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HRA Dispatcher Answers Urgent Calls for Help

Over the course of two weeks, two beloved dogs are alive today because of the unwavering, quick, resourcefulness of Humane Rescue Alliance field services dispatcher, Karen Sweigard.

Last weekend, a caller, who was audibly upset, reported his small Shih Tzu dog was choking on a piece of chicken, and clearly in distress. The dog was foaming at the mouth and having extreme difficulty breathing. Karen was quick to make an announcement over the radio to all field officers on duty, but due to the urgency of the situation, she feared an officer may not arrive in time to assist.

The dog stopped breathing and the caller was understandably distraught. Karen, realizing an officer couldn’t get to the scene in time, carefully walked him through an equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver that was appropriate for the dog's size and weight. She calmed the caller and told him to use his two thumbs and massage the area where the belly meets the ribs, and push upward five times, not too hard, but just enough to push in. To the delight of the caller (and Karen), a piece of chicken popped out and the dog started breathing. While everyone was happy, she quickly advised the caller to immediately seek veterinary care to make sure there was no other obstruction. It was a good outcome.

Remarkably, a similar situation occurred this past President’s Day weekend. A caller again describing her dog, Zach, as choking and not breathing, with his gums turning blue. At that point, an HRA field officer was unlikely to get there in time. Karen walked the caller’s husband though the procedure, but this time it didn’t work at first, and required Karen’s continued urging of steady, careful repetition. Thankfully the obstruction was finally dislodged, and Karen again counselled immediate veterinary care.

"Karen did a great job," said Zach's mom. "My husband, who is a doctor, did what he believed to be the proper technique for the Heimlich on a dog, but Karen was able to guide us through the process and keep us reassured and calm throughout the whole ordeal. Zach was a little tired the following day, but is now back to normal and feeling great!”
These two back-to-back incidents are highly unusual, and unfortunately not every call received by our dispatch center has such happy endings. But HRA’s field services staff will use every resource and their vast experience to ensure as many happy endings as possible. Great work Karen!

These stories are great reminders for everyone who has or cares for an animal to have your 24-hour veterinary care phone number readily available at all times. Learn more about choking and performing the Heimlick manuver on your dog here.


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