Voting open for Nationwide's 2017 Hambone Awards

September 29, 2017

Annual contest crowns the year's most unusual pet insurance claim, with a prize for the veterinary hospital that treated the winner.

After combing through almost 1.5 million pet insurance claims received in the past year, Nationwide has selected 12 candidates for the 2017 Hambone Award. The annual award, which was originally named after a dog that ate an entire Thanksgiving ham while stuck in a refrigerator, has been given to the most bizzare medical claim each year since 2009, according to a Nationwide release. The winner will be decided by public vote, with voting open from Sept. 21 to Oct. 4 at

In addition to the pet being crowned the most unusual claim, the veterinary practice that treated the winner will receive a $10,000 Nationwide-funded award through its Veterinary Care Foundation to treat the pets whose owners couldn't otherwise afford treatment, the release states.

In the pages that follow, learn more about each of the 12 nominees, then cast your vote at



Denali, a 10-year-old husky mix, goes everywhere with her owner, Laura Sheldon of Treasure Island, Florida. On a recent trip for her job as a campground host, which involves travel across the United States, Sheldon almost lost her companion to a run-in with wildlife, she tells Nationwide.

The pair were visiting family in Florida at a home located on a golf course. While Sheldon was inside, Denali was playing with two other dogs in the backyard, which was fenced with a screen enclosure that kept the dogs from wandering off. That was, until Denali saw a rabbit and snuck out through a weak spot in the enclosure.

After an hour of searching, Sheldon spotted Denali a block away from the house. "When Denali walked up she was soaking wet and looked really tired,” Sheldon tells Nationwide. “It was hot out so I figured she must have found a pool or pond to cool off after chasing the rabbit.”

Sheldon put Denali back into the yard as two neighborhood residents approached and asked her if she knew what had just happened to her pet. They said Denali had jumped into a small pond on the golf course where a seven-foot-long alligator was living. The neighbors had tried to call Denali away from the pond, but they were unsuccessful. As Denali jumped into the water, the alligator clamped its jaws around her leg. The brave dog bit the alligator back on its snout. After a struggle above and below the water, Denali outlasted the alligator and managed to escape.

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

She took Denali to Southwest Florida Veterinary Specialist and Emergency Hospital for treatment. Miraculously, Denali escaped with nothing more than the gash on her leg, which the staff stitched up. She made a full recovery and is back on the road with Sheldon.

Sheldon is grateful for the care the veterinary staff gave Denali and for the support they received from their pet insurance.

“Denali is much more than just a dog to me. I would have been devastated if I lost her,” Sheldon says. “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.”

To vote for Denali, click here.



Lisa Martinelli and Derek Mabray of North Kingston, Rhode Island, adopted Tessa from their local animal shelter four years ago. Since then the family-friendly pooch has been the perfect companion, the couple tells Nationwide. However, the family almost lost Tessa in an accident in their backyard.

Lisa and Derek were doing yard work that day, including removing a large dead tree. "We had our gloves on and were ready to clean up the whole yard,” Martinelli tells Nationwide. “I was focused on tearing some weeds out while Derek worked on removing the tree. Tessa was on the other side of the yard chewing on her bone and relaxing. She's out in the yard with us all the time so we didn't really think twice about it.”

As Mabray started the chainsaw, the noise startled Tessa from across the yard and she began sprinting toward it. He saw Tessa out of the corner of his eye and was able to prevent her from biting the blades with her mouth, but as he stopped her face from being gashed, Tessa's momentum carried her front legs into the blades, which caused deep cuts.

The family took Tessa to Ocean State Veterinary Specialists, where the veterinary staff met them outside with a gurney ready. It was determined that Tessa would require surgery on both legs. Tessa had a long recovery process, but within a few weeks she was able to walk again and she has now made a full recovery.

To vote for Tessa, click here.



When King, a bullmastiff, was first brought home by Brian and Karen Guillory of Lake Charles, Louisiana, he was a chubby puppy. Now, almost two years later, he's a 150-pound gentle giant, the family tells Nationwide.

