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Goodbye, Blue: A Family’s Loss of a Beloved Animal Companion

When Bonnie Odem Harlan’s son, Chase, returned home after college in 2008, the extra laundry she’d have to clean wasn’t what bothered her—it was the mixed-breed, year-old puppy her son had in tow. Despite Bonnie’s attempts to dissuade Chase from taking on the responsibility of a puppy in college, he’d gone to an animal shelter and adopted a canine companion, whom he named Blue. Skeptical of the rambunctious “mutt,” Bonnie wasn’t sold on the idea of welcoming Blue into her home. She could not have predicted that soon, she’d be his biggest fan.

“Before I knew it, this mixed breed dog and I fell in love,” Bonnie told PETA recently by e-mail. “Blue was a game changer for me, and I never saw it coming.” She bought him toys, a bed, and cute collars and gave him privileges like allowing him to climb on furniture and jump on beds. When Chase moved into his own apartment, Blue stayed.

Two years later, tragedy struck. A dinner guest at the family’s house accidentally left the front door open, and Blue slipped outside unnoticed. Hearing a noise on the porch, the family looked to the door and saw Blue through the glass, bloodied and bruised. They rushed to let him in, and after walking across the threshold, he fell to the ground. He had been hit by a car, and his front leg was broken.

Bonnie was determined to bring him back. After nearly a year of surgeries, rehab, and medical bills, Blue was himself again. He was chasing squirrels and leaping through bushes on strong legs. After such an impressive comeback, he seemed unstoppable. But the car accident wouldn’t be the last tragedy he faced. Not long after healing, Blue lost his life, which is why Bonnie reached out to PETA recently.

“The irony is not lost on me that in the end, it wasn’t a 2,000-pound vehicle that killed him, but a 9-ounce chip bag,” she wrote.

Shortly after Blue’s recovery, Bonnie returned home from the grocery store one afternoon and was surprised that Blue wasn’t at the door to greet her. Surveying the room, she saw a bag of paper trash strewn across the floor and several 3-foot decorative Santa Clauses toppled over.

Her first guess was that he was hiding, thinking he’d be in trouble for making a mess. But as Bonnie called his name and peeked under beds, he didn’t appear. On her second round of the house, she finally found Blue, lying in the corner of the game room upstairs, his head encased in a chip bag. He wasn’t breathing.

Screaming in panic, Bonnie pulled the bag off his head. He was unresponsive, but the warmth of his body encouraged her to call the vet, who instructed her on administering CPR. It didn’t work. Blue wasn’t coming back.

“My vet, who was wonderful, told me he could’ve warned me of a hundred things, but chip bags wouldn’t have been on his list, because he didn’t know they were a problem,” Bonnie told PETA.

While Bonnie was at the store, Blue had plucked the empty bag from the trash to lick the remaining crumbs. As he nosed his way deeper into the bag, the Mylar-like material sealed around his neck, suctioning like a vacuum. Blinded by the bag and panicked by the lack of oxygen, Blue stumbled through the house, knocking over the Santas and bumping a lamp off a nearby table. After losing control of his bowels, he took a few more steps and collapsed beneath a table, where he slipped into unconsciousness, then suffocated.

Bonnie and her family are devastated. Saddened by the loss of their animal companion, their grief is amplified by the senselessness of his death, which could have been prevented with a simple warning label on the bag.

“I want to be the best advocate I can be for spreading public awareness of the suffocation risks posed by the bags and similar products,” Bonnie explained. She has started a Facebook page called “Prevent Pet Suffocation.”

When she wrote about Blue’s death on Facebook, more than 50 people commented that they had never heard of the risk that Mylar-like packaging poses to animals and expressed appreciation for Bonnie’s efforts to shed light on the problem.

“And that’s the easy part—just letting the public know to cut the bags after use,” Bonnie said. Now she is building a website to promote awareness among guardians of the risks that chip bags and similar items pose to animal companions. She hopes that in time, snack companies will take notice, and it won’t take the death of another loving, sweet family member to bring about change.

Celebrate Blue’s life by visiting his True Friends Memorial.

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  • Ani says:

    Does the same caution apply to bread bags, grocery bags, frozen food bags, large ziploc-type bags? Just wondering. Maybe a simpler solution would be to tie up the trash or place it somewhere the pet can’t reach?

  • LisaGee says:

    I’m so sorry for your lose. We lost our King Doberman the same way 15 years ago. Bobby had a cone on his head due to a hotspot. We left for work as usual and when I came home he didn’t greet me at the door. I called out to him a couple of times then ran into the livingroom knowing something was dreadfully wrong. He was in his chair with a chip bag completely covering his head. I torn the bag off but it was too late. I have felt guilt over this ever since. Who would ever have thought that a bag that can rip so easily with a little tear through the seam could be so strong without it? Now when I open a bag of chips, I ALWAYS cut through the top seam into the bag so it will tear with little effort. Please please be aware of this danger!!

