Chicken Bone

13 Jan

Kuma 2

I’d grown up hearing warnings about feeding chicken bones to dogs – that the bones would splinter and the dog choke. Then in Mexico I learn its common practice. The dogs love them and I’m soon treating Kuma, Toby and Loba to leftover bones from our chicken dinners.

Everything went fine for a while, until one day I stepped out of the back door with a plate of chicken bones and began feeding the dogs.

I fed Kuma a leg bone, then Loba, then Toby. I started a second round and saw Kuma standing stock still. Then he started to hack and claw at the roof of his mouth. I thought, Fuck – he’s choking.

I was alone at the house without a car. Getting to a vet was impossible. Kuma scratched at his mouth so desperately that in seconds blood covered his paws and dripped from his teeth. I wasn’t sure what to do. I remembered the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm, but I couldn’t watch and do nothing. I lifted Kuma up and peered down his throat. I couldn’t see the bone. I was afraid to push my finger down his throat and jam the bone even deeper. Then I wondered if a splinter had gotten into the roof of Kuma’s mouth, but a quick look told me that wasn’t the problem.

I put Kuma down on the ground and stared as he scratched in desperation at the roof of his mouth. A resigned voice came into my head. “You’re going to watch your dog die right in front of you.” It was disturbing – the voice wasn’t frantic or panicked – it was calm – too calm. What was wrong with me, that I could react so calmly, as though part of me was dead inside?

I picked Kuma up and wrapped my arms around his chest and squeezed hard in the Heimlich maneuver.


I figured there was only so much air in Kuma’s lungs. I might only get one more chance. I squeezed harder this time, hoping I wouldn’t break his ribs.

I set Kuma down and seconds later he spit out a jagged one-inch piece of bone. Maybe my squeezing did the trick; maybe he dislodged the bone on his own.

A minute later, Kuma was wagging his tail, the experience behind him. I washed the blood off his paws and put the rest of the bones in the trash.

I was left with the disturbing memory of my calmness in the face of my dog’s imminent death. It frightened me, wondering how far this calmness could extend.

(Rosarito, Mexico 2015)


2 Responses to “Chicken Bone”

  1. Laura Moloney January 14, 2015 at 4:00 am #

    I was terrified reading this Mark. I too remember hearing those same warnings about feeding pets chicken bones. A few years ago my cat caught a small bird on the balcony of my apartment. I frantically tried to extract the bird from Sacha’s mouth, not only worried about my cat choking on small brittle bones, but in a desperate attempt to save the tiny creature’s life. My attempts to get the poor bird away from his clutches seemed to bring out a crazed fierceness in Sacha I’d never witnessed before. He ate the whole bird in seconds flat, leaving no trace but two tiny knotted feet set neatly one next to the other. i wasn’t completely relieved when he didn’t choke because I was still concerned about him safely passing a whole bird, beak, feathers, and bones, through the length of his digestive system, but to my final relief there were no problems at all.

    On witnessing that, I thought that cats probably are able to digest small bones more easily than dogs because birds are the most common choice of prey for felines in the wild. But after reading your essay here, I’m definitely gonna stick to erring on the side of caution. I would hope if any choking accident does occur, that I would be fortunate enough to hear a calm voice in my head that would steel me against hysteria in order to save my animal friend’s life. I consider that voice in your head to be the hero of your story.

    I’m also vaguely remembering reading that undomesticated cats or dogs can safely eat the prey they capture without danger of swallowing the bones because there is no cooking involved that logically would render the bones brittle. Uncooked bones remain pliable, thus less likely to do damage. I’m not certain about this though, maybe wild cats and dogs choke to death all the time.

    You really had me scared reading this account Mark. Well written. Sorry you had to experience it though.

    • pissingonmypistols January 14, 2015 at 5:24 am #

      Thanks for reading Laura. I think erring on the side of caution is the way to go when it comes to chicken bones. Very cool to make your acquaintance again, even if it is long distance.

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