Mini Dachshund Saves Pack from Becoming Rattlesnake Snack

Nation’s Largest Pet Insurer Selects Most Unusual March Claim

Brea, Calif. (April 23, 2015) – For Rocky the red haired miniature dachshund is the leader of Ernest Gee’s pack of pint sized pooches at their home in San Diego, Calif. Among the three miniature dachshunds and two tiny Chihuahuas at the Gee family home, 6-year-old Rocky is the protector, constantly keeping watch over his brothers and sisters. However, Rocky’s bravery was put to the ultimate test when he had to defend his pack from a hungry rattlesnake that wandered into their yard, leaving Rocky fighting for his life. Rocky’s courageous battle and heartwarming recovery have earned him the title of March’s "Most Unusual Claim of the Month" by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

It was supposed to be a joyous day with the Gee family eager to celebrate Ernest’s son’s birthday. Everyone was at work for the day, planning to meet up later that night at a restaurant. Rocky and the dog pack were enjoying their day in the backyard, playing and relaxing in the sun as they do every day. Ernest asked his brother Deland to stop by the house to feed the dogs and get them secured in the house for the night.

“It was a busy day so I asked my brother to help out,” said Ernest. “A rattlesnake attack was the last thing on our minds. In the thirty years we’ve lived here, we’ve never seen one in our neighborhood and none of our neighbors have ever reported problems with them. All of our dogs are insured with VPI so we’re always prepared for the unexpected, but we never imagined something like this would happen.”

Little did the family know, while they were away, a rattlesnake found his way into their yard. A large ficus tree in a neighboring property had become inhabited by rats, which had attracted the snake in days prior. Looking for prey, the snake entered the yard occupied by Ernest’s dogs, most of whom are less than ten pounds. Rocky, being the guardian, came to the rescue to defend his smaller siblings and squared off with the rattlesnake. During the fight, Rocky was bitten three times including once directly in the face and was injected with a deadly amount of venom, but was able to fend off the snake from reaching his siblings. Luckily, Deland arrived at the house just in time. Upon his arrival, all the dogs greeted him except Rocky who was staggering around in the backyard.

“My brother immediately knew something was wrong with Rocky and when he approached him he noticed that his face was severely swollen and that he was bleeding,” said Ernest. “He called me right away. We had no idea what could have happened, but we knew we had to get Rocky help immediately.”

Deland rushed Rocky to their family veterinarian, while Ernest notified the rest of the family. The veterinarian recognized the wounds and determined it was a rattlesnake attack. Because of Rocky’s dire condition, he advised the family to take Rocky to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of San Diego for emergency treatment. Ernest’s wife had arrived on scene just before the diagnosis and loaded Rocky into her car and hurried him to the specialists, who had been notified of Rocky’s condition.

“I met my wife at the specialty hospital and I got to see Rocky for the first time,” said Ernest. “He was having trouble breathing and bleeding profusely from his face and a little from his eyes. We knew it was bad. I told the lead veterinarian to do everything he could to save Rocky. We knew VPI would help with the costs, so all we cared about what was Rocky’s well-being.”

The specialists worked quickly to save Rocky’s life, treating him with anti-venom and giving him fluids. Eventually, the veterinary team was able to stabilize Rocky, but informed the family that he was going to have a long recovery. Over the next few days, Rocky needed to be treated with anti-venom two more times and remained under constant observation.

“For such a small dog, it’s remarkable that Rocky was able to survive multiple rattlesnake bites. It truly exemplifies the phenomenal work performed by the veterinarians at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of San Diego,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for VPI. “Rocky was also very fortunate that his family reacted so fast. If any time was wasted, he may not have survived.”

Rocky is now at full strength and back to being the watchful leader of his pack. Ernest and the Gee family are thrilled with Rocky’s recovery and are grateful for all the support they received.

“We’ll never forget what an amazing job the veterinarians did saving Rocky’s life,” said Ernest. “He’s a huge part of our family, and it would have been devastating to lose him. We’re also really fortunate to have had VPI. Not having to worry about the medical bills really made the situation easier to deal with. We’ve insured all our dogs with VPI for situations just like this. With VPI we’re ready for anything!”

As the most unusual claim submitted in March, Rocky will be in the running for the 2015 VPI Hambone Award. Rocky’s incident was one of more than 109,000 claims received in the month of March by VPI, and was selected by VPI employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in March included a miniature Schnauzer who ate a cigar, a Pomeranian who was shocked after chewing on an electrical cord and a Labrador retriever who drank diesel fuel. All pets considered for the VPI Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

Note to editors: Digital images of Rocky are available upon request. Please 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 525,000 pets insured nationwide, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co./DVM Insurance Agency (VPI), a Nationwide company, is the first and largest pet health insurance provider 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 plans cover dogs, cats, birds and exotic pets for multiple medical problems and conditions relating to accidents, illnesses and injuries. Wellness 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.

Insurance plans 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 (2013); National Casualty Company (all other states), Madison, WI, an A.M. Best A+ rated company (2014). Veterinary Pet Insurance, VPI and the cat/dog logo are service marks of Veterinary Pet Insurance Company. Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle, and Nationwide Is On Your Side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. ©2015 Veterinary Pet Insurance Company and Nationwide. 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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