  • Nicole Spurgeon says:

    I am so sorry for your loss! Blue was a beautiful boy. Thank you for sharing your story. I had no idea chip bags were so dangerous. I will spread the word!

  • Andrea says:

    Dear Bonnie and family,
    First and foremost, I am sorry for your loss of your beloved Blue. Thank you for bringing this painful story to a place where people care. You may now be saving the life of another pet or even a child. Our pets do unexpected things so we have to let go of the guilt when tragedy happens.

  • laurie c says:

    iam sorry for your lose , and thank you for we have too dog who like to get in trash and brand new pups . from now on when bag is empty i will cut it up so sorry you lost tour friend blue.

  • Susanne says:

    LM is way out of line!! It must be nice to have perfect dogs that NEVER do anything wrong, LM. Be careful judging others!
    I knew Blue and he was a sweetheart.
    Let’s help this tragedy save the lives of others!
    Thanks for sharing, Bonnie.

  • Madie says:

    LM. Your comment about discipline issues was unnecessary. I have a dog who has had several months of ‘puppy’ training, then went on to further training as she is a big dog. Last year she was hit by a car, she also occasionally gets into a trash bag. The reason she got hit by the car is that she ran across the road to ‘protect us’ from a fox. How could training have stopped her natural instinct to protect? The reason dogs get into the trash is either because they are curious or hungry. Pretty sure once again these are natural instincts. You can’t easily train an instinct out of any animal.
    I do feel sorry for Blue’s family.

  • Stacy Elizabeth says:

    Taking this tragic accident and using it to propel awareness is such a noble and inspiring thing to do. I have many habits surrounding trash and recycling like cutting the plastic rings from soda and beer cans, and I will now include cutting my chip bags. Thank you for speaking out.

  • Ruth says:

    It only takes a minute to cut a bag. Thanks for the warning and I am so sorry for their loss. How tragic.

  • Fran Bryerton, Canada says:

    So sorry to hear of the loss of your beloved pet. There is just no way of knowing from one day to the next what they manage to get into. No matter what the cause of death they always leave a huge void in our hearts. So sorry…

  • chander kumar soni says:

    i love dogs.

  • Nancy says:

    So very sorry for your loss. I thank all for sharing this tragic, but eye opening story. It’s certainly something I never thought could happen. Being extra careful now.

  • linda says:

    This is sharing information about harmful products. Who would know it would suffocate an animal or what if was a bigger package and your toddler but his head in it?? You cannot protect everyone, but you can TRY. My heart goes out to the family.

  • Jean says:

    Beautiful, beautiful Blue – so sorry you had to leave your family and now they are advocates for safety in your name. I’m so sorry you had to suffer and leave, and sorry for your family’s loss of you – a wonderful companion.

  • Jody B. says:

    I want to express my condolences to Blue’s family and friends and to thank them for the warning about chip bags being a choking hazard. That information may save another dog’s life.

  • Al Verdini says:

    Some people think it odd that I always tear open plastic bags before throwing them away, but plastic is forever and seems to get everywhere (even biodegradable plastic takes days & weeks to break up). Please help prevent tragedies. Thank you.

  • Jody B. says:

    While it’s true that you can’t protect animals – or children, for that matter – from everything, I think it’s important to think about every plastic bag, plastic rings around soft drink and beer cans, sharp objects, string, etc. For starters, I don’t bring plastic things into my house if I can help it. Things like chip bags and plastic rings I always cut before putting in the trash. Bags with plastic handles I always cut or tear. I used to put plastic netting over my pond in the fall to keep out leaves, but a garter snake got caught in it one year and I had to take a scissors to the netting to free the snake. I haven’t used the netting since. I also had to cut a plastic container off a racoon’s head once after he got stuck in it. I love kids and animals and feel that keeping them safe is worth the extra effort.

  • LM says:

    Interesting story. I have 2 rescued dogs myself. Clearly there were some discipline issues with the owner since this poor dog was not properly trained to not run out the door or go in the garbage. Sounds like he suffered severely throughout his life which is why rescue organizations have policies in place were the adoptive dog cannot be ‘given’ to someone else. It must stay with the adoptive parent who passed the screening or returned back to the organization.

  • Angela says:

    It’s a simple step that I would have never thought of. I will make sure to “Pop” my bags before recycling them. Thank you – and when I do this I’ll think of Blue;)

  • margie says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss,the loss of a dog is devastating.
    Thank you for sharing this, with us all.

