‘Miracle’ puppy saved after choking scare

Feb 26, 2021

This article has been updated to include comments from Dr. Kate Pietsch of Anchor Animal hospital. It has also been updated with the news that Dak is now back at home and doing well.

Picture this: You go back into your home after forgetting something only to find your four-month-old puppy struggling to breathe and foaming at the mouth.

For Rick Garfield of New Bedford, this nightmare scenario actually took place — but thanks to his quick-thinking son and a handful of dedicated vets, the puppy was saved.

“It’s a miracle story,” the Dartmouth native said.

Earlier this week, Garfield had bought a larger rawhide bone for his new pup Dak, a pocket American bully named after Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.

“Dak has been teething a lot so we got him these tiny little rawhide gnaw bones,” Garfield explained. “And lately they’ve been dissolving real quick.”

So Garfield decided to get the little dog a slightly larger gnaw bone, thinking it would last longer.

The family — including Garfield and three of his four children, as well as Rhodesian Ridgeback Griffin and Bella the Maltese — had just gotten Dak in January.

“He’s a beautiful, beautiful dog,” Garfield said. “He’s full of life, he’s real energized.”

On Feb. 23, Dak was chewing away on his new bone as Garfield left for his volunteer job helping manage the men’s basketball team at UMass Dartmouth, his alma mater. 

But Garfield found the pup’s new rabies tag in his pocket from getting his shots the day before — so he turned around and went back inside to put it on Dak’s collar. 

“Thank God, the tag was in my pocket,” Garfield said. When he got inside, he immediately saw the dog foaming at the mouth. “I pulled him out, and I tried to get it out of his throat.”

A golf ball-sized piece of bone was stuck deep in Dak’s gullet. 

As the pup struggled and turned blue, Garfield and his two younger children called his oldest son, 21-year-old Carlos Matthews, to help.

Matthews is applying to school to be a vet tech, Garfield said. “He put his hand down his throat as far as he could, and ripped the piece of bone out.”

But the dog was clearly in trouble. 

“There was blood everywhere,” Garfield said. “It looked like he was deceased.”

Matthews picked up the puppy and compressed his chest until he began to breathe again, while the family prepared to rush him to Anchor Animal Hospital on State Road.

In the car, Garfield said, his son gave the dog mouth to mouth to make sure he had enough oxygen — and as soon as they arrived at the hospital, four vet techs were already waiting outside to rush to his aid.

Dr. Kate Pietsch from Anchor Animal Hospital said that the family did “an amazing job” saving Dak’s life, adding “He was a very very lucky little boy!

She explained that the pup was suffering from pulmonary edema — or fluid in the lungs caused by inflammation — when he arrived, which caused him to have difficulty breathing.

After stabilizing him, the vet sent Dak to a hospital in Swansea, where he has been recuperating on oxygen for the past two days.

“Now he’s finally able to breathe on his own,” Garfield said. “Anchor hospital deserves a lot of recognition for this, because they were on the spot...They took him right in and went right to work on him!”

He also commended his son for what he described as “the most heroic thing I’ve ever seen.”

“And I’ve done 22 years in the military,” he added. “I’ve seen some heroic things!”

Dr. Pietsch recommended pet owners be careful with rawhide chews, as dogs can choke or swallow large pieces that can get stuck in their intestine.

Instead of rawhide, she recommended large rubber chew toys like Kong toys, noting that if the toys start to break down, owners should throw it away and get a new one.

“There are pet CPR classes out there,” she added. “I think that’s a great thing for pet owners to do, to learn basic first aid.”

“For Dak, we were very glad we were able to be there to help him, and we’re super glad he’s doing well,” Dr. Pietsch noted. “My team thinks he’s adorable!”

From now on, Garfield said, he will just be giving Dak teething toys instead of rawhide bones, and he recommends other puppy owners do the same.

“As pet owners we love our dogs, we want them to be happy,” he said, adding that Dak has arrived back home and is doing well and recuperating comfortably.

“You’d want to give this dog the world,” said Garfield.