Iron Man Impression Leaves Cat in Dangerous Dangle

Nation’s Largest Pet Insurer Selects Most Unusual August Claim

Brea, Calif. (Sept. 26, 2015) Last year, Chris and Sheena Villarraga of Naples, Fla., rescued a tiny 6-week-old kitten. As avid fans of the Iron Man series, they settled on the name Stark, after the main character Tony Stark. The rambunctious kitty has lived up to his name and proven his intelligence by learning how to open doors, and has shown his rebelliousness by destroying several phone and computer chargers. However, Stark took his character a little too far after he attempted to fly off his cat tree and ended up hanging by his tail from a set of window blinds. Stark’s dangerous dangle and relieving recovery have earned him the title of August’s "Most Unusual Claim of the Month" by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

On the morning of Stark’s feline flight, Chris and Sheena, who are both in the nursing field, were trying to enjoy extra sleep on a rare shared day off. Stark disagreed with the newlyweds’ plan, and interrupted their slumber in hopes of playtime.

“We were planning to take Stark to his annual wellness visit later that day,” said Sheena. “He was really hyper that morning so we put him in his room to play with his toys, while we got a little extra sleep. Most cats don’t have their own room, but we don’t have children yet so Stark is spoiled.”

When Sheena returned to bed, she could hear Stark running around and playing as he normally does, but suddenly she heard a loud crash. The couple raced to Stark’s room, which is appropriately Iron Man themed, and found the frantic feline hanging from the window blinds by his tail. Stark had launched off his fortress style cat tree and become entangled in the cords. The couple rushed to free Stark, but the cords had wrapped a knot around his tail.

“The knot was so tight that it pulled out a big chunk of his hair,” said Sheena. “When we finally got him free, we knew he wasn’t right. His tail was hanging awkwardly and he looked uncomfortable. It broke my heart to see my baby like that.”

Sheena and Chris quickly loaded Stark into the car and rushed him to Oasis Animal Hospital in Naples. The veterinary team sedated the mortified Maine Coon mix to calm him down and examined his tail. They feared he may have suffered nerve damage which could possibly require amputation. The team informed the Villarragas that they would need time to run X-rays and extensive tests, and recommended the couple leave to clear their minds.

“The wait was torturous,” said Sheena. “They told us to go get something to eat until they knew more, but we had no appetite. All we cared about was Stark. Knowing that he was in so much pain brought me to tears.”

Soon after leaving, the veterinary office called with great news. Stark’s tail showed no signs of a break or nerve damage. He did have extensive tissue damage, but it would not require amputation or surgery.

“While Stark’s incident is bizarre, tail injuries are not uncommon and can cause serious issues for pets,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide. “Severe tail injuries often require amputations. Stark is lucky that he had fast acting pet parents who wasted no time in getting him help.”

After a few weeks, Stark was back to his playful ways. The window blinds have since been removed, and Stark was left with an indent in his tail as a reminder to refrain from flying. Chris and Sheena are relieved that the injury wasn’t too serious and are thankful for the support they received from Nationwide through the process.

“We’re just happy that Stark is fully healed,” said Sheena. “We purchased pet insurance from Nationwide for incidents just like this. We’ve seen first-hand how expensive pet injuries can be and we never want to be faced with a difficult decision because of finances. We’re grateful to have Nationwide.”

As the most unusual claim submitted in August, Stark will be in the running for the 2016 Hambone Award. Stark’s incident was one of more than 111,000 pet insurance claims received in the month of August by Nationwide, and was selected by Nationwide employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in August include an Australian Cattle Dog who got grass seeds stuck in her tonsils, a Belgian Malinois who ingested 28 boxes of Girls Scout cookies and a Fox terrier who got a safety pin lodged in her mouth! All pets considered for the Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

Note to editors: Digital images of Stark are available upon request. Please send requests to

About Hambone Award

The Hambone Award is named in honor of a Nationwide-insured dog who 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 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 Hambone Award nominees are available at

About Nationwide pet insurance

With more than 550,000 insured pets, pet insurance from Nationwide, formerly known as Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), is the first and largest pet health insurance provider in the United States. Since 1982, Nationwide has helped provide pet owners with peace of mind and is committed to being the trusted choice of America’s pet lovers. 

Nationwide 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 pet insurance from Nationwide 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). Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle, and Nationwide Is On Your Side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. ©2015 Nationwide. Pet owners can find Nationwide pet insurance on Facebook or follow on Twitter. For more information about Nationwide pet insurance, call 800-USA-PETS (800-872-7387) or visit

Contact Us



P.O. Box 2344
Brea, CA 92822-2344