  • Denise says:

    Thank you for bringing light to this issue. What a tragic loss. Hopefully through this awareness and education other animals and families will not have to suffer. I will rip open bags before I throw them away from now on so they are no longer a bag. Thank you, again.

  • Janet says:

    I had no idea a chip bag could suffocate a dog; I am sorry for the family’s loss of Blue and I appreciate PETA letting pet parents know of such a danger.

  • Holland says:

    So sorry about dear Blue. I’ve shared a home with many dogs in my life and had not heard of this risk either. Blue’s people are doing a good turn sending out this warning. I remember in the 80s a move to change those plastic 6-pack holders because so many wildlife got caught in them, and that push succeeded. The mylar chip bag is worth a similar effort — and anyway, does our environment need mylar chip bags?

    May the sweet boy Blue rest in peace.

  • Mark F. says:

    To the Harlan Family. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend Blue.

  • audrey says:

    I would have to say I second what Ursula said. While it’s really sad they lost their dog, (I would be devastated too) you have to keep it in perspective that it was a freak accident, and you can’t put disclaimers on everything.

  • sherry5997 says:

    oh my, how horrifying – i am so sorry for your loss <3
    25 years ago i lost my pup (2 years old), tess, to the same thing – i was in a hurry to get to work one day, i saw the chip bag on the counter, thought “oh my, tess is going to get that bag but, oh well, there are only a few chips left” and off i went…3 hours later i returned home and my uncle greeted me at the door and said “your dog is dead” and i thought, that’s not even funny -who would make a joke like that? my brother stepped into the room and confirmed – tess had gotten the bag stuck on her head and, though he tried dog cpr and mouth to mouth, it was no avail – the vet said that either she smothered (as blue did) or she got so stressed that she had a heart attack. i was devastated – i had gotten tess because, as a recent divorcee whose child had a rotating visitation schedule, i found myself suddenly, totally alone and very lonely – she was my salvation…
    a tragedy for sure, made much worse by they way people laughed when they found out the specifics of her death – obviously not a joke to me – hopefully this family travels in a more sensitive circle…
    personally, i’m certain that their pup love them very much and i wish for them peace <3

  • Marion says:

    I really appreciate the article on the death of Blue due to suffocation by a chip bag. It is something I would never have considered as a hazard. I am aware that animals can get their heads into cans, bottles, and bigger containers looking for food. I recently saw a photo of a bear cub that his head stuck in a big water or juice container. The person who took the photo did remove the container from the cub’s head. I recycle all my cans and bottles so they are not a danger to animals. Now I will start cutting up any sort of food bag that goes into the regular garbage and is not recycled, as wildlife might have access to such bags at the dump site. Thanks again for this sad and moving but very informative article.

  • Brittany says:

    I appreciate you posting this story. My dog gets into stuff all of the time and this could have easily happened to him. I always make sure I put anything out of reach that he can get to and now I am going to definitely make sure about the potato chip bags. Horrible story but eye opening.

  • Diane says:

    I think this was a very sad story. While I agree that you cannot protect “any being from everything” your response was very cold and uncaring . Perhaps a little compassion or not saying anything at all would have been better if you really don’t care. What exactly was your point? We all know you can’t save everyone from everything, but for dog owners who carelessly throw trash in the bin and don’t think about the fact that these everyday mundane objects can actually be deadly to their companions, than I think this is a eye opener. Thank you PETA and the Harlan Family for sharing and opening my eyes to watch what I throw in my household garbage.

  • Ronda says:

    Freak accidents do happen, and no one is saying the owners should feel guilty, or should sue the makers of the chips, but it is helpful to be aware so pet owners can choose to cut open their empty bags. I cut open the plastic rings that hold six-packs of soda because I know that can endanger wildlife.

  • Agnes says:

    Please accept my condolence for your lost. And thank you for sharing this story so that we, Pet Parents, will learn from that and prevent another lost of life.

  • Terry Odem says:

    Thank you PETA and Megan for writing such a wonderfuly story about The Harlan Family’s beautiful Blue. Bonnie’s my sister, and I’ve housesitted many times and over the years that she’s had Blue, I had taken care of him as well and loved him dearly. I miss Blue so much and it means so much that PETA has taken his story to heart and sharing it with the world, so that some other sweet family and their dog does not have to suffer this way, from the suffocation of a chip bag. Great story! Many wonderful thanks. Aunt Terry Odem

  • Ursula says:

    This is the equivalent of putting ‘Do not eat” on silica packets and “Do not use in shower” on hairdryers. There are freak accidents that cost lives, this is the reaction of grief stricken owners who lost a pet. I am sorry for their loss and understand their reaction, but you can not protect any being from everything.

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