Episode 82 – Bonnie Harlan

Did you know that a 9-ounce chip bag could end your dog’s life within minutes? Neither did Bonnie Harlan – until it happened to her dog. Please listen to this podcast to learn how to prevent pet suffocation – it can save your pet’s life!

Bonnie Harlan - Professionals in Animal Rescue

Welcome to the professionals in animal rescue podcast where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue.  This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport.  Now, on with our show! Bonnie Harlan is the founder of Prevent Pet Suffocation, and her mission is to spread public awareness of the suffocation dangers pets face from chip bags and other food packaging. Since 2,012 prevent pet suffocation has grown to an international following of over 18,000 supporters on Facebook. Bunny has written numerous articles on the subject and appeared in several television and radio interviews. She’s available for speaking engagements, interviews and writing articles for magazines, newspapers and online publications. Bye Typically hears from 3 to 4 devastated dog owners a week who have lost their pet to suffocation, and I’ve never heard of it before. Hey, Bonnie, Thanks for coming on today. Hi, Chris. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. So you’ve got just such a unique aspect of animal rescue. So I’m dying to hear your story and kind of how you came about. Teo be down this this avenue. Okay, Well, it was definitely something, you know, I never planned. So I live in Houston. I have three kids. They’re grown now, so I’m an empty nester, which I totally like, Come. And so that kind of gave me a lot more time to travel and, you know, spend time with my dog and do some things that, you know, You don’t get to do a cz much when you’re raising kids. And in maybe two thousand nine or 10 my son brought home a rescue pup from his college in Arizona, which I totally had tried to talk him out of doing because I kind of knew I’d end up maybe taking care of this falling in love, right? Yes. Only love and taking care of this rescue dog. And that’s exactly what happened. So his dog, his name Blue, and he ended up. You know, I ended up taking blew over and making him mine. He was amazing. It was a 50 pound dog, part Steff for char terrier. And so it was towards the end of 2,011 we had our 15 year old poodle that I had to finally, you know, put down because she had he and sorry had, you know, I had a lot of health problems. So after that, it was just me and blue at home a lot. So it was around Christmas around December 15th 2,011 and I left my house to go do some errands and blue had learn to kind of be in my house and not do anything wrong or tear up anything. And so I was only gone literally, like 45 minutes when I came in the door. It kind of from my garage in my kitchen. Blue did not greet me at the door. That was a red flag right there. It kind of looked around my kitchen. I saw this little paper bag of trash kind of tucked over in the kitchen. And some Christmas decorations had fallen over too. But I could not find the dog, so I searched and searched and searched. I went up and down both. It’s upstairs downstairs, Couldn’t finding finally, out of the corner of my eye. I see him up in my game room in the corner of the game room, and he had a Cheetos chip bag over his head. He wasn’t moving. And in that kind of that horrific moment, it all just became clear to me. 00 my God. He suffocated in this chip bag. Yeah, it was It was pretty devastating. So I ran over there. He was not. He was not breathing breathing. I pulled the bag off, called my Vette screaming, yelling, crying. He told me how to do CPR, which was kind of hard to do listening to him over the phone. Sure. Try the CPR. Never did I ever planned to give CPR to a a dog guy, but I didn’t even think twice about it. And unfortunately, you know, it was too late and it was crushing. That was Ah, it was a horrible thing. My vet came over actually in the midst of this to check out the dog. And what he said to me was, you know, funny, I could have warned you about 100 things and a chip bag would never have been on the list. Yeah. Yeah, And it wasn’t on my list, either. I didn’t know about this. I had no clue. And so my whole family was crushed over losing. Our doggie was only four years old, and as soon as Christmas was over, I started. You know, it was pretty angry. I was frustrated. I couldn’t find anything, really, On how this dog, you know, it’s suffocated. But I started figuring it out that I had a lot to do with the, uh, the type of chip bag and so forth. So I just I thought, you know, I cannot let him die in vain, and I have to let other people know that this is a problem in a danger and it’s in everybody’s house in a bag. So I decided to put together a new organization called Prevent Pet Suffocation, and I contacted Frieda Lay, of course at the time and told them about my dog, and I had a couple of conversations with them, but I knew that we had to get the word out, and that’s really how this started. It’s kind of a grassroots, you know, organization in the beginning, and I just started with the Facebook page and it’s grown from there and now it’s kind of an international following, and we reach people all over the world. That is, that is just so amazing. Now, what? What was your background? Was your background and