Although David’s texts are usually very funny (I’ve recently met him – he is truly a funny guy!), he decided to write for us something serious., something really sad, actually: He wrote about his dog, Beckett, who suffocated and died in a plastic chip bag on the night of May 17, 2017.
Please read carefully, as this could potentially save other pet’s lives.
This is David’s story.
“I awoke that night around 3 am and realized Beckett wasn’t in bed with my wife and I. That was very unusual because burrowing under the covers, as dachshunds tend do, was his favorite thing in the world, second only to eating. Earlier that day we had begun a major landscaping project and my first thought was that the backyard fence had been compromised. After running around the neighborhood in a panic, looking everywhere but finding nothing, I returned home. There my flashlight finally found his lifeless body under a tree in our backyard. He was cold and stiff and a Cheeto bag was wrapped tightly around his head. He had probably been dead for a couple of hours.
I don’t know where the Cheeto bag came from, but I assume it came from our landscape crew. It was a three-day job so the guys had left their tools, their chainsaws, as well as a 12-pack of Pepsi in a neat pile in a corner of the yard. I had taken pictures of their progress earlier that evening after they left, but nowhere in those photos do I see the Cheeto bag. Maybe it was buried in their pile and Beckett dug it out? Maybe it blew in from the neighbor’s yard on the wind? All I know is that my wife and I don’t eat Cheetos, so it didn’t come from us.
I’ve often wondered since that night, “Even if I had seen the Cheeto bag, would I have picked it up?” Maybe? Maybe not? At the time, I had no idea that an animal could suffocate in one. It wasn’t until after Beckett died that I learned the unfortunate lesson that death-by-chip-bag is not an uncommon way for a pet to go out. Beckett’s death wasn’t a fluke, or a freak accident, because it happens all too often.
“A lot of these bags,” it reads on PreventPetSuffocation.com, “are made from a strong mylar-like material which helps keep snacks fresher. When a curious dog puts his head into the bag looking for leftover crumbs, the bag creates a vacuum-like seal around the dog’s neck. As he tries to breathe, the bag tightens around his neck, cutting off the oxygen.”
Bonnie Harlan, the founder of PreventPetSuffocation.com, began her awareness and advocacy crusade after her dog, Blue, died in chip bag five years ago. Her site contains a surprisingly large number of pictures and testimonials from hundreds of people whose pets fell victim to chip bags.
“How do you deal with hearing about all these horrible stories?” I asked Bonnie when I spoke to her over the phone recently. “Do you have to go to therapy to cope with all the heartbreak?”
“I know, I should be in therapy,” Bonnie said with a soft chuckle. “It still affects me every time I hear a story and I hear all the pain these people go through because I know exactly how they feel. It never goes away—the feeling, the memory of it, trying to give CPR, even five years later. So it’s hard, yeah. But it’s something that has to be done.”
“How often do you hear about these tragedies?” I asked.
“I keep a running tab of everybody,” Bonnie said, “their name, their dog breed, how they died, etc.. On my website alone I have probably over 300 photos of dogs, and I need to add about a hundred more, but on average I’ll hear about 3-5 dogs a week.”
On the low end of Bonnie’s estimate, that tally amounts to nearly 800 dogs dying totally preventable and unnecessary deaths. And those are just the ones that Bonnie has heard about.
“It doesn’t matter if the dog is the size of a Chihuahua or a Great Dane,” Bonnie continued, “because none of them can fight off not having oxygen. A lot of people think, ‘Well my dog is so strong he can get that bag off his head!’ But they can’t. Once the valve seals around the neck they can’t get it off. A grown man can hardly pull it off it’s so tight. It doesn’t matter if they’re big or small because they’re not logical, they don’t think, ‘Oh wow, I need to remove this bag.’ Once it’s around their head, they start panicking, they run around, crash into things—like my dog did. He ended up upstairs, knocked over a lot of things, and often times they’ll lose their bowels as well.”
Bonnie’s ultimate goal is to get Frito Lay and all bag manufacturers to place warning labels on their products that alert the public to the potential danger their bags pose to pets. You can find her online petition PreventPetSuffocation.com.
“I reach out to Frito Lay a few times a year,” Bonnie said. “They know who I am. I haven’t given up my quest to get warning labels on the chip bags. My intention is not to get in a big fight with them about it, but to try and get them to be an advocate alongside us. Because they do a lot of environmental work, they’re very vocal about recycling, so why not also be pet friendly? Tell people to cut up their bags, so they know it’s a suffocation hazard for pets. Because Frito Lay is aware of the hazard.”
Frito Lay will, for instance, send coupons, gift cards, and even more chips (?) by way of apology to bereaved pet owners who have called and reported their pet died in one of their bags, but they have so far refused to put warning labels on their packaging. From Bonnie’s conversations with Frito Lay, she suspects that they don’t want to publicly acknowledge the issue because they don’t want any negative connotations attached to their “fantastically fun food item” and they don’t want to open themselves up to lawsuits by admitting their bags are a health hazard. So in all-too-common corporate behavior, Frito Lay has chosen to ignore the issue and is placing their profit before people. Given that animal welfare is such a hot button topic these days, it seems strange to me that Frito Lay hasn’t considered spinning this into a marketing campaign that not only warns the public about the potential bag hazard, but presents their company in a favorable light as both environmentally friendly and pet friendly.
I’ve told Beckett’s story to a lot of people to help spread awareness, but not one person I’ve talked to has heard about the dangers of chip bags. As the numbers demonstrate, though, this is a very real problem that can affect anyone. Our dog, for instance, died in someone else’s Cheeto bag.
“Which is why when people say, ‘Why do I need to cut up the bags, I don’t even own a dog?’ It’s because of the wildlife, the stray dogs, the neighbor’s dog,” Bonnie said, “the bags get into yards, they get onto the beach, they get into the landfills, so you’re protecting everybody when you cut up a bag.”
I find it strange that we as a society have, for the most part, learned to cut up plastic six-pack rings to protect marine wildlife out in the middle of the ocean, yet hardly anyone has heard of this chip-bag-hazard that resides in our own homes.
“A lot of people want to be obstinate about it, or say that we’re irresponsible pet owners, you know?” Bonnie said. “’My dog could never get into anything in my house!’ We get a lot of that. But you can’t see your pet 24/7. You don’t know until you come home, or you step out of the shower, or you come in from the next room where you were watching TV, and you look around like, where’s my dog? It takes only a few minutes for your pet to suffocate in a chip bag and be gone forever, but it takes seconds for you to cut up the chip bag, and pour the chips into a bowl, or what have you. Our best defense against pet suffocation is spreading awareness.”
So cut up your chip bags. Tell your friends to cut up their chip bags. Cut up all bags.