By Fran Jewell

My 105-pound, 10-year-old Baewulf loved a crate so much I found him in my puppy’s crate sound asleep! Photo credit: Fran Jewell

It is now February 2023.  This month the American Heart Association makes a special effort to help educate women about heart disease. Since I am a survivor of a heart attack, I really feel committed to sharing this story AGAIN because it DOES pertain to our dogs.

My first appointment in cardiac rehab was incredibly scary. I was the ONLY woman in a large group of older men. Not only was I younger than the rest, it was painfully obvious that WOMEN DO NOT SURIVE HEART ATTACKS!  Unaware to almost all women, heart attacks—and not breast cancer—are the NUMBER ONE KILLER OF WOMEN!!

Please, for the sake of your dog, and of your family, read my article and please become informed about the extremely unusual signs of a heart attack for women.

By now most of the locals know my recent expedition over Mount Heart Attack. Let me say that the journey there is far beyond any Everest climb! I am here today to tell you this story for several reasons. The first is to pay overwhelming tribute to St. Luke’s ER Dr. Torres and the forthright, honest and hard line that he took with me, someone in total denial of my health condition. The second is the extraordinarily compassionate and capable Life Flight crew that raced me to the Twin Falls Cath Lab and into the expert hands of cardiologist, Dr. Hymas. Without all of them and their support teams, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story.

A day in Stanley with the dogs and my dear friend Margery left me a little tired. I was feeling like I had been experiencing panic attacks late into the day. But, after getting home, feeding the dogs and settling in for a peaceful night’s sleep, I was awakened by a horrible pain in my chest. I thought to myself, I am not experiencing all the symptoms I have read about for a heart attack, so I was unsure. I got up, walked around the house, then the pain started in my back. It was not crushing pain as I envisioned a heart attack to be. It didn’t make me fall over, or lose my breath. Although, what I could hear is my daughter’s voice — former executive director for the American Heart Association in Idaho — telling me that women do not experience heart attacks like men do. But still, I wondered. I was afraid to call 911. I had no idea what opening that door was going to do for SO many reasons.

Then the next thing happened—I felt the cold sweats. Not for long, though. It was that symptom that forced me into action.

Living with several very confident, very protective German shepherds has been a worry on my mind for many years, especially in this situation. Had I called 911, how would EMS get through the front door without a confrontation? And who would care for my dogs in my absence? Most dogs become extremely protective of their owner if they feel their owner is threatened. Even the most docile poodle can become a dog you have never experienced before. Owning German shepherds, I knew that instinctive protective nature would prevail. I know these things being the dog behavior specialist that I am.

In the past, I had this conversation with many of my German shepherd friends as well as my law enforcement friends; how would I protect my dogs in this type of emergency situation? I finally came to the conclusion that this scenario would be the one I would play out, if I was able.

I told all the dogs to go to their “night-nights.” In SECONDS, they scattered into their individual crates. Not one, even my puppy, hesitated for a second to carry out my wishes. Happily, they went right in, lay down and waited for their treat. I didn’t have a treat, but they didn’t care. It took me another 10 seconds to walk around my living room to close the crate doors. Now they were safe. There would be no confrontation with anyone coming to the house to rescue ME.

Terrified, I made that call and within two minutes the Hailey police arrived ahead of the ambulance. There I sat, on my front porch, in pain, and probably not very coherent. They asked how I was and I muttered out something about I thought I was having a heart attack, but that I was confused because I didn’t think I would be able to even walk during a heart attack. I explained that my symptoms were not those that you usually hear about associated with a heart attack.

The dogs barked lightly from the safety of their crates, just to let the intruder know they were there, but there was no threat to anyone. They were safe and the police, Fire and Rescue and EMS were safe. I WAS SAFE and on my way through a journey I never expected, BUT for which I had thought through previously and TRAINED my dogs for such an event.

When someone tells me they don’t want to crate train their dogs, I always tell them it is a LIFE SKILL! Now, more than ever, I mean it to be a LIFE-SAVING SKILL! The fact that my dogs didn’t hesitate, didn’t give me any guff in a moment of trauma, was so reassuring to me that they would be fine. Then, I had a plan for someone to come into the house, who they knew, to take care of them in the morning.  What a relief for me to know that the loves of my life were going to be okay and cared for.

I don’t know what would have happened if my dogs had been loose in the house when the police arrived and had to come inside to save my life. It could have been a perfect storm. Dogs that move into protective drive don’t think like people do. They don’t say to themselves, “Oh, it’s EMS, let them in!”

The point of this story is to urge ALL of you to CALL 911 even if you SUSPECT a heart attack, especially all the women out there who don’t feel all the typical symptoms!!!! All I had were chest and back pains, then eventually a very short bout of cold sweats. AHEAD of time, make a plan, especially if you live by yourself, to care for your dog(s).  Then, TRAIN for that emergency. Be sure your dog CAN run to a crate for safety, easily and happily. It’s the safest place for them to be and allows even unknown help for them to enter the house when you are not there.

People who know me laugh at my priorities. And we can laugh now, but it was no laughing matter at the time. Even my two 10-year-old dogs still have impeccable crate skills. Going in the crate and being happy there is not just for young dogs. It’s a LIFE-SAVING SKILL for EVERYONE!

Fran Jewell is an IAABC Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, NADOI Certified Instructor and the owner of Positive Puppy Dog Training, LLC in Sun Valley. For more information, visit positivepuppy.com or call 208-578-1565.