Backyard Barbecue Leaves Curious Canine All Choked Up

Nation’s Largest Pet Insurer Selects May's Most Unusual Claim

Brea, Calif. (June 28, 2012) – Dog collar, leash, carrier or crate – many pet owners are prepared with these essential items when bringing a new dog home. However, as Calixte Defay of Bryan, Texas can attest, not all pet owners are aware that one of these items can pose a fatal threat to furry family members. Upon returning to his home one evening, Calixte discovered what would be a haunting scene for any pet parent: his Labrador puppy Beretta was hanging from the barbecue grill by her collar, and she wasn’t moving.

“Beretta was left in the backyard for a few hours. She had plenty of water and shade,” said Calixte. “She must have become intrigued by the barbecue grill, because she stuck her neck between the stances of the grill and her collar got tangled. Panicking, she twisted around until it became tighter and choked her. When I found her, she was immobile and barely conscious.”

Horrified, Calixte removed his canine’s collar and Beretta was immediately revived. The still panicked pet owner wasted no time rushing her to the closest emergency animal hospital for evaluation. The veterinarian checked Beretta’s vital signs and evaluated her pain level. Her neck had become extremely inflamed from the trauma. Fortunately, the pup suffered no serious damage and was sent home with anti-inflammatory medication for the swelling in her neck. Calixte is happy to report that Beretta is doing great and he encourages other pet owners to educate themselves about this potential risk.

“While incidents like this are rare, they do occur and can sometimes be life-threatening for pets,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI. “Though it’s impossible to monitor them every second of every day, there are steps owners can take to help ‘pet-proof’ their homes. For instance, get down on all fours and examine the area from a puppy’s perspective. Eliminate objects that could slide beneath a dog collar and cause a choking hazard. It’s also important to remember that pets use their noses more than their eyes, which will lure them to objects like the backyard barbecue.”

Dr. McConnell also advises concerned pet owners to consider break-away collars, in the event that a potential danger cannot be removed from the space. “Breakaway collars are great for pets who may encounter unavoidable hazards in their environment,” said Dr. McConnell. “An example of this would be outdoor cats, because they have a tendency to climb trees and their collar could become caught on a branch.”

Beretta’s incident was one of more than 80,000 claims received in the month of May by VPI, the nation’s oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, and was selected by VPI employees as the most unusual of the bunch. Honorable mentions in May included a Labrador retriever that had a run-in with a weed wacker; a Rottweiler that almost drowned after sneaking into a canal; and a German shorthaired pointer that ate 1.5 pounds of flour. All pets considered for the award made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

As the most unusual claim submitted in May, Beretta will be in the running for the 2012 VPI Hambone Award. Other nominees from previous months include Bayley the Labrador puppy who crashed into and shattered a 55-gallon aquarium, and Nathan the miniature dachshund who meddled with a muskrat. For more information about the VPI Hambone Award, or to read about all of the 2012 nominees, visit

Note to editors: Digital images of Beretta are available upon request. Send requests to

About VPI Hambone Award

The VPI Hambone Award is named in honor of a VPI-insured dog that got stuck in a refrigerator and ate an entire Thanksgiving ham while waiting for someone to rescue him. The dog was eventually found, with a licked-clean ham bone and a mild case of hypothermia. This quirky title was first awarded in 2009 to Lulu, a hungry English bulldog who swallowed 15 baby pacifiers, a bottle cap and a piece of a basketball. The VPI Hambone Award and these unusual pet insurance claims have since helped educate the public about the unexpected mishaps that can affect household pets. Stories and pictures of the VPI Hambone Award nominees are available at

About Veterinary Pet Insurance

With more than 485,000 pets insured nationwide, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co./DVM Insurance Agency (VPI) is a member of the Nationwide Insurance family of companies and is the oldest and largest pet health insurance company in the United States. Since 1982, VPI has helped provide pet owners with peace of mind and is committed to being the trusted choice of America’s pet lovers.

VPI Pet Insurance plans cover dogs, cats, birds and exotic pets for multiple medical problems and conditions relating to accidents, illnesses and injuries. CareGuard® coverage for routine care is available for an additional premium. Medical plans are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, nearly 3,000 companies nationwide offer VPI Pet Insurance as an employee benefit. Policies are offered and administered by Veterinary Pet Insurance Company in California and DVM Insurance Agency in all other states. Underwritten by Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (CA), Brea, CA, an A.M. Best A rated company (2012); National Casualty Company (all other states), Madison, WI, an A.M. Best A+ rated company (2012). Pet owners can find VPI Pet Insurance on Facebook or follow @VPI on Twitter. For more information about VPI Pet Insurance, call 800-USA-PETS (800-872-7387) or visit

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