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The Last Word
A Purr-fect Ending

An adventurous cat who returned home emaciated after a three-week journey captured the hearts of Americans and Nationwide’s annual Hambone Award.
  • Lori Chordas
  • January 2020
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A wayward cat named Minnow returned to her Alpharetta, Georgia home after 21 days on the prowl. Her excursion caused her to suffer from starvation, dehydration and a broken rib and left her owners with a $2,000 veterinary bill.

Fortunately for the four-year-old feline's owner, 90% of the bill was covered by her Nationwide pet insurance policy after the deductible and coinsurance.

Until recently only 3% of American pets were covered by pet health insurance, according to the American Pet Products Association.

However, demand is growing and by year-end 2018, more than 2.4 million pets in the United States and Canada were insured, a 17% rise from the prior year, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association.

While pet health policies typically cover routine checkups, vaccinations, prescriptions and wellness procedures such as spaying and neutering, they can also cover some unusual and unpredictable injuries sustained by owners' furry friends.

Minnow's inspiring story of bravery and resilience not only illustrates the need for pet health insurance coverage but also captured the hearts of Americans, who crowned the adventurous tabby cat the winner of Nationwide's 2019 Hambone Award.

The annual Hambone Award honors the most unusual pet insurance claims of the year and awards the veterinary practices that treat the winning nominees. The award, established in 2009, is named in honor of a Jack Russell terrier who suffered mild hyperthermia after eating an entire Thanksgiving ham while stuck in a refrigerator, leaving behind only a hambone.

Minnow was one of five finalists from more than 1.5 million pet insurance claims vying for last year's award, which honors the inspiring strengths of pets and the harrowing actions of their owners and veterinarians, said Dr. Jules Benson, associate vice president of veterinary relations at Nationwide.

The other finalists included a border collie mix named Tippy who injured her snout after running into a steel trailer hitch while playing fetch; Jasper, a cat from Texas who suffered heat exposure after getting stuck in a clothes dryer; a Rottweiler named Frank from Keyport, New Jersey, who had quills removed from his snout after sniffing a porcupine; and Max, a Great Pyrenees who got his head stuck in a wild hog trap in Texas.

Pets nominated for the Hambone Award have all made full recoveries and owners received Nationwide insurance reimbursement for eligible veterinary expenses, Benson said.

In addition to the coveted bronze Hambone statue, Minnow and her owner, who received the domestic short-haired feline as a gift from her late husband, were awarded a prize basket filled with toys, treats and pet supplies. Midway Animal Hospital, which treated Minnow, received $10,000 from Nationwide through the Veterinary Care Foundation to help treat local pets whose owners could not otherwise afford treatment. The other four finalists received a portion of the $30,000 Nationwide-funded award.

Past winners of the Hambone Award include a bulldog named Lulu who swallowed 15 baby pacifiers, a bottle cap and a piece of a basketball; and Ellie, a Labrador retriever who ate an entire beehive and thousands of its inhabitants.

Nearly half of pets will experience a major illness or injury in their lifetime, according to a Trupanion study.

However, the majority of the United States' 85 million pet-owner families and 7.5 million pet-owning Canadian households still lack pet health insurance.

But the tide is turning, Nationwide's Benson said. “The industry is now growing by double figures year over year.”

Pet insurance originated in 1890 for horses and livestock. However, the first policy wasn't sold in the United States until 1982. That policy was issued to the canine star of TV's Lassie by Veterinary Pet Insurance and was underwritten by Nationwide.

In 2018, Nationwide members spent more than $119 million to treat the 10 most common medical conditions affecting dogs and cats. Among those conditions are skin allergies and ear infections in dogs and bladder/urinary tract disease and dental disease in cats.


Lori Chordas is a senior associate editor. She can be reached at lori.chordas@ambest.com.


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