13 Investigates: Popular dog toy leads to huge vet bill 

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It has a goofy name. It makes wacky noises. TV commercials portray it as harmless fun.

The Wobble Wag Giggle Ball is a brightly-colored vinyl ball that, according to its ads and packaging, will keep your dog “happy, healthy and fit” while you’re away from home. Its distributor claims the ball is both durable and safe.

But an Eyewitness News investigation finds nationwide complaints from unhappy customers who say the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball’s advertisements are false and misleading. And some pet owners – like Danielle Haynes – claim the ball is responsible for causing serious injuries to her dog that cost thousands of dollars.

“They say it’s safe for all dogs, all sizes. If it was, I wouldn't be doing this right now … and my dog never would have had the surgery,” she told WTHR.

Haynes is talking about her 11-month old black Labrador German Rottweiler mix named Diablo, who is now recovering from emergency surgery to remove part of a Wobble Wag Giggle ball lodged in his intestine.

“I got it for him for Christmas because he like toys, and he has other balls he plays with all the time with no problem. So I left it with him when I dropped my daughter off at school, and when I got home maybe 90 minutes later, I just freaked out,” she said.

“He ate right through it”

Haynes found Diablo drooling and repeatedly vomiting. Some of the vomit had small pieces of green material in it.  She recognized the green color as matching the Wobble Wag Giggle ball, and then picked the ball up off the floor to take a closer look.

“When I flipped it over to this side, I saw the whole end [was gone]. There was other pieces inside that was missing. He ate right through it,” Haynes explained. “At that point, I knew something was wrong and I had to take him [to the veterinarian].”

X-rays showed Diablo had been able to tear off and swallow several pieces of the ball, and some of those pieces were now blocking his intestinal tract. A veterinarian at West Michigan Street Veterinary Clinic in Indianapolis recommended that Diablo have immediate surgery.

That surgery was performed the next morning at the Hendricks County Animal Hospital in Danville.  Medical staff at the hospital wrote “exploratory laparotomy showed 2 or 3 pieces 2-4cm in size scattered through the intestine.”  Once the pieces of vinyl were removed, a veterinary surgeon closed up Diablo’s abdomen with 57 stitches and staples.

“They told me without removing the blockage, his stomach could explode and he would die,” Haynes said. “I had no idea anything like this could happen from a toy.”

Dr. Frank Stokes, who surgically removed pieces of the toy from Diablo’s intestine, declined to speak with WTHR about the procedure. But a receptionist at the Hendricks County Animal Hospital told 13 Investigates the facility has treated “a bunch of cases” involving dogs that needed treatment or surgery after swallowing pieces of the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball.

$2600 in medical bills

“Yeah, it can cause a lot of damage very quickly,” said Dr. Ronald Baumgart, a veterinarian at Southport Pet Hospital. In recent years, Baumgart has performed dozens of surgeries to remove pieces of plastic and vinyl toys from the guts of dogs.   “I see this quite often,” he added.

Baumgart says products like the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball can be especially dangerous because a torn-off piece is both rigid and sharp.

“It might cut the intestinal tract. It might lodge in it which prevents [dogs] from passing food through their intestinal tract causing obstruction and, at that point, you have to do surgery and get it out of there, and it's expensive,” he said.

The bills for Diablo's x-rays, surgery and follow-up vet visits have, so far, exceeded $2,600 -- and that does not include the cost of transportation and special food required after Diablo’s surgery. They are expenses Haynes never imagined when she paid $15 to buy the ball at a local retail store.

“They said it was safe. Don't always go by what they say,” she said.

Haynes is not the only one who says the company's claims of strong and durable aren't true.

Hundreds of complaints

 A quick online search shows reviews from hundreds of unhappy customers who say their dogs destroyed the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball within just a few days. Some say the product lasted only hours. Many of reviewers reported the toy was literally “shredded to bits” within a matter of minutes.

In some cases, the angry pet owners included pictures of their torn up Wobble Wag Giggle Balls, pointing out their dogs were "swallowing the pieces," "gagging and choking" and getting injured on "sharp edges that cut [their] gums."

A Florida woman posted a photo of her 2-year-old pitbull lying with a Wobble Wag Giggle Ball at its feet. The dog had already ripped off 20 small pieces.   “My 2 year old pitbull loves it!” she wrote on Amazon.com, adding “It lasted for 10 minutes before he was able to start tearing it apart.”  She concluded the product was a “Waste of money.”

Other reviewers summed up their purchase with much stronger words, such as "nightmare" and "disaster," and some included dire warnings to other pet owners.

“Within exactly 24 hours, she has managed to break pieces of the ball off which are EXTREMELY sharp!!” a customer wrote on Amazon.com a few weeks ago, after purchasing a Wobble Wag Giggle Ball for her German Shepard.  “Twice we have had to take it away after finding sharp pieces of plastic. It is a very hard plastic material. Looks to be indestructible but it is definitely not. We've taken the ball from her after only one day and will have to throw it out. The damage it can cause to a dogs stomach and intestinal tract would be devastating if those shards of plastic were to be swallowed… Use caution when giving this toy to your pet! Please!!! Do not leave them unattended!!!”

Misleading commercial

Haynes contacted New York-based Allstar Products Group, the company that markets the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball, to explain what happened to her dog.

She says the company offered to refund her purchase price and to send her a new ball – an offer she declined.

“I want them to pay for the medical bills. Nothing more. Just the medical bills,” she told WTHR.

Allstar Products Group then forwarded Haynes to its insurance company, which has offered to pay for half of Diablo’s medical costs. But at the same time, Haynes says the insurance company added insult to her injury.

“They said they wouldn’t pay all the medical bills because they told me I was at fault. I needed to monitor my dog,” she said.

The instructions that come with the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball do include the following warning:  “As with any pet toy, you should supervise your dog while playing.”  And fine print on the box reads "Pets should be supervised when playing with this toy.”

But the product's marketing materials and commercials give a very different message.

“You'll know when you're not home, he'll never be alone with his Wobble Wag Giggle Ball,” exclaims an announcer featured in the toy’s TV commercial.  He also exclaims the ball is capable of “turning a lonely day into a fun day of play while you’re away.”

The ads seem to play on consumers’ emotions, encouraging pet owners like you to buy the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball so your dog won’t be lonely while you're away and your dog is home by himself.

That's why Danielle thought it was fine to leave Diablo home for an hour with his new toy.

“The commercial shows dogs home alone playing with the ball,” she said. “That’s what they tell you to do.”

“I feel that the commercial is misleading,” said Dr. Baumgart, voicing concern after watching the ad.  He says leaving your dog unsupervised with a toy like the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball can be very risky.

“I would not leave [a dog] alone with them. It can do a lot of damage,” he said. “What you really need to do is watch your pet with any toy.”

It's an important warning and, for pet owners like Haynes, a very painful lesson.

“It is heart wrenching to see a dog do that. I wish they'd recall this ball and not make anything like this again. I don't want to see anyone else go through what i went through.

Unlike products used by people, pet products have no federal oversight. There is no federal agency that regulates safety for the vast majority of products you purchase for your pet.

WTHR contacted Allstar Products Group to ask about allegations of the Wobble Wag Wiggle Ball being unsafe for many dogs and misleading in its advertising.

A spokeswoman for the company’s Boston-based public relations firm, 360 Public Relations, told 13 Investigates she would provide a response. So far, the PR firm has not contacted WTHR with any further information.