DOGS chase sticks - that’s what they do. But in the case of Cooper, the cocker spaniel, it nearly cost him his life as well as landing his owner with a whopping £10,000 vet’s bill.

Christina McIntyre is now highlighting Cooper’s story as a warning to animal lovers about the importance of having robust pet insurance.

The “nightmare” began when Christina, who lives in Darlington, noticed that 20-months-old Cooper wasn’t his normal bouncy, happy self after she’d taken him for his evening walk.

At first, she suspected he had a gastric bug but, when matters took a turn for the worse, she took him to The Darlington Vet Clinic to be checked over.

“He just wasn’t right – he kept wanting to sleep by the front door, as if he was hot, and he was making a horrible, strange noise,” said Christina.

The Northern Echo: The stick that caused all the trouble. Picture: Peter BarronThe stick that caused all the trouble. Picture: Peter Barron

Over three consecutive days at the vet’s, Cooper had injections, was put on painkillers and antibiotics, and had bloods tests. But, with his condition worsening, he had an x-ray and was sent to veterinary specialists, Wear Referrals, at Bradbury, near Sedgefield.

A CT scan showed that something had gone through his stomach and into his chest, leading to an emergency operation lasting six and a half hours.

Surgeon Mark Gosling discovered that Cooper had swallowed a six-inch stick that had pierced his diaphragm and damaged one of his lungs.

“It was touch and go whether he was going to make it,” said Christina, a mum of three grown-up children who lives on her own. “It was a living nightmare because he’s my companion – my best friend – so I just had to tell them to do whatever was necessary.”

An abscess had formed over the hole in the diaphragm and poor Cooper had to have his breastbone split in order to remove the stick before being stitched back up.

The pedigree working cocker, bought from a breeder in Chester-le-Street, remained in a high-dependency unit for two days and spent another four days on the “ward” before Christina was allowed to take him home.

The Northern Echo: Cooper shows off his stitchesCooper shows off his stitches

Stapled from his neck to his groin, he’s on all kinds of medication and Christina has had to make up a bed downstairs so she can sleep alongside him to stop him becoming agitated through the night.

“It’s been a horrendous time but I’ve had lots of practical help from friends and he’s doing great now,” said Christina.

“The surgeon was an absolute magician. Cooper’s the unluckiest dog in the world, as well as the bravest, and I’m the luckiest owner alive that they were able to save him.”

However, Christina, who works in a drugs and alcohol recovery team, supporting young people with addictions, is now having to face up to the harsh financial reality of what’s happened. Having taken out pet insurance for up to £2,000, she’s had to launch a crowdfunding appeal to help her pay a vet’s bill of nearly £10,000.

“You’d imagine that £2,000 would be enough to cover most things but then something like this happens that completely wipes you out,” she said. “It’s a salutary lesson for anyone with a dog not to skimp on the insurance – and to be aware of the dangers of sticks!”

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