nonprofit management or anything like this? I mean, absolutely not. Now my background was I have a master’s in liberal arts, and, you know, when I did work, um, I worked in, you know, personnel and recruiting and headhunting. So no, I never planned on this. I did not know this would become my passion, my love, You know, my mission to, you know, save dogs and cats from suffocation. So this was unplanned. And luckily, came a time when, you know, I could I could spend some time on it. You know, It didn’t have my kids at home anymore. And I can I can do this. And so that’s what’s been seven years. And, you know, it’s a non profit now, and we’ve grown and the word more and more people are hearing about it. But unfortunately, it’s a big world, and they’re a lot of people that still don’t know. And therein lies our mission. Yeah, yeah, I know. And you formed the organization in 2,012. Like you said about seven years ago, and I’m just curious. I mean, is there any way to estimate the statistics on this? Well, I I have documented almost 600 dogs who have, you know, died died from some form of pets ification. I hear about between three and four dogs a week that goes up and down. So if you think about it, these are just the ones that I hear about. If you extrapolated across the world, there’s thousands and thousands. So I’m one person I’ve documented close to 600 dogs. Those were just the ones that hear about. So if you just kind of you do the math, you could, you know, there there are a lot more and see the problem is a lot of people haven’t heard about it. So when their dog does die, they think maybe it’s a freak accident of fluke or they’re embarrassed or they’re so grief stricken they don’t want to talk about it. So they don’t tell anybody, you know. But then there are the people that go and start Googling it, and that’s how they find me. Um, so I know I don’t even have my finger on how many there really are. I just know if I’m hearing about three or four a week there, there, thousands and thousands more. And just in January, you know, six people you know, already documented six dogs and five of those were from chip bags. Wow, Esso tell us a little bit about because I mean, your website is got some really good pictures to kind of show you how. But, you know, walk us through me because it’s not just chip bags, right? There’s all sorts of different types of bag. So what happens, right? So what happens is a lot of these bags are made of my large life material and, you know, kind of like what balloons were made of. So they’re very shiny material. What What it does is that keeps snacks fresher, so companies like to use them. Unfortunately, they’re a suffocation risk, and and the material is so strong you can hardly tear a bag up with your hands or your finger. So when a dog puts his head inside the bag and he starts to try to breathe, it creates a vacuum like seal around his neck and As he tries to breathe more, it tightens around his neck, cutting off the oxygen. Well, by then, the dog is panicking, anxious. They can’t see there’s bag over his head and they start typically seen enough videos. They start, um, going in circles, backing up frantic. You know when some will just stand there like petrified. You know they can’t. They can’t move at all. So typically, though, they will run around and then they will eventually collapse and they will die from suffocation. That’s what my dog did. He started out in the kitchen, but he ended up upstairs in my game room. Upstairs in my game room was a mess. He ran over furniture. He knocked over lamps. He looked. He lost his bowels. That’s, you know, very common. Some of the time they suffocate, which is maybe two or three minutes. It’s a pretty horrific death for them. So I’ve had, you know, grown men tell me I could barely remove the bag from my dog’s head. That’s how tight that seal can get. So we want to avoid that could say, a lot of people they don’t understand. What how does it happen? This is how it happens. And they think, Well, you know, the dog could just pull the bag off with their claws. But you can’t because a dogs don’t have logic. They don’t have thumbs. And no dog is a match for a lack of oxygen. So they’re just trying to breathe and see your, you know, survive and the seal gets so tight that there’s no way that bag’s going to come off their head. Yes, you said the Mylar bags in particular, because I know I mean, there’s different plastics and things like that, and some baby you’re would come off easier. But you can imagine those Mylar bags would be the ones that would be the biggest risk exactly. And they’re, unfortunately, the most popular. So what, you’re looking at his chip bags, snack bags, but pretzels, that kind of thing. Pet food bags, serial bags, cheese bags like shredded cheese, zip locks, popcorn bags. They’re very popular, and even the boxes that these like serial bags Iran in that kind of thing. Then you have your containers, yogurt, cheese balls, peanut butter. There was a bag in a container for every sized dog. Okay, and that’s what’s important that everything in your house your kitchen, especially you need to look at is the potential suffocation hazard for your pet. And so you want. What can you do? How can you pet proof your home? Well, it’s actually pretty easy. So you want to start cutting up these bags after use. You know, you