Even though King is huge, he's still young and has puppy tendencies. His worst habit is eating things he's not supposed to, such as socks, sticks or anything small he can get his paws on.

“We had to start putting everything away or high up off the ground,” Brian tells Nationwide. “He'd eat everything he could get in his mouth. He has started to break the habit as he's grown older but still has slip-ups.”

One day, King was in the living room with Brian while Karen cooked dinner and baked a cake for dessert. As she put the final touches on the frosting, Karen put the spatula on the counter and King snatched it, gobbling it down without anyone noticing.

Over the next several days King had trouble passing stool and his appetite diminished. So Brian took him to Downtown Animal Hospital in Lake Charles. The veterinary staff ran tests and determined that King had a blockage in his intestinal tract. They gave him medication to assist him in passing the blockage naturally with no success. King would need surgery to remove the obstruction.

During the surgery the staff found that the spatula had done severe damage to King's intestines, and more than a foot of his intestines had to be removed.

King spent more than three weeks recovering at the veterinary hospital, and though he lost a lot of weight, he made it through. Once home he was placed on a liquid and soft food diet. King gained his strength back and is once again a healthy weight.

To vote for King, click here.



When Levi, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever, first came into the home of Dawna and Madi McNaughten of Huntington Beach, California, he was a foster dog. But they decided to make him an official member of the family after several adoptions failed and they had established a relationship with him, the family tells Nationwide.

Levi had lived a life of neglect before entering foster care, which caused him to suffer from severe separation anxiety. When left alone Levi would attempt to escape any home, leading to the failed adoptions. But he seemed to find comfort with the McNaughtons, especially when in the company of the family's other Labrador, Maggie.

“Levi was a completely different dog when he was around Maggie,” Dawna tells Nationwide. “Seeing all the issues he had, we knew our home was the best place for him.”

But just as things were looking up, Maggie's health deteriorated and she passed away. Levi became depressed and reverted to his anxiety behaviors, which caused him to lose more than 20 pounds and patches of fur in only a few months.

The anxiety-driven behavior came to a head in Dawna's bedroom. Dawna came home to find her husband and Levi asleep, so she closed the door and went to a different room. When she returned later to get ready for bed, she reached for her pajama pants and found them missing both legs. Dawna thought maybe one of the family's foster dogs had ripped them up, but she couldn't find any of the missing fabric. That's when she started to suspect Levi.

The next morning Dawna noticed Levi was having trouble relieving himself, and on further investigation she saw blood in his stool. Shortly after he began vomiting. She called her daughter Madi, who is a veterinary assistant at VCA All-Care Animal Referral Center in Fountain Valley. Madi advised her to bring Levi in.

Radiographs and further tests revealed a large blockage in Levi's intestines. The staff gave him medication, intravenous fluids and pain medication in hope that he could pass the fabric naturally; otherwise he'd need emergency surgery.

Luckily, Levi was able to start passing the fabric the next day. He spent the day in the hospital for monitoring and then went home. Since the incident, a new foster Labrador puppy has come into the McNaughton home and helped with Levi's anxiety. He's gained back the weight he lost and hasn't eaten anything he's not supposed to.

To vote for Levi, click here.



Almost seven years ago Delmar and Jan Johnson of Fairbanks, Alaska, brought home a Labrador retriever-Irish setter mix named Chuter. The puppy grew into a beloved member of the community, the family tells Nationwide.

As soon as Chuter was old enough to obey commands he started accompanying Jan to her job as a nurse for the Denali Center assisted living facility, typically a few times a week.

“The residents love it when Chuter comes to visit,” Jan tells Nationwide. “He does tricks for them on command and knows to be gentle with the tenants. He's an important figure there, and we view him as part of the staff.”

One night when the family was about to go to bed for the evening, Jan let Chuter and their other dog, Packer, out to eliminate around 11 p.m. When she called for the dogs, only Packer came back, and Jan knew something was wrong.

