A dog owner says her pet died in her arms after choking on a solid rubber ball bought from Pets at Home.
Giulia Brown, 37, was finishing off her breakfast in the kitchen last month while her English bull terrier relaxed in the living room with his favorite toy – a green Sportspet ball.
But the owner, from Guildford, Surrey, claims tragedy struck when eight-year-old Elmo somehow swallowed the £ 3 ‘tough bounce’ rubber ball and he started choking.
As Giulia walked into the living room she could see Elmo pawing at the wall and, thinking his beloved ball had rolled under the sofa, went to fetch it for him.
But to her horror she realized the ball, which she says was bought from the Farnborough branch of Pets At Home, wasn’t out of reach but lodged down his throat and he was silently choking.
Terrified, Giulia shouted for her husband while she put her hand down his throat to try and fish it out.
But she claims the rubber was too hard to squeeze and she was unable to get a firm grip on it due to Elmo’s saliva.
After racing downstairs, her husband desperately tried to remove the ball to no avail as panicked Giulia rang the vets.
Giulia Brown, 37, with her English bull terrier Elmo in happier times before his tragic death
The same type of ball that Elmo used to love but got stuck in his throat and made him choke
The pair managed to get 26-kilo Elmo into the car and Giulia raced to the vet, which was just a two-minute drive away, beeping her horn in a desperate bid to get there as quickly as possible.
Within just minutes of him swallowing the ball, and attempts to revive him at their home and the vets failed, Elmo tragically died.
The ordeal has left the pharmaceutical company procurement director so traumatised that she wouldn’t stay in the house for three days and is considering selling her car as it’s a terrible reminder of what happened.
The couple’s other English Bull Terrier Abby, who turned one the day before Elmo passed, now constantly searches round the house for her beloved companion and has ‘given up’ playing.
Now Giulia is speaking out to warn pet owners about the potential dangers of these balls – so no other family goes through what she and her husband have.
Elmo’s death comes just weeks after media reported the tragic death of Cane Corso puppy Donnie who also choked to death on a SportsPet solid rubber ball bought from Pets at Home.
Pets at Home said they have now removed the ball from their shelves as a ‘precaution’ while they investigate the incident.
Giulia said: ‘Elmo had the ball for just under a year. It was his favorite, he was absolutely obsessed with it.
Tragedy struck when eight-year-old Elmo somehow swallowed the £ 3 ‘tough bounce’ ball
Condolences cards sent to Giulia commiserating her for the loss of her beloved dog Elmo
‘He’d play with his sister Abby with all of his other toys but it was the only toy he wouldn’t share. The ball was green.
‘He’d played with that ball numerous times before with no problems.
‘I went into the living room and I saw him by the sofa. He was moving his paws up and down towards the wall and I thought his ball had gone underneath the sofa.
‘I looked down the sofa and the ball wasn’t there and then I looked at him and to my horror I saw that the ball was stuck deep inside his throat.
‘It was horrific to see him like that and my husband shouting and crying’ he’s dying, he’s dying ‘, it was chaotic.
‘It was like watching a member of our family die in front of us. We adored him.
‘We’ve got no kids of our own, he was our baby and we couldn’t help him.
‘Abby is only a puppy and has been looking for him, and now she’s not been playing.
‘Every morning they used to play tug of war and now she’s not even asking for it, she’s just sleeping all the time. It makes it even more sad seeing her so sad.
‘We went out for three days because we couldn’t be in the living room, it just reminded us of him and the accident. The house isn’t the same without him.
‘When I look at the sofa, I’ve just got him in my head moving his paws trying to get the ball out.
‘I feel like selling my car because I just remember the drive to the vets. Literally everywhere I look it’s just a constant reminder of those horrific moments.
‘He didn’t deserve to go in that way.’
Giulia was in the kitchen finishing off a bowl of porridge on Saturday morning before heading through to the living room where Elmo was.