come in from the grocery store, start storing them in plastic containers or glass containers, and then cut these bags up Terram up. Cut them up. You know, as many times as you can and dispose of them. You want to keep them at all times out of the reach of your pet. People love to sit around on the couch, watch TV, get some chips out, leaving on their coffee table. Your dog will take it off that coffee table and your counter out of your backpack in your car. Anywhere I’ve had. People get out of the shower in five minutes and their dog is dead. That’s how quick it happens. So you keep your trash can covered. Put it behind you know, a lot cabinet. Keep your pantry door closed. Um, don’t allow your pets to roam freely when you’re not home that’s what happened to be, and I’ll never forget it. And you want to tell your family and your friends and your children and your pet sitters and your housekeepers all about petrification so you want to educate them as you’ve educated yourself. So let’s say, you know, and your children? No, But then relative comes over and they’ve got some food, but they don’t know about this, so they leave the bag out and there were. And believe me, I had a guy recently. It was his brother in law, came to visit, and that brother in law’s dog bag killed his dog. And it was a tough weekend for the family. Okay, Um, so you want to tell people in the educate them and, you know, I tell anyone that comes into my contact into contact with my my dog. You know, I’m a little paranoid. Let me tell you why this is what you need to do. You also want to be vigilant when you’re having parties and gatherings and holidays. We’ve got this Super Bowl coming up this weekend. That’s a big day for ship consumption. Um, when you have these events and gatherings, people are distracted. They’re busy. They’re having fun there partying. They’re not thinking about their dog or the cat. So you really want to be careful with these holidays and so forth because you’re going to have more food? Typically, you’re gonna have maybe more snack food and you’re gonna be more distracted. Yeah, it’s It’s a problem I have. I’ve noticed from your website it’s a problem not just for dogs as your set of all sizes, but cats and even wildlife. Because all this stuff is going into a landfill, right? Definitely both of those. So So cats typically get into more of containers. You know, they might get into a washing machine or they might get into a plastic, like where you’ve stored your pet food and don’t container. And then the lock, the top flips back over on them. They have also suffocated in bags, and they get to jump pretty easily. So you really have to be clever when you’re keeping this stuff away from your cats and wildlife is a big problem to, and people will say to me, Well, I don’t have a dog or a cat, so why do I need to cut up these bags, and I said, because you need to protect all our wildlife because these bags will end up in a landfill, are on a beach or trash can on a beach or in an alleyway or in someone’s yard. So if you do your part, then that’s going to help some pet some animal somewhere a feral cat, a stray dog. You know, a dog that’s lost. I mean anything. And so that’s what we want to do. And when I say while life I’m talking, we’ve seen kangaroos, coyotes, skunks, squirrels, birds, possums, raccoons, dear, it’s all out there. Yeah, and I think I was telling you before. I mean, I’m very diligent about if we have a six pack of soda or something like that and the plastic thingy, right? I was cut that up to make sure that animals are not getting getting all caught up in it. But I had never really considered the ziplock bags and as you mentioned popcorn bags and chip bags and other things that we just using a normal daily basis, serial bags right and what that could do and how simple it is to just cut those things up before you throw my way right. And if you and if they’re not cut up in there in your house, you need to keep them high upon a pantry shelf. But somewhere away from your pets, you know? So so yes, And you’re not alone for us there. I didn’t know it either. I didn’t know this was a problem. I didn’t know it could happen. And that is the most common refrain I hear from a person who’s lost their animal to this. I didn’t know it had a wish. I’d just known it one day earlier. So that’s why we have this awareness campaign is too. Let people know that these, you know, it’s a serious issue here. Yeah, I know. And that’s why I think it’s great. I mean, you’ve got the Prevent pet suffocation website, right? And the Facebook page, and you’re really you’re you’re on a mission to spread awareness so that this doesn’t happen to somebody else, right? And I might have a Facebook post that read reaches, you know, 100,000 people in a day, you know, with all the people sharing and that’s amazing. And so we’re making progress, you know, little by little, but there’s still so many people that don’t know. I mean, and, you know, it’s a big world, like I said, So we have to just keep staying on it. So, yes, we have Facebook and, um, Instagram and Twitter and the website and linked in, you know, every social media I can think of to help you get that word out. Now tell us a little bit. I mean, you mentioned earlier on, but tell us about the petition now that you actually have with Frida Lay and how people can sign up