Cattle Dog’s Mysterious Disappearance Leads Owner Down Manhole Mission

Six years ago Rick Frankiewicz of South Bend, Ind. adopted the “pet of the week” at his local shelter and named her Star. Since that faithful day, Rick and the 2-year-old cattle dog mix have created an inseparable bond. Their friendship is accentuated by their daily two hour walk, which can sometimes be interrupted by Star’s overbearing clumsiness. However, Star’s latest trail side blunder nearly ended in tragedy after she fell into a hidden manhole and wouldn’t be saved without a heroic effort from Rick and some heavy machinery. Star’s baffling vanishing and heartwarming recovery have earned her the title of August’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

Rick and Star’s companionship was born out of tragedy after Rick had to put his longtime dog Pal to sleep due to natural causes. Knowing that the end was imminent, Rick had been visiting Star at the local shelter for weeks, and when the dreadful day came, he went straight to the shelter to take the excitable cattle dog mix home.

“Star is my girl,” said Rick. “She was given up for adoption because she required so much attention and a lot of walks, which is fine with me. She’s the perfect companion, besides the fact that she’s pretty clumsy and tends to get herself hurt quite a bit.”

Star’s terrifying fall came during one of their routine five mile walks. During their course, the duo walked through an old road that passes between a gas plant and a corn field. Due to the time of the season, the corn farmer had recently used a large mower to cut the shrubbery back away from the road giving Star additional room to roam.

“We go for our walks really early in the morning and there’s usually no one around so I occasionally give Star a little extra room to smell and explore,” said Rick. “She typically stays right around me, but this time she must have seen a rabbit because she bolted around the corner and into the corn.”

Rick called out to Star, believing she couldn’t have gone far, but was met with silence. Slightly confused, Rick made his way into the field and kept calling, but his efforts proved unsuccessful. Within a few yards of Star’s path, Rick passed by a manhole that had the cover torn off. He looked down in search of his lost companion, but only saw emptiness. As time passed, Rick became worried and called upon a friend to join the search. After backup arrived, the team scoured the field with no prevail. Rick’s worrisome calls even alerted a nearby community, who in turn, phoned the police thinking someone was in trouble.

“When the police arrived, I explained the situation and they joined in the search as well,” said Rick. “It just didn’t make sense, I knew she couldn’t have gone that far and we had searched through the entire corn field. It was like she just vanished.”

As the hours passed, the officers were forced to leave and Rick’s friend retreated for the day, but the committed owner refused to give up hope. Finally, Rick heard a very faint bark and knew she was out there somewhere. He then noticed a water department van parked on the road with two workers in it and pleaded for them to help. With a new team in place the search continued, but Star’s faint cries seemed to be coming out of thin air. As Rick circled back to the open manhole, he looked down and to his surprise saw Star at the bottom - nearly 20 feet down.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Rick. “I realized that she had fallen down the manhole and was running through the sewer lines under the field following my calls.”

Rick immediately called back to the water workers, who luckily had the equipment necessary to get her out. The crew brought out a large tripod with a harness attached and the capability of lowering someone down the manhole. Rick volunteered to be the rescuer and immediately strapped up.

“When they lowered me down, I saw broken cement and sharp rebar everywhere and feared that Star might be seriously hurt,” said Rick. “But when I got down there I was amazed to find that she didn’t have anything visibly wrong.”

Rick was then pulled back up with a delighted Star in his arms. When they finally reached safety, Star ran around in joy, but quickly started to limp and show signs of an injury. Not taking any risks, Rick rushed her to the Parrett Veterinary Clinic for treatment. The duo arrived at the veterinary hospital exhausted and covered in mud. The veterinary team ran multiple tests and X-rays, but diagnosed Star with only a sprained leg and a chipped tooth.

“Star’s story exemplifies the strong bond between pets and their owners,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide. “Rick’s commendable effort and refusal to give up hope are an example to us all. It’s a miracle that Star wasn’t seriously injured, and Rick did the right thing by seeking veterinary attention right away.”

After the incident, Star needed her chipped tooth removed and a few weeks of less activity for her sprained leg to heal, but has now made a full recovery. Rick is relieved that Star avoided serious injury and is grateful for Star’s amazing veterinary care and the pet insurance support he received from Nationwide.

“It’s a miracle that she’s alive after that fall,” said Rick. “The whole situation turned out better than expected and having Star insured through Nationwide helped out with expenses tremendously.”

As the most unusual claim submitted in August, Star will be in the running for the 2017 Hambone Award. Star’s incident was one of more than 110,000 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 a Schnauzer who swallowed a knitting needle, a Bulldog who was struck by a stray bullet, and a mix breed dog who was attacked by a swarm of bees. All pets considered for the Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

Note to editors: Digital images of Star 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

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With more than 575,000 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.

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