Agile Husky Mix Escapes the Jaws of Angry Alligator

Laura Sheldon of Treasure Island, Florida, doesn’t go anywhere without her lovable 10-year-old Husky mix, Denali. Laura travels the United States for her job as a campground host, and Denali is by her side for every adventure. However, Laura nearly lost her sidekick during a recent trip when Denali jumped into a pond and was attacked by a massive alligator. Denali’s reptile run-in and heartwarming recovery have earned her the title of May’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.

Laura adopted Denali nearly 10 years ago from a rescue center in Virginia and has since taken her to campgrounds and national parks across the nation. The lifestyle is a perfect fit for the incredibly social Husky mix who loves swimming and exploring the outdoors.

“You’d never guess that Denali is 10 years old. She still has the energy and strength she did when I first brought her home,” said Laura. “Her curiosity does get the best of her sometimes, so I have to keep her on a leash whenever we’re outside.”

On the day of the alligator altercation, Laura and Denali were visiting with family at a Florida residence located on a golf course. While Laura visited with her family members inside, Denali was enjoying playtime with two other dogs in the back yard. The yard was fenced in with a screen enclosure that prevented the dogs from wandering off. However, after Denali spotted a small rabbit, she decided to sneak out.         

“I went out to check on Denali and she was nowhere to be found,” said Laura. “She had discovered a weak spot in the enclosure and pushed her way through it. I was super worried and immediately went looking for her.”

Laura searched up and down the street for Denali and informed the security office that her dog was missing. After nearly an hour of searching, Laura spotted Denali roughly one block away from the house. She called out to the escapee, and Denali came to her visibly exhausted.

“When Denali walked up she was soaking wet and looked really tired,” said Laura. “It was hot out so I figured she must have found a pool or pond to cool off after chasing the rabbit.”

After putting the soaking pup back in the yard, two residents approached Laura and asked if she was aware of what had just happened to her dog. Unbeknownst to Laura, Denali had jumped into a small pond on the golf course where a seven foot alligator was known to be living. The two neighbors had tried to call Denali away from the pond before she jumped in, but they were too late. As soon as Denali jumped in, the alligator rose to the surface and latched its jaws around Denali’s leg. Denali bravely bit back and clamped down on the alligator snout. After a few moments of struggle, above and below the water, Denali outlasted the alligator and it released its grip.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Laura. “I rushed back to check Denali and found an open wound on her leg and knew she needed help.”

Laura rushed Denali to Southwest Florida Veterinary Specialist and Emergency Hospital for treatment. The staff evaluated the ailing pup and stitched her wound. Miraculously, Denali escaped the ordeal with nothing more than the gash on her leg. The staff was amazed and told Laura that Denali was the first dog they’ve ever seen survive an alligator attack.           

“Denali is incredibly lucky to survive an attack from an apex predator such as an alligator,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, Vice President and Chief Veterinary Officer for Nationwide. “The alligator viewed Denali as a fresh meal and it’s miraculous she was able to escape. Most alligator attacks have a far more detrimental outcome.”

Since the incident, Denali has made a full recovery and is back on the road with Laura. Denali is a little timid around water, but hasn’t lost her adventurous spirit. Laura is grateful for the amazing care from the veterinary staff and thankful for the pet insurance support they received.

“Denali is much more than just a dog to me. I would have been devastated if I lost her,” said Laura. “I can’t thank the veterinary staff enough for their care and kindness towards Denali. I was also very pleased with the pet insurance support from Nationwide. Looking back, I now know that getting insurance for Denali was a smart move.”

As the most unusual claim submitted in May, Denali will be in the running for the 2017 Hambone Award. Denali’s incident was one of more than 110,000 pet insurance claims received in the month of May by Nationwide, and was selected by Nationwide employees as the most unusual of them all. Honorable mentions in May include a mixed breed dog who ate his owner’s homework, A Boston terrier who fell down a flight of stairs, and a mixed breed dog who got stuck in a cactus. All pets considered for the Hambone Award have made full recoveries and received insurance reimbursements for eligible expenses.

Note to editors: Digital images of Denali 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 600,000 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, nearly half of all 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 and the Nationwide N and Eagle are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. ©2017 Nationwide.