Leaky Boiler Traps Pets in Chamber of Poison

Nation’s Largest Pet Insurer Selects Most Unusual December Claim

Brea, Calif. (Jan. 21, 2016) - With winter in full swing, most Americans have began to use their heaters on a regular basis. However, for Judith Corn’s family of Port Washington N.Y., and their 13-year-old cat Mitten and 11-year-old Poodle Sasha, that common luxury brought a moment of horror. A cold day turned terrifying when Sasha, Mitten and the family suffered severe carbon monoxide poisoning after a faulty detector failed to alert them of a leak in their house. Sasha’s and Mitten’s stifling situation and heartwarming recovery have earned them the dual title of December’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

The toxic exposure occurred on an ordinary day with the family leaving to work and school. Mitten and Sasha were enjoying the day, which included a daily visit from the family’s pet sitter. As the afternoon grew later, Judith returned home and prepared to make dinner.

“I came home and started my evening routine,” said Judith. “It was the first real day of winter and the house was chilly. We’ve always had a carbon monoxide detector, so there was no way to know what was about to happen.”

A few moments later, Judith’s husband David returned home from work. He agreed the house was cold and decided to turn on the heater. The family ate dinner together before splitting apart in their multilevel home to enjoy their own hobbies. Judith began working out on her exercise bike, but immediately felt irrationally tired. She then noticed that Sasha was walking awkwardly and seemed to be off balance, so she carried her downstairs to consult her husband. When they reached the lower floor, Sasha started vomiting uncontrollably. Simultaneously, Mitten began franticly sprinting up and down the stairs and bellowing in an eerie tone.

“Everything happened so fast, we couldn’t figure out what was going on,” said Judith. “All of a sudden it really started to affect me and my husband too. We couldn’t think clearly and could barely stand. I knew something was happening and yelled for my son Adam.”

Adam was in an area of the house unaffected by the leak and rushed to their side. Adam called 911, and after explaining the situation, emergency responders arrived within minutes. The first firefighter on the scene pulled out a mobile carbon monoxide detector and promptly ordered everyone out of the house, but Judith and David couldn’t walk and needed to be guided to the ambulance.

“We were completely disoriented,” said Judith. “I kept yelling ‘get the animals, someone please help my pets.’ When we were in the ambulance, I couldn’t stop thinking of them. We didn’t have time to grab our cell phones and I had no way to communicate with my family. I was scared we would lose them.”

Luckily, Judith’s family came to the rescue. Adam helped the emergency responders locate and evacuate Mitten and Sasha. With nowhere to go, the animals were taken to a local shelter for boarding and assessment. Upon examination, the staff determined the pets needed medical assistance right away and rushed them to the Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center of Westbury for extensive treatment. Once at the veterinary hospital, Mitten and Sasha were both placed in oxygen chambers to increase their oxygen input.

Meanwhile, Judith and David had been transported to a specialty hospital to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Not knowing if their pets had lived through the ordeal, the couple was contacted by their daughter Michelle who was currently away at college. Michelle, along with the help of Judith’s brother Michael, took charge and discovered where the animals had been placed and helped coordinate communication between the family and their dog sitter to ensure the animals were taken care of. Michael also stepped in and help transport Adam from hospital to hospital. The next day, Judith was released from the hospital and drove straight to the veterinary hospital to check on her furry family members.

“I showed up still wearing what I had on in the ambulance,” said Judith. “My husband and son were safe, but I wasn’t sure how our pets were doing. They are incredibly important to us and we would have been devastated if something had happened to them.”

To Judith’s surprise, the veterinary staff had wonderful news. Both Mitten and Sasha had stabilized and were ready to come home.  

“Carbon monoxide is just as dangerous to our pets as it is to us,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide. “Judith’s family did a wonderful job of ensuring that their pets received proper care. It’s wonderful that they for never lost sight of their pets’ well-being.”

The family has since returned home and put in a completely new heating system along with new carbon monoxide detectors in each level of the house. Judith is relieved that her family has made a full recovery and is delighted by the work of the veterinarians along with the support she received from Nationwide.

“Everyone is healthy and that’s all that matters,” said Judith. “Our animals are part of the family and I can’t thank the veterinarians enough for the work they did. We were also very fortunate to have our pets insured with Nationwide. When something catastrophic like this happens, it’s comforting to know that your pets are covered.”

As the most unusual claims submitted in December, Sasha and Mitten will be in the running for the 2016 Hambone Award. Sasha and Mitten’s incident was one of more than 100,000 pet insurance claims received in the month of December by Nationwide, and was selected by Nationwide employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in December include a Poodle that disappeared and returned home with 65 ticks, a mixed breed dog that was bitten by a miniature horse, and a Yorkshire terrier that was attacked by an armadillo! All pets considered for the Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses. 

Note to editors: Digital images of Mitten and Sasha are available upon request. Please send requests to rwhittington@petinsurance.com.

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 HamboneAward.com.

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. 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. ©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 petinsurance.com.

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