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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Dog’s fishy tale has a happy holiday ending

Ellie, Sam and Ryan’s Old English sheepdog. (Stefanie Pettit / The Spokesman-Review)
Ellie, Sam and Ryan’s Old English sheepdog. (Stefanie Pettit / The Spokesman-Review)

Here follows the tale of Ellie and the fish. Turns out, it’s a Christmas story.

Ellie is a most delightful Old English sheepdog of my acquaintance. She lives in an apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle, having arrived there in January 2015 in a rented van driven from Dallas by her faithful two-legged companion, Ryan.

She permits Ryan to live with her because … well, every pampered pooch should have a devoted manservant. He thoroughly dotes on her, allows her to recline wherever she chooses and sleep on his bed always, provides her with the best food, romps with her in nearby Cal Anderson Park and treats her in the royal manner to which she has become accustomed.

I mean, just look at her. You can’t help but smile. People almost always gather around her when she’s out walking her human. She’s a people magnet and a happiness magnet. Not a bad thing to be.

Ryan, who is senior marketing manager for Bartell Drugs, was planning to return to Dallas to visit family over Christmas, joined by my son Sam, and they were going to swing through Spokane for a few days afterward on their way back to Seattle. Arrangements were made for the proper care of Her Majesty before leaving.

And now, the fish. One of the gifts Ryan wanted to take on vacation was a 12-ounce chocolate fish, usually easy to find in Seattle. He checked many stores, only to find none anywhere. “Then I realized I already had one,” he said. Ryan manages the creative team at Bartell. “We used one in our Christmas gift guide, an annual published catalog for the company. I added it to the other packages we were going to take on our trip.”

On Dec. 15, Ryan returned to his apartment and found Ellie to be quite a handful to deal with, much more active than usual. Her breath smelled of chocolate. She had located and eaten the entire chocolate fish and was not only hyper but her heart was racing. He took her immediately to the veterinarian’s office, which was just a block away and still open.

There her stomach was pumped, but more than half of its contents remained in place. He was advised to take her immediately to an emergency pet hospital as she was in danger of cardiac arrest.

“I don’t have a car, and the only way to get her there at that moment was through Uber,” Ryan said. “I called and asked if the driver was OK with a pet, and I explained the situation.” The driver asked if the dog was small. “I lied through my teeth and said yes. He was upset when he saw Ellie, but I got us in the car anyhow, and he drove us to the hospital.”

Ellie was taken in, had part of her coat shaved so IVs could be placed and was admitted overnight. She was saved. The next morning Ryan took her home, relieved she had lived through Fishgate even though she was a mess from vomit and the charcoal she had been force-fed to soak up the chocolate. He worked from home that day, spending time with his girl, who was affectionate and clingy all day. He showed her a lot of love, and she warmed to it. The next day she got spruced up at the groomer’s.

Within a few days Ellie was back to her old self again, but now in a chocolate-free home environment from which she bounds forth happily to greet and delight people in the park.

Anyone who still has the Bartell holiday catalog and who cares about such things might wish to view it as a souvenir of this canine fish story or as a cautionary tale about dogs and chocolate. Chocolate in any shape is delicious for humans, poison for a dog.

But there’s more. Before Ryan and Sam departed for Dallas and Spokane, another fish was located, “though much less storied than the original one,” Ryan said. It was wrapped and packed away safely. After a few days with his family in Dallas, they arrived in Spokane for a second Christmas with Sam’s family.

There under the tree in our living room was placed a package for us, from Ellie. It was the replacement chocolate fish. Every year Sam has given his father a chocolate fish at Christmas. It’s a tradition. Ryan wanted to do it this year, which was lovely of him. But what with everything that had happened, he decided it should come from Ellie. And what a gift it was.

Turns out, it was a $900 fish.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at

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