‘We need some help’

  • Contributed Photo/The Garden Island

    Thanka’s service vest and tags.

  • Contributed Photo/The Garden Island

    For Wailua resident Heather Miller, her dog Thanka was a lifesaver. Literally. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Heather Miller said Thanka was there to save her life during black outs and other symptoms she often experienced. Her dog, she said, died needlessly on Friday afternoon at Kealia Beach, when he tore one of his pads and went into shock. She and her husband Shawn Miller begged both lifeguards and 9-1-1 for help, but were refused, because the couple says Emergency Services told them they could only assist in rescuing human lives. Heather Miller said she is now left re-traumatized.

  • Contributed Photo/The Garden Island

    Heather Miller and her service dog Thanka.

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.”

26 Comments
  1. Kat June 19, 2018 12:26 am Reply

    Why walk dogs and big dogs at that in on a super hot day on a hot bike path ? It’s common sense ! They get overheated . I have 2 dogs and I know better ! It breaks my heart to see that this happned !!!!! I’m sorry poor dog


  2. mathias Loong June 19, 2018 12:45 am Reply

    Lifeguards should be for people. It seems pretty stupid for a lifeguard to leave his or her post to assist a dog and not be availble to assist a human for a medical emergency or drowning.

    Too bad the dog didnt have snother owner because this owner sounds entitlled and pretty helpless.


    1. Nate dog June 19, 2018 1:13 pm Reply

      There is at least 2 and most of the time 3 to 5 lifeguards on duty there. I just called and that’s from the lifeguard association. So is it crazy to ask a service human to help a service dog (that is trained to help humans) for a lil help….don’t be to high on yourself please.


  3. Plan ahead June 19, 2018 6:44 am Reply

    This is a failure to plan on Miller’s part. After reading this article you get a sense that no analysis or thought was put into what seemed like a little stroll. FACT #1 She took her pet on a walk during the hottest part of the day at 1PM. Why? FACT #2 Miller Obviously didn’t have enough water usually 3-5 quarts in a camelbak or canteen for herself and Thanka. FACT #3 She is blaming our county workers for not doing their job….last time I checked life guards pit their lives on the line everyday to save human lives….Tell me Miller what would have been worse a situation where our first responders are on a call for Thanka or a family drowning at kealia? FRUDENTHAL, stop writing about peoples ignorance to plan and make them look like they are the victim.


  4. gordon oswald June 19, 2018 7:33 am Reply

    I’m in total shock. How any sane individual could, would, or should call 911 for a dog is beyond me. So what’s next, “life” flight to Honolulu? Wow! What has become of us?


    1. Nate dog June 19, 2018 12:54 pm Reply

      If a service dog is trained to help humans, why can’t humans help a service dog. If I had a service dog and you called for help…..what would you want me to do? Maybe say call someone else?


      1. Michael June 20, 2018 8:22 am Reply

        “If a service animal is trained to help humans, why can’t human help a service dog?” Lets put this in another perspective. Doctors are trained to perform surgery on humans right? So would you ask a doctor to perform surgery on your pet? Vice versatile, would you ask a vet to perform surgery on you? It doesn’t work like that my friend. Lifeguards aren’t trained to handle situations like that, and what would happen if they helped and something wrong happened? Guarantee the lifgaurds would get in trouble.


      2. Michael June 20, 2018 8:23 am Reply

        Vice versa *


        1. Westside Pride June 22, 2018 1:21 pm Reply

          Touche, totally agree with you.


  5. Uncleaina June 19, 2018 8:14 am Reply

    Another one of these “victim pieces” by Bethany Freudenthal. I urge readers to critically read this article and ask a couple questions. Look at the dog, was it really too big to carry? Do dogs really die from a foot pad injury? And as for the lifeguards- do we really want them leaving their job saving human lives to help incompetent dog owners? No. Blaming our excellent first responders for not doing something that’s NOT their job is irresponsible. But here’s my main issue- why doesn’t the reporter ask Heather any questions about her lack of action or responsibility? Apparently she just sat with her dog for an hour complaining that no one was helping- well fix it yourself! That’s what a responsible dog owner does..not call 911! Who does that? Why is the tone of this article so biased? OF COURSE lifeguards aren’t supposed to leave their stand to save a dog! Of course! Of course 911 doesn’t respond to dog in distress calls! Who thinks they do – or should??! How can a reporter just glaze right over these facts? Where was a single sentence saying “911 is not responsible for animal injuries.”? You presented it as if they were shirking their responsibility. The job of a reporter is to present an unbiased view where we make our own conclusions- but TGI allows these biased cheap shots get published.


    1. People Lover June 19, 2018 11:40 am Reply

      As a GI subscriber I’ve been increasingly annoyed at some of the articles lately. This is one of the last straws, honestly. I realize “good help is hard to find” and apparently reporters too. I’ve kept our subscription because I feel bad for the state of printed media, but honestly if articles like this continue, I will cancel.


