Louise Jackson took her beloved Cane Corso puppy, Donnie, out for a walk last April and threw a bouncy ball for him to catch.
Louise was walking Donnie and her two rescue dogs - Jack Russell Lady, 12, and six-year-old Jack Russell-Pug cross Jack - in Danson Park, in Bexley, on April 28th 2021 when the ordeal unfolded.
Tragedy struck when her six-month-old pup caught the SportsPet ‘high bounce rubber ball’ which slid down his throat and caused him to choke.
Donnie began ‘pawing at his mouth’ in an attempt to dislodge the £3 ball, which Louise purchased from Pets At Home, as she ran over to help.
The hairdresser put her hand in his mouth to try and remove the ball but said that the rubber was too hard to squeeze and pull out.
"Straightaway I knew it was stuck because he pawed at his mouth. I ran over to him and I put my hand in his throat,” Louise explained.
"I could feel it there and I could almost get my fingers behind it but it was so slippery and it was so solid I just couldn't pull it out.”
The 37-year-old desperately called for help and a kind onlooker raced over to help and attempted the Heimlich manoeuvre on the dog, as well as attempting to fish the ball out to no avail.
"I was screaming 'somebody help me' and this man came running over… and did the Heimlich manoeuver on him.
"I was hitting his back and pushing up into his stomach even while my hand was in there, we had him upside down and it still wouldn't come out.
"The man who helped broke his hand [while helping]. My hands were cut to pieces where Donnie was biting but I didn't feel any pain in my hands.”
Within five minutes of choking on the ball, while attempts to revive him with CPR failed, Donnie tragically died in Louise’s arms.
Louise recalled: "I was just begging this man, 'please I can't lose him’. He adored me and I just loved him so much.
"I love all my dogs but there was something about Donnie, we built such a bond. He was so happy to be with us, he was just an angel.
"It was awful because when he had died and his body had relaxed, the ball came out, so then we did CPR,” she explained.
"The man was pumping on his chest and I held his mouth shut and was blowing into his nose. We did that for about ten minutes and the guy said, 'he's gone'.”
The ordeal has left Louise so traumatised that she still replays the incident every night in her mind as she goes to sleep.
Now, the married mum-of-one is speaking out to urge pet owners to buy toys that have holes in them so if they are accidentally swallowed, she believes there may be a chance the dog will be able to breathe and survive.
Louise said: "If it [the ball] had the holes in he would be here…I may have had a better grip and I may have been able to get it out but it was the texture of this ball that made it impossible to get out.”
"I have always had dogs my entire life, throwing a ball is just something you do. Until something like this happens you don't think of the dangers.
"I will never get over this, but I just hope it brings as much awareness as possible because I don't want him dying in vain."
PDSA veterinary nurse, Nina Downing, told Tyla that unfortunately, she sees incidents like this sadly far too often.
“We’re always really cautious around balls," Nina tells us. "We’re always so careful because we do have these incidents happening in the practice, and they happen more than people realise."
If your dog does want to play with a ball, it's important that you choose a ball of a safe size which they can't choke on.
“If people do want to use balls because it’s good for their dog’s training, we always say you have to go for a ball which is larger than their mouth, even bigger than you imagine - like a football which is plenty big enough," and won't get trapped in their windpipe.
Nina also explains that it's not just hard balls which are choking hazards, spongy balls can be, too.
“You have to be so careful because it’s not even just smaller, hard balls, actually when they bite down on them they compress quite small if they’re spongy and they can get into the back of their throat and it of course expands, and they can’t get them out because they’re trapped behind the teeth.
"So, those types of balls are really dangerous as well."
Tennis balls are another one to avoid if you're playing with your dog.
“I hate tennis balls because you cannot get the ball - it’s almost like they go slimy with the saliva - and you cannot grab them either.”
Instead, opt for a ribbed, textured, cone-shaped toy which you're able to grab hold of and dislodge, should the worst happen.
"Remember, if it’s going in the dog's mouth, it’s going to be covered in saliva so you’ve got to be able to get that ball out of their mouth if anything does happen," she reminds us.
Even plastic balls with holes aren’t necessarily safer to use, “as you need to make sure that the plastic isn’t breakable because sometimes they can fracture under a lot of pressure.
"When you’re choosing what toy to use, make sure to get them from a reputable retailer so you know what you’re getting. Some products are marketed as dog toys but actually when you look at them closely, they’re not suitable because strong jaws will be able to break them or squash them.
"You have to be really careful where you’re buying them from," Nina says.
Should the worst happen and you do need to perform CPR on your pet, get someone to call a vet immediately while you perform CPR so a vet can talk you through the correct steps to take.
For more information on how to help a pet that's choking, visit the PDSA guide here.
Tyla has also contacted SportsPet and Pets At Home for a comment.