and be a part of that. Right? So one of mine things that I probably did this about a year after starting prevent pet suffocation was you know, um, I did start a petition to free the lay simply to ask them to add warning labels for pet suffocation on their chip bags. Um, I’ve left the petition open because as more pets, you know, die we we get more signatures, and obviously, the more signatures you know, the better chance I’m gonna have to have Frieda leg. Listen to me. So right now we have over 18,000 signatures signatures. I’m excited about that and I want to keep that going. There is a link on my website for the petition, and it’s, you know, prevent pet suffocation dot com. If you go to the bottom, you will see the link for the petition. You can also find it on change dot or GE. You can find it on our Facebook page and other social media, you know. Please sign it, share it, leave a comment. Um, because my goal is to deliver that to Frida Les. They do know that, you know, this is a problem. They’re aware of it, but we haven’t kind of gotten them. Tio come to the table yet and say, Let’s talk about it. You know what? Let’s, uh, let’s be advocates together. What can we do to save these pets? Yeah, you know, Yeah, something that in particular the U. S. And I know in other places in the road, but it’s it’s they’re so common and chips and snack foods or so part of our culture. And as you mentioned, I mean these Mylar bags air. They’re very common. They’re very inexpensive. They do the purpose that they’re they’re good at. So there’s lots of these Afghan and it’s just on awareness thing to really let people know what the danger could be. Exactly. So we need all the help we can get you s o tell us that, like, now this is your your passion, right? Is this your fulltime thing? I mean, what is a typical week look like for you? Well, it’s not my full time thing, because I just have to balance it and with the rest of my life because, you know, I’m one person, so I do spend as much time as I can on this usually something every day and the week varies. It just depends. Like how many dogs have passed away this week. That kind of drives How much? I’m posting, sharing, commenting like people know I’ve seen your share. I’ve seen your post, you know, we’re listening. And so that’s kind of really what happens. I just don’t know what is going on. You know, what’s Monday gonna bring? What’s cues? Sometimes you might have to to win today. So I spent a lot of time posting, sharing, commenting, But also, you know, I do other things to design my flyers update the website circulate the petition, send out donation boxes. You know, if there’s a company willing to put it on their counter. I do a lot of interviews like like this one I’ve done for this week, and I didn’t have those on the schedule last week, so I just don’t know which is Nate, and that’s the nice thing. I’m flexible and because I worked by myself and for myself, I can, you know, make my schedule and do it when it works for all of us. And you know, my new goal. I want to do some say, so that’s kind of next on the agenda. Let’s get a couple of those going. There’s one on my website, but, you know, I’d like Tio maybe do a couple of others and get them out there, too. So and then when I’m not doing that on doing more fun, things like traveling and sure, no reading, going to movies, that kind of thing. Yeah, well, it’s definitely sounds like this has become your passion, and it’s it’s something that you never really imagined. But kudos to you for now, making this part of your passion and trying to raise the awareness and campaign to prevent this from happening because I was naive, like a lot of people didn’t realise this happened as frequently as it does, and I will certainly do my part and spread the word and make sure that we’re always cutting up our bags and we encourage everybody else to go out and sign. Your petition is I’ve done because they think the more that we can work together and raise awareness to this and get free delay and those on board, I think the more pets that we can save. Absolutely, totally yes, thankyou. So, Bonnie, this has been great to talk to you. And thanks for coming on today’s or anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up. Well, I do want people to know that pet suffocation happens within minutes to all breeds all ages of dogs and all sizes. And no matter how smart you think your dog is and we all have smart dogs, no dog or cat can win a battle with lack of oxygen. So the good news is it can be prevented, and that’s the key here, so I don’t want people to think well, my dog does never gets in the trash. You know where my dog doesn’t do this. My dog doesn’t do that because it only takes one time for your pet to get an idea in their head or smell something good and delicious. And then it just takes a few minutes to lose them. Yeah, Now we definitely want to do what we can to prevent that. So Well, thank you, Bonnie, for coming. That today was great to talk them. Great. Thank you, Chris. I so appreciate it. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast.  If you’re not already a member, join the ARPA to take advantage of all of the resources we have to offer.  And don’t forget to sign-up with Doobert.com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.

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