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Nearly seven years ago, Delmar and Jan Johnson of Fairbanks, Alaska, brought home a tiny 4-week-old Labrador retriever/ Irish Setter mix, naming him Chuter. The puppy eventually grew into a 90-pound gentle giant and beloved member of the community who owned the responsibility of bringing comfort to the residents of a local assisted living facility with his weekly visits. However, the neighborhood nearly lost their compassionate canine after he was maliciously attacked by a massive moose during a routine bathroom break. Chuter’s dreadful drubbing and heartwarming recovery have earned him the title of February’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Nationwide, the nation’s first and largest provider of pet health insurance.
Ever since he was old enough to obey commands, Chuter has accompanied Jan along her career as a nurse for the Denali Center care facility. Chuter typically goes to the office a couple times a week to bring joy to the residents with his relaxed demeanor and sociable presence.
“The residents love it when Chuter comes to visit,” said Jan. “He does tricks for them on command and knows to be gentle with the tenants. He’s an important figure there, and we view him as part of the staff.”
On the night of the moose melee, Chuter and the family were preparing to retire to bed for the night. It was around 11p.m. and the winter weather was slightly warmer than usual with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Jan let Chuter and her other dog, Packer, out to use the restroom one last time before bed.
“I gave the dogs a couple minutes outside before I called for them to return, but when I opened the door, Packer was the only one to come back,” said Jan. “I called again for Chuter. When I couldn’t find him, I knew something was wrong.”
Jan and Delmar gathered flashlights, jumped in the car and began searching through the neighborhood, along with the forest area that surrounds their cul-de-sac. Despite searching for hours in two feet of fresh snow, their efforts proved unsuccessful. The couple returned home, but Jan didn’t give up hope and refused to go to sleep.
“I was a total wreck,” said Jan. “Around three in the morning I heard something at the door, and a second later, Chuter hobbled in and collapsed. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew he was badly hurt.”
What the family didn’t yet realize was that Chuter had been attacked by a large mother moose who had been spotted in the area with her calf. The moose had pummeled Chuter, severely breaking his leg and shattering some of his teeth. With no local veterinary hospital open until morning, Jan used her nursing skills to give Chuter initial treatment and stayed with him the rest of the night.
“I honestly wasn’t sure if he was going to make it through the night,” said Jan. “His entire right side looked like it had taken a beating. When I found a bunch of moose hair in his fur, I realized what had happened. We have moose in our area, but I never thought this could happen.”
When morning arrived a couple hours later, the Johnsons created a makeshift stretcher out of a large piece of plywood and loaded Chuter into the car. They rushed the ailing canine to Mt. McKinley Animal Hospital in Fairbanks for treatment. Because of the severity of his injury and trauma he had endured, the veterinary staff greeted the Johnsons outside and sedated Chuter as he lay in the car. Once he was in a relaxed state, the staff rushed Chuter directly into the hospital to perform emergency surgeries on his broken leg and battered mouth.
A few days after surgery, Chuter was released home but faced months of recovery. Since he was unable to climb the stairs, Jan set up a living space in the garage and stayed with Chuter for days. Chuter’s mouth was nearly sewn shut, forcing him to live on a liquid diet. Jan added homemade moose broth to Chuter’s food as a small token of revenge.
As of today, Chuter is over the hump and well on his way to a full recovery. His rehab is going well enough for him to walk half a mile at a time, and he has even returned to work at the Denali Center on a limited basis. The Johnsons are relieved that Chuter escaped the incident without any permanent damage and are grateful for all the support they received.
“The veterinarians did an amazing job. We couldn’t be more grateful with how well Chuter is recovering,” said Jan. “Having Chuter insured with Nationwide helped enormously with the veterinary expenses. Knowing we had pet insurance for Chuter allowed us to get him treated without thinking about overwhelming costs.”