Park Specialist Saves Dog’s Life

By Jodie Delsere | Posted on July 15, 2020

John Phelps 410

It was a beautiful June day for 7-year-old Lily Standafer to enjoy at Volunteer Park in Springfield, Oregon. She brought along her best friends, Harley the Boxer and Cosmo the Boston Terrier. One moment the group was romping around in the grassy field while Standafer’s grandmother, Morgan Blake, looked on. The next moment, Harley was on the ground, and he wasn’t breathing.

“It was overwhelming. He just fell over, and he wasn’t breathing, and it was the one time I didn’t bring my phone with me,” Blake said.

The park was relatively empty, with just a few kids playing nearby and a staff member on a lawnmower about 50 yards away. Blake called out for help, and as she gently shook Harley in an attempt to revive him, the kids playing nearby caught the attention of John Phelps, a Park Specialist with Willamalane Park and Recreation District.

“They were yelling, ‘lawnmower man, lawnmower man!’ They seemed very excited, so I took off my ear protection and saw the activity across the way,” Phelps said.

Phelps hopped off his mower and rushed across the field toward Blake. As he approached, he saw 7-year-old Boxer, Harley, lying unresponsive on the grass, with little Cosmo running in circles around him.

Phelps sent Blake, Standafer and Cosmo to retrieve their vehicle and bring it on to the grassy field. Alone with Harley, Phelps recalled his skills from his 25 years as a paramedic as he evaluated the dog’s condition.

“I checked for a pulse, and I noticed that Harley wasn’t breathing. So I started doing compressions on him,” he said. Eight chest compressions later, Harley opened his eyes and began to move.

“By the time I got back with the car, John had Harley standing up,” Blake said.

Working together, Phelps and Blake helped Harley into the car and took him straight to an emergency veterinary hospital. The veterinarian confirmed that Harley had undergone a major cardiac event, and without Phelps’ speedy action, it was unlikely that Harley would have survived.

“They went up to Oregon State University to have some tests done, and they found that Harley does have an arrhythmia,” Phelps said. “He’s now an 8-year-old Boxer and they have a lifespan of about 10-12 years.” The veterinary school there said that arrhythmia is a common condition in Boxer dogs.

Phelps’ story of heroism served as an inspiration for everyone who works at Willamalane. His director, Eric Adams, said that amid the challenges presented by COVID-19, the story “restored our faith in humanity. It was the story we needed to hear and a reminder of the impact we all have on our community.”

At the July Willamalane Board of Directors meeting, Adams presented Phelps with a prestigious Special Commendation Award — marking only the second time the award has ever been given. Blake, Standafer, Harley and Cosmo were all in attendance.

Phelps remains humble about the whole affair, calling it an instance of being in the right place at the right time. “In my 25 years of being a paramedic, I’ve done plenty of CPR and rescues, but I’ve never saved a dog. I’m just grateful their family member is alive with them today,” he said.

Today, Harley is on heart medicine but is otherwise healthy and happy. Blake says that Harley will enjoy playing again when the weather is a bit cooler. Until then, he can enjoy all the cuddles he can handle from Standafer and Blake.

Jodie Delsere is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for Willamalane Park and Recreation District.