KAPAA — A Wailua couple is mourning the loss of their beloved service dog after he was injured and died while on a walk Friday on the Kealia path.
The couple says they were denied emergency services from the both lifeguards at the beach and 911 because the first responders in both instances said they could only assist with saving human lives.
“He was really a sweet boy,” Heather Miller said of her dog, Thanka. “The lifeguards and 911 let my lifesaver float away,”
Miller and the 6-year-old, 115-pound Great Dane/Mastiff mix, had started out about 1 p.m. and walked about a mile from Kealia Beach and were headed back. The dog, though, tore his foot pad, and wasn’t able to continue to their vehicle.
They were on the part of the path, she said, where there was no shade, and it was sunny, about 80 degrees. So she was stuck there with him on his side as he began going into shock, yelping. They were nearly out of water.
Her husband Shawn, who was riding his bike elsewhere on the path, hadn’t heard from his wife for a while, so he came back to check on her and found them in the bad situation. She implored him to go ask the lifeguards at the beach for help while she dialed 911.
“They said, I’m sorry, but 911 is for saving human lives, not dogs, we recommend that you call the Humane Society,” Miller said.
So she called the Kauai Humane Society, but only got an answering machine.
“So I’m freaking out, I’m panicking, the dog’s freaking out, he’s yelping, he’s on his side, biting his tongue, because it’s hanging out, it was just horrific to have to be in this situation, watching him and being told, ‘sorry, nothing to do,’” she said.
Passersby tried to help, reported what was happening to the lifeguards and provided some water.
At the lifeguard stand, Shawn Miller said he was pleading for help.
“My wife’s a mile away from here, the dog’s keeling over, she’s panicked, he’s panicked, we need some help,” he said.
The lifeguards, he said, refused because it was a dog. Shawn Miller biked back and forth to where his wife and Thanka were and the lifeguard stand three times, pleading for assistance. Finally, he said a lifeguard came with him.
By this time, about an hour had passed since they first sought help.
Shawn Miller and passersby lifted the dog onto Heather Miller’s lap in the lifeguard’s ATV.
The lifeguard gave them a ride back to their car.
“Two minute ride back, load him into the car that was parked right by the lifeguard station, Kapaa Animal Clinic is a quarter of a mile down the road, half a mile at the most, so a two minute ride, he died a minute and 30 seconds into the drive,” she said.
Thanka, Heather Miller, could have been saved.
“Now, I’m left to pick up the pieces from a trauma I experienced, when I needed that dog to heal previous traumas. It’s just added and now I’m starting all over,” she said.
When she was six years old, Miler watched as her mother died on their kitchen floor. That trauma has stayed with her, causing severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is why she had a service dog.
Because she hasn’t completely healed from the trauma, there are times when she has blacked out and fainted.
Thanka was trained to save her life in those situations. In those states, Thanka could alert people of his owners situation, get her medication and try to distract her.
Miller said she relived that trauma Friday as she watched her beloved dog die of shock and heat stroke.
“The event that happened for what I needed him for, is so similar to the event that I needed them for, for him, that I was just, I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack, I was panicking so bad, and felt so helpless and so hopeless,” Miller said.
“It’s pushed me even deeper,” Heather Miller said. “It’s really taken a chunk of our life, our family, our time.”
Anyone whose owned an animal, Shawn Miller said, knows they become part of your family.
“It’s just the cavalier attitude that seems to be a little suspect,” he said.
On Monday, Heather Miller said she felt disappointed, let down and angry.
“I don’t want anyone else, (to go through this), whether it be a service dog or a cat in a tree, because you know what, you never know how much someone’s animals mean to them and if you can save a life, you might be saving a person’s life,” Heather Miller said.
In a statement to The Garden Island newspaper, Kauai Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman said they were very sorry for the loss of the service dog, Thanka.
“The top priority of our water safety officers is to protect the health and safety of beach goers inside their response area. Nevertheless, we are looking into the events of that day for any improvements that may be needed,” Westerman said.
Her dog, Heather Miller said, was a gentle giant.
“We had a very, very close relationship. He was not interested in anyone else but us. He was obsessed with us and we were together all of the time and it’s weird not being, (together),” she said.
Heather Miller said she’s telling her story because she doesn’t want this to happen to any other animal or person.
“I want justice for him as an animal and all animals because they can’t talk,” she said. “I’m scared and I feel a little alone.”