  6. LMat June 19, 2018 8:33 am Reply

    I don’t really see the logic in Ms. Miller blaming lifeguards and 911 staff for her getting re-traumatized. They ARE there to assist in saving human lives!! I’d be suing Kauai county if my child needed assistance and lifeguards were away caring for a dog.
    I am a dog owner. If my german shepherd was hurt and going into shock and my car was that close, I’d try my darnedest to pick all 100lbs of her up and get her to the car. Why couldn’t Mr. Miller carry the dog to the car? He went back to the lifeguards three times…? If there were passersby, why not ask them to help carry the dog to the car? Why just sit there and then blame others for not helping afterward…?
    Did the dog go into shock because of a cut on the foot…? Was it heat stress? If heat stress, I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be signs of that leading up to shock and incapacitation.
    Idk, I know it sounds cold-hearted, but as a dog owner myself, it sounds like his owners failed him.


  7. Curious Dog June 19, 2018 9:43 am Reply

    You are not alone. Deepest sympathies on your loss & the tragically senseless manner in which it occurred. This lack of response by emergency personnel to a person with PTSD whose service dog was suffering is completely unacceptable. Our first responders should be better than this!
    Your tragedy also highlights the need for 24-hr veterinary services on this island.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.


  8. Pete Rodman June 19, 2018 9:57 am Reply

    So sad that we can’t make an exception to the rule. What happened to using judgement to help your fellow man. Sometimes our dogs are a lifeline to happiness. Sounds like this lovely couple were left to their own devices when help was available. Shame on you. Some compensation should be offered though none can be adequate.


  9. Joe Public June 19, 2018 11:02 am Reply

    First Responders are trained to assist humans, not animals. Why would you bring such a large dog out for a walk at 1pm? Your more at fault.


    1. Nate dog June 19, 2018 12:50 pm Reply

      Ever seen a video of a cop getting a cat out of a tree???? And they are trained to help


  10. concerned citizen June 19, 2018 11:12 am Reply

    It’s fairly simple. Don’t walk a dog where it can tear it’s pads. Don’t choose a huge dog as a service animal. Don’t take your dog out for long walks on hot days. Don’t rely on 911 or lifeguards to help your animals. Be mindful about the situations you put your pets in, and be prepared to care for your own animals in different circumstances.


  11. Susie christensen June 19, 2018 11:14 am Reply

    This animal was a service animal which means the owner is disabled. The lack of insight and compassion by both the lifeguards and some of the above commenters is sad and ableist. This dog allowed this woman access to her community which otherwise would not have been possible.


  12. People Lover June 19, 2018 11:26 am Reply

    This is too much. Plus being a front page article? They wasted precious time trying to get help from lifeguards, calling 911, etc. Poor dog!!! Surely something else could’ve been done during that ONE HOUR. Lifeguards are for people, sorry. This story annoyed the heck out of me. Frankly I’m tired about the subject of “service dogs”, and yet I love dogs, have had dogs as pets, etc. So sorry this happened, but if the owners had just relied on themselves rather than trying to get inappropriate help, this may have been avoided. And then of course playing the blame game…turns my stomach.


  13. Nate dog June 19, 2018 12:43 pm Reply

    All you people that say that state officials aren’t there to protect and SERVE are total crazy. Ever heard of a state officials recuing a cat from a tree. They help, and are trained. Come on people think. Our dog got attack by a pit bull not on lease and we couldnt get help either. Something needs done to protect every body including all family members. The lose is senseless. Get a heart people of Kauai and try caring about someone or something other than yourself.


  14. Uncleaina June 19, 2018 5:33 pm Reply

    I’ve got one more comment: she’s blaming our first responders but what was 911 supposed to even do for her? Dispatch EMS? Take her dog to Wilcox ER?
    The lifeguards actually -did- help her yet she’s STILL complaining because it took them too long? Really?


  15. upnup June 19, 2018 8:28 pm Reply

    Wow, I love dogs but have to agree with the first 5 comments.

    TGI reporters get worse every year and you know why.

    Narcissism, it’s a illness.


  16. Sue June 19, 2018 10:54 pm Reply

    Canine heatstroke.


  17. Sue June 19, 2018 10:57 pm Reply

    Owners are to blame. The nerve of them and this reporter for insinuating othewise.


  18. imua 44 June 21, 2018 12:18 pm Reply

    The loss of a dog is very painful.
    The loss of the former good paper The Garden Island is also very painful. Frontpage story?
    The GI is fluff and folly. But the GI does continue a long and deep love affair with Da Hoos. I am surprised that there isn’t a Hooser quote in here supporting the idea that this poor animal actually was impaired due to GMOs.
    We need another paper for the news. It seems that Facebook has filled the gap.


    1. Westside Pride June 22, 2018 1:26 pm Reply

      this is definitely the BEST comment.


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