Jan and Delmar searched for hours in two feet of fresh snow but were unable to find Chuter. Around 3 a.m. Jan heard a noise at the door-Chuter hobbled in and collapsed. The family didn't know it yet, but Chuter had been attacked by a large mother moose that had been spotted in the area with her calf. The moose had broken Chuter's leg and shattered some of his teeth. There was no local veterinary hospital open until the morning, so Jan used her nursing skills to give Chuter initial treatment throughout the night. 

“I honestly wasn't sure if he was going to make it,” said Jan. “His entire right side looked like it had taken a beating. When I found a bunch of moose hair in his fur, I realized what had happened. We have moose in our area, but I never thought this could happen.”

In the morning the Johnsons rushed Chuter to Mt. McKinley Animal Hospital in Fairbanks for treatment. Because of the severity of his injuries, the staff met the Johnsons outside and sedated him in the car. Once he was relaxed, they took Chuter directly in to perform surgery on his leg and mouth.

A few days later Chuter was released to go home but faced months of recovery. Now, he's well on his way and has even returned to his work at the Denail Center on a limited basis. The Johnsons are relieved that Chuter escaped the incident without any permanent damage and are grateful for all the support they received.

“The veterinarians did an amazing job. We couldn't be more grateful with how well Chuter is recovering,” said Jan. “Having Chuter insured with Nationwide helped enormously with the veterinary expenses.”

To vote for Chuter, click here.



After losing two golden retrievers just months apart, Tom and Elayne Falk of Lakewood, Washington, swore off pets. But after feeling the void of a dog's love for two years, the couple decided to bring home a pair of golden retriever puppies, naming them Olivia and Ruby, the family tells Nationwide.

One morning Elayne was home alone with both puppies. The Falks' home has a unique design feature that includes a third story and a small elevator that travels between the basement and the top floor. Because the puppies were still young, the Falks set up a sleeping area in their bedroom on the top floor. Part of the new routine included taking the pups down to their potty area each morning.

“Ruby and Olivia are usually full of energy when they wake up, so the first thing I do is take them to the basement level to go to the bathroom and run around for a bit,” said Elayne. “That morning they were extra hyper and it was a challenge to keep them both under control, but I figured they would calm down eventually.”

On the bottom floor Elayne took the puppies outside, and after playtime was over she rounded them up to go inside and loaded them back into the elevator. She couldn't get them to settle down, so she tried to separate them by picking up Olivia, but the pup jumped into her legs, causing Elayne to slip and fall. As she fell she heard a terrible noise from Ruby.

During the commotion Ruby's snout had gone through the elevator gate. As the elevator rose to the second level, her snout was smashed between the ceiling of the first level and the floor of the elevator car. The impact caused the elevator to stop, leaving Ruby trapped.

“Everything happened so fast,” Elayne tells Nationwide. “I had to get her out, so I tried hitting the button to lower the elevator, but it wouldn't move. It finally released after I hit it multiple times and it lowered enough for Ruby to pull her snout out. There was blood everywhere so I took my robe and wrapped her in it to contain the bleeding and comfort her.”

Elayne knew she needed to get Ruby emergency care, but the elevator car was stuck, so she called Tom for help. Just as he arrived, Elayne was able to get the elevator to the second floor. They rushed Ruby to Summit Veterinary Referral Center in Tacoma.

The staff took the puppy for radiographs and a computed tomography scan, where they found that Ruby's nose was severely broken and her snout and hard palate crushed. Normally an injury like that would require major surgery, but because Ruby was only 3 months old, the surgery could have impaired her growth and caused abnormalities. The veterinary team believed her snout would mold and heal itself with help from a long-term brace. They fitted her with a soft cast that kept her nose stable but prohibited her from eating solid food.

Since the accident Ruby, has made steady progress. Her snout is almost completely healed and she can now eat kibble again.

To vote for Ruby, click here.



When Olivia Stanisic's fiancé, Michael, was offered a new job in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she agreed to leave her hometown of Chicago under one condition-that they get a dog. The couple found a perfect match in Butterscotch (nicknamed Butters), a Great Pyrenees-Irish setter mix. However, this affectionate lap dog nearly died, they tell Nationwide.

