Lucky Labrador Gets a Mulligan After Retrieving – and Swallowing – a Golf Ball

Nation’s Largest Pet Insurer Selects June’s Most Unusual Claim

Brea, Calif. (July 17, 2013) – Staying true to his breed’s name, Rhett and Noelle Ricks’ six-year-old Labrador retriever, Luke, loves to retrieve objects. His prowess for recovering items even earned Luke the title of “Master Hunter” around the Ricks’ household. Unfortunately, his keen retrieving skills backfired last month when he accidentally swallowed a golf ball in the backyard of the Ricks’ Emerald Isle, N.C., home. The incident resulted in a trip to the emergency animal hospital and surgery to remove the ball, earning Luke the title of June’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI).

“Our 12-year-old twin boys were in the backyard hitting golf balls, when, instinctively, Luke went off to retrieve one of the balls,” explained Noelle. “He brought the ball back to my husband and was getting ready to release it, and next thing you know, he accidentally swallowed it.”

The Ricks immediately called their veterinarian, who suggested Rhett administer hydrogen peroxide to Luke in hopes that it would induce vomiting and cause the golf ball to come back up. After several gulps of hydrogen peroxide but no reaction from Luke, the veterinarian told the Ricks to take Luke to the nearest emergency hospital.

At the hospital, the veterinarian took an X-ray to confirm the golf ball was in Luke’s stomach. After numerous attempts to get Luke to vomit the ball up, the veterinarian decided that exploratory surgery would be needed. The golf ball was quickly removed during the surgery and Luke went home with pain medication, antibiotics and a large incision on his stomach.

Immediately following the surgery, Luke was required to limit his exercise, which was difficult for such an active pooch. Fortunately, Luke has made a full recovery and is back to retrieving any object he can get his paws on. However, the Ricks are now more vigilant about keeping small objects out of Luke’s reach.

“Although Labrador retrievers enjoy fetching balls and other items, pet owners should avoid pets playing with small objects because they can be swallowed and cause choking or serious gastrointestinal problems,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI. “The Ricks took the appropriate steps by immediately contacting their veterinarian and getting Luke to the emergency animal hospital to have the golf ball removed before it resulted in any serious intestinal damage.”

The Ricks opted to purchase pet insurance for Luke when he was a puppy to safeguard against costly veterinary expenses should injuries or illnesses arise down the road. More than six years later, Noelle and Rhett have had more than one dozen claims processed for Luke and have been impressed with the quick and simple service VPI provides.

“We purchased VPI Pet Insurance when Luke was 10 weeks old,” explained Noelle. “Over the years, we have used VPI for wellness visits, as well as surgeries. We love our pets and want to provide them the best possible care. Having pet insurance gives us peace of mind knowing that Luke is covered if something happens to him.”

Luke’s incident was one of more than 80,000 claims received in the month of June 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 June included a Labrador retriever that suffered facial wounds after running into a brick wall, a dachshund that was bitten by a coyote, and a pug that fractured his foreleg after jumping out of a window and landing on the blacktop 20 feet below. All pets considered for the award made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

As the most unusual claim submitted in June, Luke will be in the running for the 2013 VPI Hambone Award. Other nominees include Natasha the Siberian Forest cat who went through an entire washing machine cycle, Ariel the Himalayan kitten who was trapped underneath her pet parent’s garage door, and McQuire the mixed breed dog that survived a brawl with a buck. For more information about the VPI Hambone Award, or to read about all of the 2013 nominees, visit

Digital images of Luke 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, one in three Fortune 500 companies offers 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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