Missing Catahoula Mix Survives “Miles” in Blizzard

Nation’s Largest Pet Insurer Selects Most Unusual February Claim

Brea, Calif. (March 17, 2015) – For Caitlin Brennan of Walnut Creek, Calif., and her companion Miles, a 3-year-old Catahoula mix, Lake Tahoe is a second home. Caitlin’s family has owned a cabin there for decades and the duo later lived in the same neighborhood for a year after Caitlin graduated from college. Tahoe is now their favorite vacation spot and they frequently stay in the family cabin. However, their latest weekend getaway almost turned into Miles’ last after he went missing during a severe storm and spent three days lost in the forest. Miles’ terrifying journey and miraculous recovery have earned him the title of February’s "Most Unusual Claim of the Month" by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

Caitlin and her boyfriend Matt rescued Miles two years ago from a shelter near San Francisco and purchased a policy with VPI during the adoption process. Initially, Miles was nervous and preferred to be left alone, but he and the family quickly became inseparable.

“We definitely had to earn Miles’ trust,” said Caitlin. “Once he was comfortable with us, he became the most loving dog we’ve ever owned. He wants to be by our side wherever we are, whether we’re hiking in Tahoe or just hanging out at home. He’s a huge part of our family.”

During the lake trip, Caitlin, Matt, and a group of friends were staying at her family cabin with Miles and another dog named Murphy. Tahoe was experiencing sporadic bad weather on the first night and wind caused a tree to fall on a neighboring cabin. The next morning the group went to explore the damages and brought the dogs along for the walk.

“We wanted to make sure everyone was okay,” said Caitlin. “Miles knows the area like its his own backyard so I’ve never worried about him running off, but I lost track for one moment and he and Murphy disappeared. At first, we didn’t panic because we knew that Miles knew where the cabin was, but then it began to rain and we started to get anxious.”

After searching late into the night, Caitlin and the group were forced to call off the search. On day two, the friends divided into two groups with half continuing the search through the woods and the others putting up signs and contacting neighbors and local businesses.

“Tahoe is a tight community, and everyone is very supportive,” said Caitlin. “All of our neighbors were joining in on the search for Miles and Murphy, and the local businesses posted the dog’s pictures on their Facebook page. Everyone was determined to find them…even the ski resort was on patrol.”

With day two coming to an end and the search intensifying, a severe snow storm struck Tahoe and once again the group had to call off the search. With no sign of the pups after two days, Caitlin was beginning to lose faith.

“When the storm came, we all feared the worst,” said Caitlin. “The second night was so sad. The storm was horrible and we knew the thunder and lightning must have been terrifying for the dogs. Everyone was heartbroken, but we knew there was still hope.”

On the third day, Caitlin and Matt expanded their search and hiked an area 15 miles away from the cabin. After an exhaustive effort, they found nothing and were nearly out of options, but then Caitlin’s phone rang. A neighbor had spotted the dogs from a distance and followed them to a cabin.

“When we got the call we rushed back as fast as we could,” said Caitlin. “We couldn’t believe my eyes when I returned. Miles and Murphy were sitting on the porch of our old house, right down the street from our cabin. Miles was so happy to see us. We hugged him tight and cried.”

After offering Miles food and water, Caitlin took him to the Burton Creek Veterinary Clinic in Tahoe to have him checked out. When Miles arrived, his paws were battered and his stature was thin. The veterinarians ran tests and determined he had colitis from eating something toxic and was malnourished from lack of food. After a short stay and medications for the road, Miles was sent home and could finally relax.

“It’s impressive that Miles was able to survive such harsh weather,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for VPI. “Conditions that cold can cause severe hypothermia, especially for dogs without the coat necessary for such extreme conditions. Caitlin did the responsible thing by taking Miles to get medical attention right away, so the team at Burton Creek could make sure he had no underlying issues.”

Since his return home, Miles has made a full recovery and is back to his old self. His incident hasn’t affected his passion for the outdoors and he still enjoys his trips to Lake Tahoe. Caitlin still can’t believe that Miles survived and is grateful for all the support she received throughout the experience.

“I’m just relieved that everything worked out,” said Caitlin. “I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to lose Miles. We’re lucky that we had such great support from the Tahoe community and from VPI. I knew that I could take Miles to get the medical attention he needed without having to worry about the cost, which made it much easier to just enjoy his return. With VPI we’re ready for anything!”

As the most unusual claim submitted in February, Miles will be in the running for the 2015 VPI Hambone Award. Miles’ incident was one of more than 96,000 claims received in the month of February by VPI, and was selected by VPI employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in February include a terrier mix who was kicked by a moose, a mixed breed who swallowed a pair of eyeglasses and a cat who got caught beneath a garage door. 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 Miles are available upon request. Please send requests to rwhittington@petinsurance.com.

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 VPIHamboneAward.com

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 petinsurance.com.

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