I suppose I could begin with the tale of the Newfoundland that ate the TV remotes. Not just one remote, but a half-dozen over time. I could move on to the story of the empty brownie tin or the classic “Pumpkin Pie Caper.” Eventually, I would have to get to what has come to be known in my house as “The miracle of the Lee’s 21 piece.”
Anyone who has ever owned a dog has a story of the thing that dog ate that it wasn’t supposed to. Hang around dog owners long enough — particularly and for reasons I cannot explain, the owners of Labrador retrievers — and eventually the conversation turns to pillaged pies, misdirected meatloaves and, in extreme cases, whole sections of home decor sacrificed to the whim of a misbehaving mutt.
Nobody has a better excuse to highlight these stories than the folks who make money selling pet owners insurance against just such inevitabilities. So it’s not surprising that the sponsor of the annual Hambone Award honoring the most unusual pet insurance claim of the year is the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co.
For the past four years, staffers at VPI have rummaged through more than 1 million pet insurance claims to find what they consider the 12 most worthy of the annual award. The winner is chosen by the public on the company’s website, www.vpiHamboneAward.com.
The award is named for its first recipient, Hambone, a dog who managed to get stuck in the family refrigerator and polish off the entire Thanksgiving ham while waiting for his rescue. He was later treated for mild hypothermia and, one would guess, indigestion. Past winners also include Ellie, a Labrador retriever who gobbled up an entire beehive and its thousands of inhabitants; Lulu, a hungry bulldog who swallowed 15 baby pacifiers, a bottle cap and piece of a basketball; and Harley, a pug that ate, and subsequently passed, more than 100 rocks.
The nominees are not limited to dogs eating stuff they shouldn’t. they have Havee the New Jersey Havanese who ended up in the animal hospital after his owner ran over his tail with the vacuum as he slept under the dining room table. There’s the Illinois shiba inu that got a paw caught in the grates of an escalator. And my personal favorite, Peanut, the dachshund-terrier mix that decided to battle with a skunk under the family deck. She ended up not just stinky, but buried alive in the dirt under the deck. The adventure ended with firefighters tearing up the deck, a very smelly ride to the local vet, and — if my experience with dachshunds is typical — a dog that learned nothing from the experience.
As the owner of Newfoundlands, I have plenty of stories worthy of Hambone notoriety. My favorite involves an old, sickly foster dog with a cat’s nine lives.
Milo was a 12-year-old Newf that, by every single account, should have been dead. He was turned in to an Indiana animal shelter by his owner with bad hips, a case of heartworm and an orange-sized tumor on his back. He ended up being turned over to a veterinarian who had gone to the shelter in search of a dead dog to test out her new digital X-ray machine. They didn’t have any dead dogs, but Milo, sick, defeated and ancient by large breed standards, was close enough.
Eventually, Milo worked his old-dag charm on the vet’s staff and they couldn’t bring themselves to put him down. Instead, they removed the tumor and sent him off to a Newfoundland rescue group with a fresh CD of digital X-rays. The group asked my wife and me to pick him up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and keep him for a few days until they could find a permanent home. When he first came home with us, he crawled up on the living room sofa, lay his big black head on the pillow, and gave us a look that said, “This will do until you find me something with a massager and cup-holder.” He stayed on the sofa for most of the next week. Assuming he was going to die soon, we told the rescue folks we would keep him and save him the misery of another move.
About a week later, I came home from work to find an empty Lee’s Chicken bucket on the kitchen floor and a decidedly upbeat old Newf on a sofa. Eventually we pieced together what had happened. My wife had gone to Lee’s for the 21-piecer to feed the kids and their friends. She left it on the kitchen counter, not suspecting Milo would be up for any counter surfing. He was. He polished off the entire bucket, bones and all. We called the vet in a panic, and were told to give him some Tums for the probable indigestion and keep an eye on him.
That was three years ago. Milo is 15 now, heart-worm negative and as healthy as a big dog that age could conceivably be.
He still has a notable enthusiasm for fried chicken. We no longer leave it on the counter.