Mom Saves Chicago Dog from Near Fatal Kitchen Fire

Seven years ago, Manika Nigam and her husband of Naperville, Ill. added a new Golden retriever puppy to their family, naming him Raja. While some members of the Nigam family were accustomed to having dogs, Manika had never owned a dog and was terrified of the soon-to-be massive retriever. Nevertheless, within a few months, Manika and Raja developed an inseparable bond. However, that bond was nearly broken when Raja became trapped in a house fire, only to be saved by Manika during a daring rescue. Raja’s terrifying entrapment and miraculous recovery have earned him the title of November’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

Raja joined the Nigam family when he was only 9-weeks-old, and although adorable, he frightened Manika. Fearful that the puppy would eventually lash out at the family and become uncontrollable, Manika relied on her children to help train the dog, but when they attended school, she was left alone with the puppy. While the duo was alone, a trust began to grow and a companionship was born.

“At first, I was almost forced to love him because I was tasked with taking care of him during the day, but now I view him as one of my children,” said Manika. “His name represents Indian royalty and he’s definitely become the king of the house.”

Over the years, Raja has become a staple in the Nigam household. The family has even customized their vacations in order to include the gleeful Golden retriever by booking dog friendly hotels and opting to drive when possible. Along with providing Raja with plenty of fun, the Nigam’s also believe in providing the best veterinary care possible, which is why the family registered Raja with Nationwide pet insurance.

“We provide the best health care possible for our family, and we feel that Raja should have the same opportunity,” said Nigam. “Raja has had some health issues in the past including surgery on both his knees, and having pet insurance has helped tremendously.”

On the day of the disaster, Manika was going through her normal morning routine of making tea and was preparing to drop her youngest son off at school while Raja was lounging around the house. Manika stopped by her local YMCA after dropping her son off and contemplated going grocery shopping, but opted to return home in order to let Raja out for a potty break. As Manika approached the house everything seemed normal, but upon entering the garage she began to smell smoke.

“When I got out of the car, I could hear the smoke alarm going off, but the house looked normal,” said Manika. “But as I opened the door, clouds of thick black smoke started pouring out. All I could think about was Raja.”

Unbeknownst to the family, a kitchen fire had broken out just minutes before Manika had arrived home. Manika began yelling for Raja, but her calls were met with silence. Fearing that her beloved dog was in trouble, Manika instinctively rushed into the home, and headed for the kitchen. Shielding her face from the intense layers of smoke, Manika was blinded by the darkness. Her search for Raja seemed hopeless, but suddenly her leg bumped into something soft. Manika reached down and felt Raja’s coat, but quickly realized he was unresponsive. Running on adrenaline, Manika pushed open the back door and threw the 100-pound dog to safety before running out of the burning building herself. As Manika rushed to Raja’s side, the giant Golden retriever opened his eyes and stood up.

“I couldn’t believe he was alive,” said Manika. “When the firefighters and emergency crew arrived, they tended to me, but I kept yelling that I was fine and wanted them to check on Raja. But then he got a burst of energy and started running around in the front yard and I knew he was okay.”

Manika was taken to the local hospital and Raja was taken to Banfield of Naperville, where both were treated for smoke inhalation. Raja is still dealing with mild pain in his surgically repaired knees, caused by his frantic escape attempt, which is evident by the deep claw marks he left embedded in the kitchen door.

 “It’s truly remarkable that Raja survived. He could have easily died of  smoke inhalation,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide. “Raja’s story exemplifies the strong bond that pet owners have with their companion animals. Raja owes his life to Manika’s love and bravery.”

After the fire, the entire community rallied around the Nigam family. The Springbrook Animal Care Center gave Raja a full grooming without charge to help get the deep smell of smoke from his coat, and the local Aloft hotel provided a wonderful dog friendly environment so that Raja could stay with his family during home repairs. As of today, the Nigam family has returned home and Raja is making strides to feeling healthy again.

 “I’m just happy that no one was hurt, especially Raja,” said Manika. “I’m so thankful for everyone who helped during this time, from our neighbors to the hotel and dog groomers, everyone was wonderful. We are also lucky that Raja was insured by Nationwide. Having pet insurance for Raja allows us to give him the best treatment without worrying about costs. It has been excellent for us.”

As the most unusual claim submitted in November, Raja will be in the running for the 2017 Hambone Award. Raja’s incident was one of more than 110,000 pet insurance claims received in the month of November by Nationwide, and was selected by Nationwide employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in November include a Chihuahua who was attacked by an eagle, a French bulldog who fell out of a three story window, and a Husky who was attacked by a squirrel. All pets considered for the Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

Note to editors: Digital images of Raja 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 585,000 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), Columbus, OH, 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. ©2016 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

About Nationwide

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. The company provides a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto, commercial, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; banking and mortgages; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. For more information, visit

Nationwide, Nationwide is on your side, Join the Nation and the Nationwide N and Eagle are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.