The family had traveled back to Chicago for the holidays. After arriving at a friend's house, they walked over ground that was wet from fresh snow, and as they passed through a gate, Butters cried out. They didn't know it, but the dog had just walked through a puddle that was in contact with an exposed electrical wire. Butters' body seized and he collapsed, falling out of the electrified puddle. Olivia reached out to comfort him, but he went into shock, latching his jaws onto her arm and losing control of his bladder.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Olivia tells Nationwide. “I could tell he wasn't trying to bite me and that it was a reaction to whatever was happening to him. People around us knew something was wrong and ran over to help.”

Olivia called a veterinarian seeking help and the veterinarian asked her to check the bottom of Butters' paws. She saw that the paw pads were raw and bright red. The veterinarian told Olivia they suspected electrical shock and that he should be taken to an emergency veterinarian right away.

At MedVet Chicago emergency veterinary hospital, the staff found that Butters' lung had filled with fluid. He was stable but needed further treatment and would need to stay overnight for treatment. The couple said a temporary goodbye to their pet and drove back to the spot of the accident. Michael spotted the exposed wire and city officials were called to fix it.

The next morning Butters was released from the hospital and he has made a full recovery.

To vote for Butters, click here.



Manika Nigam and her husband, who live in Naperville, Illinois, added a new golden retriever puppy named Raja to their family seven years ago. Manika had never owned a dog and was apprehensive at first, but within a few months she and Raja had developed an inseparable bond, the family tells Nationwide.

One day Manika was getting ready to drop her son off at school while Raja lounged around the house. Manika stopped by her local YMCA after the school run and thought about running other errands, but instead she decided to go home to let Raja out for a potty break. When Manika entered the garage, she smelled smoke. 

“When I got out of the car, I could hear the smoke alarm going off, but the house looked normal,” Manika tells Nationwide. “But as I opened the door, clouds of thick black smoke started pouring out. All I could think about was Raja.”

A kitchen fire had broken out minutes before Manika had come home. She began calling for Raja but saw nothing. Fearing that her dog was in trouble, Manika rushed into the home and into the kitchen. Shielding her face from the smoke, Manika couldn't see through the darkness. Her search seemed hopeless, but then she bumped into something soft. She reached down and felt Raja's coat but realized he was unresponsive.

Manika pushed open the backdoor and got Raja to safety before leaving the burning home herself. As she rushed to Raja's side, he opened his eyes and stood up.

“I couldn't believe he was alive,” Manika tells Nationwide. “When the firefighters and emergency crew arrived, they tended to me, but I kept yelling that I was fine and wanted them to check on Raja. But then he got a burst of energy and started running around in the front yard and I knew he was OK.”

Manika went to the local hospital and Raja went to Banfield of Naperville, where they were both treated for smoke inhalation. Raja still has mild pain in his surgically repaired knees, which were injured during his frantic escape attempts, as evidenced by the deep claw marks they found in the kitchen door.

After the fire, the community rallied around the family. The Springbrook Animal Care Center gave Raja complimentary grooming to help get the deep smoke smell out of his coat, and a local Aloft hotel gave the family a dog-friendly place to stay so Raja could stay with them while their home was repaired.

To vote for Raja, click here.



Last year, David Ritchey of Fairfield, California, was devastated after the passing of his longtime Labrador retriever companion. But his sorrows were quickly relieved after his friends surprised him with a small border collie-Labrador mix puppy, Ritchey tells Nationwide. He named the puppy Ruger and the two became inseparable.

Ritchey lives on a large ranch that gives Ruger freedom to roam, where he spends much of his days herding the donkeys and horses that live on the property and playing with the Weimaraners that also live on the ranch with another family.

The owners of the ranch had purchased a golf cart for the property, and they asked Ritchey to receive the delivery and get the golf cart running while they were out of town. Ruger, who's used to chasing large cattle around the 12-acre ranch, was intrigued by the 800-pound cart but kept his distance.

