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Pair of German shepherds are award finalists following three weeks trapped in underground missile silo

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 9, 2018

German Shepherds, Ziva and Zeus, and their owner Jessica Donges, are up for an award by Nationwide Insurance for most unusual pet claim of the year. The dogs were rescued from an underground silo after 21 days back in April of this year. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
German Shepherds, Ziva and Zeus, and their owner Jessica Donges, are up for an award by Nationwide Insurance for most unusual pet claim of the year. The dogs were rescued from an underground silo after 21 days back in April of this year. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A pair of German Shepherds, rescued in April from an abandoned underground silo in Medical Lake after surviving for more than 21 days, are among a dozen pets nominated for the most unusual pet insurance claim by Nationwide Insurance.

Nationwide Insurance employees reviewed more than 1.5 million pet insurance claims received over the past year and selected 12 pets – each with unique survival stories – for the 2018 Hambone Award.

Other Hambone Award nominees include a cat from North Carolina who survived a fluff cycle in a clothes dryer, and a dog from New York who chewed a hole through a kitchen wall on a “foodie” adventure and ended up in the veterinary clinic.

If the German Shepherds, named Zeus and Ziva, win the 2018 Hambone Award, they’ll receive a trophy as well as a goodie bag filled with treats and toys. Spokane-based Pet Emergency Clinic – which treated the two dogs – will receive a $10,000 award from Nationwide Insurance and the Veterinary Care Foundation to treat pets whose owners could not otherwise afford medical care.

Medical Lake resident Jessica Donges said her dogs escaped through a hole in a fence surrounding her home and entered an abandoned missile silo – measuring 10 feet deep by 40 feet long – through an open door.

Donges canvassed the neighborhood, hung up flyers and posted notices on social media after the dogs went missing.

Three weeks later, Donges decided to take another look for Zeus and Ziva and spotted the hole in the fence. She then walked into a field on nearby private property and found the door to the underground silo ajar. She heard barking, walked down the silo’s ladder, spotted Zeus and Ziva and called 911 for help.

The Medical Lake Fire Department and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office assisted with rescuing the dogs, who were standing in a hole with about 6 inches of water. The emaciated dogs were taken to the Pet Emergency Clinic in Spokane.

“It’s a miracle that Ziva and Zeus were able to stay alive for such a long period of time,” said Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide Insurance, in a statement. “Thankfully, they had enough water to help get them by and the comfort of each other. Jessica did the right thing by calling for help when she found them and immediately taking them to see a veterinarian.”

Ziva, who lost more than 20 pounds, was treated for a gash on her leg and given medication for anxiety. Zeus lost about 30 pounds and was treated for hot spots in several areas, as well as Giardia and liver issues.

Both dogs made a full recovery and are now doing great, Donges said.

“They are both fully weight-restored. They are settling back in and acting like nothing ever happened,” Donges said. “I had a ton of people, some who were complete strangers, call me out of the blue, and I’m still getting phone calls from people saying they were so happy to hear Zeus and Ziva were OK. It was so nice to get those phone calls.”

Donges was surprised when contacted by Nationwide Insurance notifying her of Zeus and Ziva’s nomination for the 2018 Hambone Award.

“I didn’t know it was something Nationwide offered,” she said. “When they told me about it, I thought it was really cool that something which could have ended up really badly turned into something that could be positive for others.”

Sarah Koca, hospital director for the Pet Emergency Center & Referral Center in Spokane, said veterinarians were able to stabilize Zeus and Ziva on the same evening they were admitted to the clinic.

“We were able to send them home that night, which is astonishing to us,” Koca said. “These two dogs survived because they had each other, and because of Jessica.”

Koca said if Zeus and Ziva win the Hambone Award and the clinic receives $10,000, they plan to use the funds to treat animals from SCRAPS.

If a pet is injured by a car and admitted to the clinic, veterinary staff may not know who owns the pet, so the additional funds will help pay for medical care in those types of cases, Koca said.

“With $10,000, we can take a case like that and we would do the care at-cost with medication services,” she said. “We would donate our labor towards that, and it would allow us to stretch it even further.”

“The last thing you want to think about in that moment is having to pay for your pet’s care,” added Donges. “We visited SCRAPS every day the whole time Zeus and Ziva were gone. They have a beautiful facility, and to help keep that alive is just a really good thing. I think that it is Zeus and Ziva’s way of saying ‘Thank you.’ ”

The winner of the 2018 Hambone Award, which is decided by a public vote, will be announced early next week.

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