Pennsylvania Dog’s Hike Halted by Inconceivable Impalement

Eight years ago Jen Hawker of Scranton, Pa visited a local litter of puppies in need of a home and felt an instant connection a tiny male mutt. Jen took the hound mix home and named him Rooster. Since that fateful day, the duo has created an inseparable companionship that has helped serve as guidance through difficult times. But that relationship nearly came to an abrupt end when Rooster was brutally impaled by a large branch during a routine hike. Rooster’s horrifying injury and miraculous recovery have earned him the title of September’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

Jen and Rooster’s bond was groomed out of misfortune. After a terrible accident at work, Jen was forced to take time off work and eventually retire from her profession as a firefighter. During those troubling times, Rooster became Jen’s main therapy tool, helping her deal with stress and the everyday struggles of life moving forward.

“Rooster and I have a special relationship,” said Jen. “I’ve had other dogs, but none have been as comforting as he is. There are some injuries that never heal, but Rooster has helped tremendously, and I just love him to death. He’s my personal therapy dog.”

On the day of the foliage fiasco, Jen had taken her small pack of dogs on a day hike in lieu of her daily gym routine. The group included Rooster, Jen’s other dog Goose, and a foster dog named Lulu. The group was enjoying the mid-week seclusion on the access road trail. The lack of foot traffic allowed the dogs some off leash freedom and gave Jen a chance to listen to her favorite podcast. The quartet was nearly done with their journey when then dogs noticed a vermin and sprinted down a small hill. Suddenly, Jen heard a loud cry.

“I thought I heard a yelp over my headphones,” said Jen. “When I called for the dogs to come back, Lulu and Goose ran out of the bushes and back up the hill, but Rooster was just standing there. When I approached him, I noticed an elongated bulge on his side and knew something was wrong.”

Thinking that Rooster may have fallen and severely broken his ribs, Jen tried to carry the ailing pup back to the car, but each attempt was met with severe cries of pain from Rooster. It became apparent that Rooster was suffering from a serious injury and needed immediate medical attention. With Rooster unable to walk and Jen unable to carry him the remaining distance, the group was out of options.

“We were stuck and I had no other choice than to dial 911,” said Jen. “I wasn’t sure if they would use their resources for a dog, but the operator assured me she would call back when help was on the way.”

Within minutes an officer arrived to the trail in a large SUV. Jen flagged down the vehicle and out of the driver’s seat appeared the City of Jessup’s Chief of Police Joseph Walsh to provide assistance. Wasting no time, Chief Walsh moved the SUV within 30 yards of the injured canine and attempted to help carry the dog using his vest as a makeshift stretcher, but Rooster was in too much pain. With just a short distance to safety and options limited, Jen encouraged Rooster with a confident tone, and the brave dog walked the short distance to the car.

Once in the car, Jen rode in the back with Rooster while Lulu and Goose rode in the front seat with the police chief. Jen arranged for a friend to pick up the other dogs in the parking lot so that she could rush Rooster to the emergency veterinary hospital. As she passed off the other two members of the pack, Chief Walsh could sense the immense stress Jen was in and offered to escort them to the hospital. Chief Walsh drove to the ailing hound to Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center of South Abington for treatment. Upon arrival, emergency veterinary staff quickly examined the injury and prepared to take Rooster for X-rays and testing. One of the technicians pointed out an open wound on Rooster’s side and hinted that the large mass might be an impaled stick.

“I was in total shock when they told me that Rooster could have been impaled,” said Jen. “I was worried that he could be hurt much worse than I thought. When they wheeled him back, he howled in pain one last time and it tore me up, but Chief Walsh was still there by my side and provided comfort. He even went and brought back lunch while we waited for Rooster’s diagnosis.”

After an arduous wait, the staff returned with shocking news. Rooster had indeed been impaled by a large branch that stemmed over a foot long and had narrowly missed his lungs by less than an inch. The branch required a unique surgery that forced the staff to create an opening on the opposite side of the entrance wound for removal.

“Rooster is incredibly lucky to be alive,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide. “An injury that severe could have easily damaged one of his major organs. Rooster’s story is a perfect example of the unforeseen injuries that can happen to our pets at any time. He’s lucky to have such a responsible owner like Jen, who wasted no time in getting him help.”

After the surgery, Rooster needed a couple of weeks for the wounds to heal and the soreness to wear off. Jen is relieved that Rooster survived the ordeal and is grateful for all parties involved that helped save her companion’s life.

“I’m so happy that Rooster came out of this ordeal without any lasting damage,” said Jen. “I’m so grateful for the amazing care the veterinary staff provided for Rooster, and I’ll never forget Chief Walsh’s kindness. Having Rooster insured through Nationwide also helped out immensely. I know I’ll never have to think twice about getting him veterinary care because of the excellent coverage we’ve received.”

As the most unusual claim submitted in September, Rooster will be in the running for the 2017 Hambone Award. Rooster’s incident was one of more than 110,000 pet insurance claims received in the month of September by Nationwide, and was selected by Nationwide employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in September include a Poodle mix who fell out of a second story window, a Whippet who battled with a snake, and a Yorkshire terrier who was attacked by a colony of fire ants. All pets considered for the Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

Note to editors: Digital images of Rooster 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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