Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ocean nearly choked to death on a ball, inside the run.

Sorry, couldn't think of a clever title, and it did get your attention, you must admit.

I heard about this the other day, and just talked to Marty, Ocean's person, about it this morning. The story is brief and frightening--somebody left a small blue ball inside the run. Ocean (here's a blog article I did about him some time back) found the ball, and started running around with it. It was clearly intended for a much smaller dog with a much narrower throat, and he ended up getting it caught in his windpipe, making it almost impossible for him to breathe. It was so far down his throat that Marty couldn't even see it. And Ocean was so panicked by what was happening to him that he wasn't exactly cooperating with attempts to help him. He ended up gasping by the run fence, trying to expel it himself, while his mouth started turning the same color as the ball.

And then he finally managed to cough it up. He seemed physically unhurt, but was very frightened and subdued afterwards. He's basically fine now, but it was a near thing, and I'm not sure Marty has fully recovered from it. He told me he did a lot of googling about dogs and choking afterwards. Crisis does focus the mind nicely.

There is, in fact, a Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs, which you can easily look up online--the linked article is one of many, and there's no reason not to read several. The instructions may differ, depending on the size of the dog in question. It may not always work, the dog may not always let you try it, but here's an idea--get your dog and practice it. Tonight, and from time to time afterwards. Don't do it hard, because you can actually hurt a dog who isn't choking by doing it for real. Just figure out where your hands would go, how it works, and get your dog used to it. Give him or her a treat afterwards. I'm doing that with Max as soon as I get offline.

To repeat what I just said, the Heimlich can be harmful when used on a dog or cat who isn't choking--in the event of your pet seeming to be in distress, try to confirm there really is an obstruction, and it's not just a coughing fit. It's not as if your dog can point at his throat to tell you he's choking. If you're going to use it, you can't be tentative about it, so be reasonably sure it's needed before going ahead. Then go ahead quickly, because there won't be much time.

Now--the ball. Marty said it was smaller than a racquetball. A racquetball (2.25 inches in diameter) would be dangerously small for some dogs to play with--certainly some of the larger dogs who come to the run. I've used "Skybounce/Spaldeen" balls (about the same size as a regulation racquetball) with Max, and they were a favorite of Peggy's when she was alive--she was quite a bit smaller than Max. I won't be using one of those with Max again. Most dogs wouldn't have a problem with a ball like that--some might. But anything much smaller is dangerous to a large number of dogs.

I doubt whoever left this ball in the run meant any harm. I doubt that person even meant to leave it at all--dogs are always dropping toys in the run--they can be hard to locate when it's time to go, and it's easy to end up leaving a plaything behind. People do that all the time, and it's usually not a problem. But in this case, it was nearly a fatal problem.

The person who left the ball probably isn't reading this. I'm sure those of you who are reading this already know better than to bring a ball like that to a dog run. But I'd like to make two suggestions:

1)No balls smaller than 2.25 inches. Ideally, nothing smaller than a tennis ball (2.5 inches). Even if you mean to take it out afterwards. Even if it's your dog's favorite. Even if there are no other dogs present. If you see someone bring in a ball that seems to be dangerously small, tell them about Ocean. Even tiny dogs can easily play with a larger ball--Rosie the Norwich Terrier steals Max's 2.5 inch rubber ball all the time. The smaller the ball, the more easily it can end up buried under some wood chips--until somebody else's dog finds it. Or maybe your dog. We want to respect everyone's needs, we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but safety first.

2)If you see a ball or other toy that looks like it might be remotely dangerous to your dog, or any other dog, pick it up and throw it out. You can ask around to see if it belongs to anyone there, but that's not the highest priority. The highest priority is to get it out of there, fast.

And Lord, I hope I just wasted my time typing this, and nothing like what happened to Ocean ever happens again inside the Rocky Run.

I myself have gotten food trapped in my windpipe, and felt myself choking, not so long ago. I have become a late convert to chewing my food thoroughly. Better late than never, eh? Or rather, better late than too late.

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