonies, behind the fence.




We love mums in every color and variety. We know they cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even incoordination, but we have planted them in an area of the yard where Hammett never goes. A black snake lives a few feet from there and ever since Hammett first saw the snake and jumped about ten feet straight back, he stays far away from that part of the property. The snake is happy, Hammett is happy, and we get mums in the yard. Win-win-win.





A clematis can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but ours is growing on a porch post, well out of Hammett’s reach.


Our dog friendly flowers – coreopsis, petunias, snapdragons, and cornflowers – are lookin’ good and we have them in spots where Hammett might wander through or snuffle at a bug on the ground. They look pretty and his tummy stays happy.


To read “Don’t Poison the Dogs and Cats” (part 1) click here.


Check with your garden center for information about pet friendly plants.




Click on this link from the ASPCA:




*Photos by Patti Phillips










KN, p. 107 “Don’t Poison the Dogs and Cats!”




Planting season started a few weeks ago in this part of the country. The danger of frost has gone, so we’ve been looking at perennials for now and bulbs for later, that will finish the beds underneath some of the trees in the yard. Daffodil bulbs are great because they multiply and spread on their own and they will come back up and bloom for years. And, ya gotta love that great splash of color in the Spring!


BUT, the friendly gal at the garden center saw Hammett and told us that if he chewed the bulbs he would get sick, so we were warned not to leave daffodil bulbs on the ground while waiting to plant them. We bought a few and stored them on a shelf in the garage, waaaay out of a snoofing dog’s reach.


We had dealt with the toxic plants for people last season, but now we had to think about what might be dangerous for Hammett, our lovable Irish Setter. We catsit every once in a while, so they were a potential worry as well.


The garden center gal steered us through the ground covers and shade plants. Caladiums, whether the plain green and white or more colorful varieties, may cause an intense burning in the mouth, as well as vomiting for both cats and dogs.










Pretty, but we crossed them off our list.








Day Lily

We were hopeful about Day Lilies, since Sheila wanted an entire slope in the side yard filled with them. We heard partially good news. Day Lilies, no matter which variety, are non-toxic to dogs, but highly toxic to cats. So toxic to cats, in fact, that they can cause kidney failure. Sheila suggested that we get the Day Lilies and keep the visiting cat in the house or in the fenced-in backyard. Problem solved.


Then I remembered one Easter when we ate dinner at Sheila’s mom’s house. Her cat kept peeing on the Easter Lily we had brought as a present. We were all horrified, finally exiled the cat to the back porch and put the plant outside to ‘air out.’ Turns out the cat was pretty smart. The garden center gal confirmed that Easter Lilies are just as dangerous to cats as the Day Lilies.


We headed toward the flowering perennials, still positive about what we would find.













We wanted something showy, splashy with color, and a natural lure for butterflies. Lantana seemed to fit the bill and we knew that it would not need much water in the heat drenched summers. But they were a big NO for us, since they are toxic to both dogs and cats and can cause vomiting and other nasty things.


We don’t have houseplants as a general rule, because Hammett has a big tail that seems to have a mind of its own. More than one potted flower bit the dust until we decided that Hammett was more important than having the indoor plants. But, a friend of ours does and as we passed the exotic plants section, I saw a Bird of Paradise in full bloom. We had seen one in the Azores growing in front of a school and admired the color. It’s not normally a houseplant, but our friend is able to grow one in her greenhouse-like kitchen area. Her BofP is about four feet tall and spectacular.

Bird of Paradise

But, guess what? It’s mildly toxic to cats and dogs, causing mild nausea and vomiting if they eat the fruit and the seeds.


We have more research to do, but so far zinnias, bachelor’s buttons, and coreopsis are on the ‘okay flower’ list. Zinnias and bachelor’s buttons aren’t perennials, but they will reseed themselves. Works for us and works for Hammett, too!


For more information about plants that can be harmful or harmless to pets, go to



*Photos taken by Patti Phillips















KN, p. 133 “What poisons were in Agatha Christie’s books?”


Sheila is a big mystery buff and last weekend had a chance to attend an event in honor of Agatha Christie. Dame Christie’s crime fiction has been more widely read than any literary work in history, except for the Bible and Shakespeare. Pretty good resume.


One of the facts that Sheila came home bubbling about was that lots of Christie’s books featured poison as the weapon of choice. So, she asked me to find out how common those poisons were during the time that Christie was writing in the mid 1900s.


The answer? Agatha Christie used both common and unusual poisons in her books, some readily available in the garden shed, some found under the kitchen sink and others found only in pharmacies. She had been a real-life nurse during WW1 and had lots of chances to learn about, as well as use, many drugs – some of which could have been poisonous if mixed incorrectly or administered in too high a dose. In Christie’s 66 novels, she killed off over thirty unsuspecting characters with poison, some of which are described below. Her choices were based on what she needed to happen in the plot; did the killer have time to get away or did the storyline require a slow, unsuspicious death?


Arsenic – arsenic is a tasteless, odorless powder that dissolves nicely in hot liquids like tea or coffee. The victim doesn’t die right away, so the ‘nice neighbor’ can serve tea with cookies or muffins, then get away with murder when the victim dies hours later at home with a high enough dose. I’ve been told that it’s not a pleasant way to go, involving painful tingling in the hands and feet, kidney failure, abdominal cramping, arrhythmia, etc. Arsenic was used in “4.50 from Paddington.”


Belladonna – belladonna is a nightshade plant, with both the berries and leaves being really toxic. It was used in “The Caribbean Mystery.” Victims might have rapid heartbeat, blurry vision, and hallucinations, but can be saved by using an antidote.


Cyanide – created most famously from the seeds of almonds or cherries, cyanide poisoning is a rapid way to get rid of a victim – dead in just minutes with the right concentrated dose. The person’s breath is reputed to smell like almonds and the skin is tinged with pink after death. Cyanide was the poison of choice in “And Then There Were None,” and several other Christie books.


Morphine – used as a painkiller in normal circumstances, morphine can be deadly if administered incorrectly – and Christie used that fact effectively in a pot of tea in “Sad Cypress.” A great twist in the storyline diverts attention away from the murderer while he ‘does the deed.’


Strychnine – it only takes two to three hours to die from strychnine poisoning and it’s not a nice way to croak. Muscle contractions start and spread, increasing in intensity, until the victim has respiratory failure. Christie chose this method for her first novel, “Affair at Styles.”


While poisons may be a fascinating way to kill somebody on the page, in fact, it’s not used that often in real life. And unlike blunt force trauma as a cause of death, the use of poison is not always obvious at the crime scene. Autopsies have to be performed to discover what happened, with special tox screens needed to pinpoint any poison used.


According to the FBI stats on murder victims in the USA as of 2011, over 8,000 people died because of firearms, and only 5 (five) because of a deadly dose of poison. If you include narcotics in that number, the victims increase to 34.


But, it certainly makes the poisoner that gets caught, unlikely to get a reduced sentence. I doubt that a lawyer could explain away arsenic in the tea.


*Photo by Patti Phillips


FBI data from:





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