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.

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

“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.

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

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.

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!”

IT’S an alarming stastic that a man dies every hour from prostate cancer in the UK – so well done to Darlington Lions Club for trying to do something about it.

On Saturday, May 16, between 11am and 4pm, the club is staging a free event at the Freemasons Hall in Upper Archer Street to give men over the 40 the chance to have a simple prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) test.

The driving force behind the event is club president Neil Anderson, who had seen the success of similar events organised by other branches of the Lions Club.

It costs £15 for every PSA test so the Darlington club is appealing for financial support to avoid it having to rely on its own charity reserves. Letters have been sent to more than 500 businesses, asking them to promote the event, and seeking support.

The tests will be administered by retired eurologist David Baxter-Smith, with nurses from Darlington Memorial Hospital and Marie Curie giving the services for free.

Denis Pinnegar, a director of Darlington Lions, said: “We are hoping that between 700 and 1,000 men turn up so it could potentially cost up to £15,000 but we think it’s so important that we are willing to do whatever it takes.”

Anyone interested in supporting the event should call 01325 401113. To register go to

AMONG the audience for a speaking engagement at Tursdale and Hett Women’s Institute in deepest County Durham the other night was Anne Heywood, formerly chapter steward and press officer at Durham Cathedral.

Anne recalled the time a senior guide was taking a group of American teenagers round the cathedral.

“They were obviously over-cultured and appeared very bored, so the guide was desperate to do something to attract their attention,” said Anne.

The guide pointed to the metal rings in the ceiling and explained they were used by vergers to swing from side to side in a basket, on ropes, brandishing feather dusters.

There was still no response, so their teacher encouraged someone to ask a question. Eventually, a reluctant hand went up. “Did they have to be virgins?” asked one of the pupils.

ANNA Smith, who gave the vote of thanks in Hett Village Hall, remembered teaching home economics in the early 1990s and adjudicating at a GCSE exam in Sacriston.

The theme was “food for a party” and one girl was being very ambitious by attempting to make brandy snaps, which requires particularly delicate skills.

Mrs Smith was impressed by the girl’s progress. The cream was nicely whipped, and wooden spoons had been lightly greased, ready to wrap the brandy snaps round and give them their shape. Part of her job was to sample the pupils’ work and she was rather looking forward to this one.

That was until she glanced behind her to see that the girl had dolloped the cream on the end of the first brandy snap and was proceeding to blow it through the tube as if she were playing a trumpet.

“I didn’t fancy trying them so much after that,” she said.

FINALLY, Tursdale and Hett WI president Sheila Swainston had us all thinking by announcing that she’d been left baffled by a snatch of conversation she’d overheard between two women on the bus: “Well, it ruined the fish slice!” said one to the other.

“I’m desperate to know what it was,” said Sheila.

Can you help solve the mystery? Suggestions most welcome.