As she padded through, she spotted the pooch pawing at the wall and went over to help retrieve what she believed to be an out-of-reach ball.
But tragically Elmo had swallowed the ball and it was lodged in his airways.
Giulia said: ‘We were having our breakfast and getting ready for the day.
‘I was in the kitchen finishing off my porridge and then I went into the living room and saw him by the sofa.
‘After realizing the ball was stuck in his mouth I panicked and I shouted for my husband who was upstairs.
‘We tried to remove the ball with our hands, but we couldn’t. my hands are all scratched from trying.
‘My husband went into the kitchen and he got a spoon, he was trying to put it on one side of the ball to take it out and he just couldn’t.
‘I was frantic and rang the vets.
‘We managed to grab him and my husband carried him into the car. We live quite close to the vets and were there in two minutes.
‘When we got there the two members of staff managed to get the ball out.
‘The following day they explained that the way to get this type of ball out is by punching the throat.
‘It’s obviously a very special technique and the vet in question said she only knew how to perform the manoeuvre because she saw a video about it on Facebook.
‘Normally it takes two experienced vets to perform this manoeuvre, but unfortunately it didn’t save Elmo because he’d already gone.
‘When I put Elmo in the car I saw his tongue was blue. I was driving the car so fast and I was beeping my horn but it was for nothing, we couldn’t save him.
‘It was probably six minutes from him swallowing it that he died.
‘The vet said it was a complete airway blockage and that the only way he would have survived is if she was in the room with him when it happened.
‘The ball was too deep down his throat and it was completely stuck. Because it was a solid rubber ball you couldn’t get round it, couldn’t squeeze it, couldn’t do anything. It’s just solid.
‘We bought it because he was a bull terrier and thought it was a sturdy ball, we knew we couldn’t give him stuff like a tennis ball because he would just chew it up.
‘The vets explained that because it was completely smooth as well with saliva it makes it even more slippery.’
Giulia said that Elmo’s accident has had a massive impact on her and husband’s life and she now wants to share what happened to ensure no other family goes through what they have.
Giulia said: ‘Elmo was eight, he wasn’t a puppy, so he knew what he was doing.
‘He was quite a large dog as well but not large enough that he couldn’t swallow it.
‘I trust Pets at Home as a brand so went to the store after it happened. I spoke to the manager of the branch and she removed all the balls straight away.
‘Elmo’s not back home with us yet, he’s at the crematorium. I need to call them and tell them which urn we want to use.
‘I know I need to do it, I want him to be back, but I just don’t want him to be back in an urn.’
Elmo’s death comes just weeks after media reported the tragic death of Cane Corso puppy Donnie who also choked to death on a SportsPet solid rubber ball.
Devastated owner Louise Jackson, 37, from Bexley, Kent, told how the pup choked on the range’s ‘high bounce’ rubber ball in April 2021 – leaving her a ‘totally different person’ with PTSD.
Pets at Home said they had sold tens of thousands of the balls that Elmo had been playing with and said they are widely available from other retailers including Amazon, but have withdrawn them from sale pending the outcome of the investigations.
Interim guidance has been made available to customers in store, and online, to help advise customers on considerations when selecting a suitable ball for their pet.
Guidance also provides safety advice to reduce the risk of choking accidents occurring, eg always supervise your pet, never throw a ball for your pet to catch in the air etc.
A Pets at Home spokesman said: ‘The safety and welfare of pets is our top priority and we were devasted to hear about the loss of Elmo.
‘We have withdrawn this product from sale as a precaution while we conduct our own internal investigation, and support Sportspet with their investigation, to understand what may have happened.
‘We have also made additional guidance available to customers on the importance of selecting the correct size and shape of ball for their dog, along with advice on supervision and play recommendations.
‘Our hearts go out to Mr and Mrs Brown at this incredibly difficult time and we will remain in contact with them to provide updates on the outcome of the investigations.’
SportsPet was contacted for comment but failed to respond.