Friday, July 1, 2011


It amazes me sometimes how in the blink of an eye, a perfectly calm day can turn into a really stressful one.

It happened a couple weekends ago. I was coming back from taking my dog, Willow, for a nice long walk. She was wearing one of those retractable leashes that can pull out to about 20 feet. We were heading up the driveway when suddenly, two squirrels darted across right in front of us.

Willow took one look at those squirrels and the chase was on. Unfortunately, I’d loosened my grip on the leash’s handle at that precise moment and Willow snapped it right out of my hand. Before I even realized what had happened, she’d disappeared into the woods.

I called her. No response. I offered to take her for a ride. Still no response. I promised her a whole box of her favorite dog cookies. Nothing. Finally, I heard her whining. I peered through a gap in the bushes and spotted her. She had managed to tangle all 20 feet of the retractable leash around a bunch of trees and herself, and looked as if someone had lassoed and hog-tied her.

I was just about to head into the woods to rescue her when I spotted something that made me gasp and stop dead…she was completely surrounded by a huge patch of poison ivy.

I bolted into the house. “Willow ran off and got herself tangled around a bunch of trees in the woods surrounded by poison ivy!” I cried to my husband. “She can’t budge! How are we going to get her out of there?”

“Don’t look at me!” he said. “You know I’m allergic to poison ivy!”

“Well, so am I!”

The truth was, both of us had seen our share of emergency rooms because of our severe reactions to poison ivy, and neither of us wanted to volunteer for a repeat performance.

Frantic, I tried to think of someone I could call to rescue Willow. The fire department? A helicopter? Someone who was immune to poison ivy? A Hazmat team?

“And there must be a zillion ticks in those woods, too,” my husband just had to add. “Anyone who goes in there probably will come out drained of all his blood!”

“So what are we going to do?” I whined.

“I guess we’ll have to leave her out there until winter when the poison ivy and ticks are under a foot of snow,” he said, teasing.

I was in no mood for teasing. I was desperate to rescue my 110-pound baby.

I knew that regular clothes wouldn’t protect me. The oil from poison ivy soaks right into anything made of cloth and then if you touch your clothes, you’re doomed. And ticks love to cling to cloth, digging their sticky little feet into it and hitching a ride into the house.

I paced back and forth, still trying to think of some way to safely get to Willow. Visions of Tarzan swinging on a rope vine right over the poison ivy and picking her up filled my mind.

Finally, an idea struck me. I grabbed a roll of duct tape and a box of large plastic trash bags. Then I wrapped myself in the bags and taped them onto my body with duct tape. I dug out my rubber knee-high boots and shoved them on. Then I found an old vinyl rain-poncho and a pair of gloves and put on those, too. A wide-brimmed rain hat, which I put on over the poncho’s hood that I’d already pulled over my hair, and a pair of sunglasses completed my outfit. I actually felt poison-ivy and tick proof.

When I walked out to the living room, my husband took one look at me and laughed so hard, he nearly fell out of his chair. “Please don’t let any neighbors see you in that get-up!” he said. “They already think we’re weird enough.”

With all of the plastic and rubber I was wearing, the neighbors were the least of my worries. I already could feel the sweat pooling up in my underwear. I was more afraid of passing out face-first in the poison ivy than of looking like a weirdo.

“Don’t fall down in the woods or get tangled up with the dog,” my husband called out to me as I headed toward the door. “Because then I’ll have to leave both of you out there until winter.”

I carefully made my way over stumps, rocks, roots, knee-high ferns and through the dreaded barrier of poison ivy. Finally, I reached Willow, who looked at me as if she thought I were some sort of space alien. It wasn’t until I spoke to her that she started wagging.

If she purposely had tried to break the world’s record for the most tangles in a single leash, she couldn’t have done a more thorough job. I would have just unhooked her from the leash and left it there, tangled around the trees, but the darned thing had cost $29 and I’d had it for only two weeks.

I finally freed Willow and led her out to the driveway. But before I allowed her back into the house, I brushed her with a fine wire brush, hoping to detach any ticks or other vermin that might have hitched a ride on her. Then I washed her, to get rid of any poison ivy residue. After that, I stripped off my layers of plastic and vinyl and left them in the garage.

For the next two days, I waited to start itching. I was certain I’d left an unprotected spot on my body and the poison ivy had found some way to penetrate it to turn me into a giant blister.

But when still no sign of itchy blisters popped up anywhere on my body after three days, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d emerged victorious from the battle of the demon plants.

I didn’t use Willow’s retractable leash for a couple weeks because I wanted it to have time to decontaminate itself from the poison ivy. Yesterday, however, without thinking, I grabbed it and put it on Willow.

When I came home from my walk, my husband said, “I was just watching the news and they were talking about poison ivy and said the residue from it can last for months on things like clothes and tools and still give you a bad rash. You haven’t been using that leash, have you? It must be loaded with poison ivy.”

So here I sit, once again waiting to break out in blisters.

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