“When the cart arrived, I test-drove it and Ruger started to chase it as if it were an animal,” Ritchey tells Nationwide. “I knew that would be a problem, so I worked with him to keep his distance and tried to teach him that it wasn't a toy. He seemed to get the hang of it after a while. I never thought it would lead to anything serious, but boy was I wrong.”

One day a friend brought her dog over to play with Ruger. But the visiting dog wasn't running around at all, and Ritchey's friend asked to use the golf cart to see if her dog would follow along.

“She wanted to putt around in the cart to see if her dog would come out of his shell and run around,” Ritchey tells Nationwide. “I told her of course she could but asked her to be careful because Ruger was still learning how to maintain a safe distance. It seemed harmless, but it went south really fast.”

Tragedy struck almost instantly. The cart accelerated faster than the friend anticipated and struck Ruger, who had been standing about 30 feet away. The cart rolled over the puppy and came to a halt on top of him, leaving his leg and body pinned beneath the wheel. The cart was too heavy for the two of them to lift, so Ritchey got a jack to try to prop the cart up. When that didn't work, Ritchey tried using tools to remove the tire, but it was taking too long. He had previously served as a volunteer firefighter, so he called the local firehouse for help.

A crew of volunteer firefighters sprang into action and were able to lift the cart high enough for Ruger to get free. After wriggling out from under the cart, the pup thanked the firemen with puppy kisses and calmly walked to his puppy pool to cool off in the water. Meanwhile, Ritchey knew that Ruger could be seriously injured, so he loaded the dog into his truck to drive to the Solano-Napa Pet Emergency Clinic.

When they reached the clinic, Ruger hopped up out of his crate as if nothing was wrong. The veterinary staff ran tests and took radiographs, but Ruger showed no signs of damage other than deep bruising in the area that had been pinned. Since the accident, Ruger has been treated with routine acupuncture to help treat stiffness and soreness associated with the bruising. 

To vote for Ruger, click here.



Eight years ago Jen Hawker of Scranton, Pennsylvania, visited a local litter of puppies in need of a home and felt an instant connection to a tiny male puppy. Hawker took the hound mix home and named him Rooster. Since that fateful day, the duo have developed an inseparable companionship that has helped guide Hawker through difficult times, she tells Nationwide.

After an accident at work forced Hawker to take time off from firefighting and eventually retire, Rooster became Hawker's main therapy tool, helping her deal with the stress and struggles of life moving forward.

“I've had other dogs, but none have been as comforting as he is,” Hawker says. “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.”

One day Hawker took her canine crew on a hike. The group included Rooster, Hawker's other dog Goose and a foster dog named Lulu. It was midweek, so the lack of foot traffic gave the dogs an opportunity to have some time off-leash, and Hawker listened to her favorite podcast. They were almost finished with the hike when the dogs saw an animal and sprinted down a hill.

“I thought I heard a yelp over my headphones,” Hawker tells Nationwide. “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.”

Hawker thought Rooster may have fallen and broken his ribs. She tried to carry him back to the car, but each attempt caused severe cries of pain from Rooster. With Rooster unable to walk and Hawker unable to carry him the rest of the distance, she had no choice but to call 911.

The officer who arrived with a large SUV was the city of Jessup's chief of police, Joseph Walsh. Chief Walsh and Hawker got the injured dog into the SUV and Hawker arranged for a friend to pick up Lulu and Goose so she could take Rooster to the emergency hospital. 

Chief Walsh sensed the stress Hawker was in and offered to escort them to the veterinary hospital. He drove them to Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center of South Abington, where the staff examined Rooster and found an open wound suggesting that the large mass might be an impaled stick.

Tests confirmed that Rooster had been impaled by a large branch that was more than a foot long and that had missed his lungs by less than an inch. After surgery to remove the branch, Rooster needed a few weeks to heal, but Hawker is grateful that Rooster survived his ordeal.

To vote for Rooster, click here.



Rick Frankiewicz of South Bend, Indiana, adopted the "pet of the week" at his local animal shelter six years ago and named her Star. Since that day, he and the cattle dog mix have bonded through their daily two-hour walk, which can sometimes be interrupted by Star's clumsiness. Her latest blunder almost ended in tragedy, Frankiewicz tells Nationwide.

“Star is my girl,” Frankiewicz tells Nationwide. “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.”

During one of their routine five-mile walks, the pair walked along an old road that passes through a gas plant and cornfield. At that time the farmer had recently used a larger mower to cut the shrubbery away from the road, which gave Star more room to roam.

Frankiewicz says Star typically stays right with him, but she must have seen a rabbit because she bolted around the corner and into the corn. He called out to Star, thinking she couldn't have gone far, but heard only silence. Confused, Frankiewicz walked into the field but still didn't see her. He passed a manhole that had the cover torn off, but when he looked down he only saw emptiness. Frankiewicz called a friend to join the search, and his shouts even alerted a nearby neighbor, who called the police thinking someone was in trouble.

The police arrived and joined in the search, but after several hours the officers were forced to leave. The friend had to leave for the day as well, but Frankiewicz refused to give up hope. He finally heard a faint bark and knew Star was still out there somewhere.

A water department van was parked on the road now with two workers whom Frankiewicz convinced to join the search. As he circled back toward the manhole and looked down into it, he saw Star at the bottom-nearly 20 feet down.

“I couldn't believe my eyes,” Frankiewicz tells Nationwide. “I realized she had fallen down the manhole and was running through the sewer lines under the field following my calls.”

He called the water workers back, and luckily they had the equipment to lower someone down into the manhole with a harness. Frankiewicz volunteered, fearful that Star might have been seriously hurt in her fall. When they reached safety Star ran around happily, but soon she started to limp and show signs of injury.

Frankiewicz took Star to the Parrett Veterinary Clinic for treatment. The team determined that Star only had a sprained leg and chipped tooth. The tooth was removed and Star was limited to a few weeks of reduced activity to allow her leg to heal, but she has now made a full recovery.

To vote for Star, click here.



For the last 16 years, Muffy the tabby cat has been a loyal sidekick to Michael Rodriguez of Sylmar, California. Every day since the fifth grade Muffy has been waiting for Rodriguez on the front porch when he returns home, Rodriguez tells Nationwide. But one day Muffy failed to show up.

When Rodriguez came home from work and noticed Muffy wasn't in his normal waiting spot, he didn't think too much of it at first. Muffy is an indoor-outdoor cat who's well-known in the neighborhood, so he figured the friendly cat was somewhere nearby. But as time went on, Rodriguez became worried.

“I thought it was weird that I didn't see Muffy when I got home that night, because he knows that's time for his dinner,” Rodriguez tells Nationwide. “Muffy is diabetic and that is also the time that I give him his insulin, so after a couple hours passed, I got really concerned.”

Rodriguez, along with his mother and sister, set out to search the neighborhood, looking until nearly 3 a.m., but found no trace of the senior cat. They increased their efforts on the second day, talking to the neighborhood residents and posting signs, but they still had no leads. On the third day, knowing Muffy needed the insulin to survive, Rodriguez called a search dog company to help.

Then Rodriguez got a phone call from a nearby resident who said she'd found a cat matching Muffy's description down in a well. The citizen explained that she'd been dropping food into the well to keep the cat comfortable. Little did she know she'd been helping keep Muffy alive.

Rodriguez rushed to the location and found a huge industrial well. He planned an entrance and exit strategy before jumping in to search for Muffy. The well was about 20 feet deep and 15 feet wide, with many tunnels that traveled through the ground, almost like a drainage system. Rodriguez says he searched as fast as he could and found Muffy. The cat was still breathing but was barely alive.

Muffy was rushed to the Animal Emergency Centre of Studio City for emergency treatment. He was given insulin and intravenous fluids to bring him back from the brink of death. After months of recovery and additional treatment for the mites he picked up in the well, Muffy has made a full recovery.

To vote for Muffy, click here.