No insurance? You’re barking!
Monday, 30 November -0001

No insurance? You’re barking!

Only mad dogs and Englishmen don’t have pet insurance, Dominic Prince discovers on a near disastrous holiday in Cornwall

I’d been invited to stay in Cornwall by friends for two reasons. The first, a 40th birthday celebration; the second, to do a bit of rough shooting of woodcock – hence the need to bring Billy, my cocker spaniel, to collect whatever quarry we might kill.

Post-birthday lunch on the Monday, we were headed for an expanse of beach named Church Cove in the hamlet of Gunwalloe. I can thoroughly recommend it, but whatever you do, don’t take a dog with you. The church at the head of the beach is a stunner, and the ancient graveyard is still taking paying customers. Airmen from the war are buried there, as well as two child evacuees from London (blown up by a mine on the beach).

We walked on down to the beach, and Billy decided to go for a swim. Having shaken the excess water from his coat, he was overtaken by a suicidal bout of canine madness. Up the cli‘ path he ran, higher and higher, and then, having surveyed the horizon, he came belting towards the edge of the cli‘ and a huge leap some 40 feet down on to the beach below. I didn’t need a crystal ball to  gure out what the outcome would be. A terrible howl went up, and Billy’s left paw was pointed skywards. Not a good start to the holiday – and worse was to come.

A group of kindly builders who were working on the church interior and had seen the entire ghastly episode dashed on to the beach, picked up the bits and pieces of Billy and lay him in the back of the car. I say kindly, but on the way to the car, one of the builders turned to me and said, ‘If you don’t mind me saying, mate, it was a stupid thing to let your dog do.’ I did mind, I wasn’t his mate and I hadn’t encouraged the half-witted canine to go to the top of the cli‘ – or jump o‘ it when he got there.

We were now headed for the vet in nearby Helford – a pretty stressful experience, with a dog wailing in the back of the car and a nurse, on our arrival, ordering a ‘dog stretcher’. In the end, I bundled Billy into my arms and marched him into the surgery myself. After  lling in forms and agreeing to a general anaesthetic so the dog could be X-rayed and the dislocated joint in his left leg pulled back into place, we set o‘ for some woodcock shooting – minus the dog that was supposed to pick up the quarry.

Three hours later, and a bad call came through. Billy would need an operation and was booked into an orthopaedic dog hospital in Exeter for the following morning. The prospect of the 200-mile round trip, mid holiday, was not appealing, and the £2,000 required for the op even less so, as Billy was not insured.

But further research was needed before Billy went under the knife. Dog lovers and canine experts warned against the operation, saying that the leg would probably mend if it was kept in a splint – and even the vet said there was no guarantee the operation would work.

Nevertheless, the following morning I set o‘ for Exeter, with Billy in a splint. Halfway there, Rose, my wife, rang from London to say the mother of a friend was a vet in Liskeard and the practice had just taken on an orthopaedic surgeon. Liskeard being only a 90-mile round trip, we plumped for that and cancelled Exeter.

We entered the surgery, X-rays in hand, and after a short examination at which another operation, and yet more cost, was recommended (this time taking a lump of bone from Billy’s shoulder and implanting it in the joint), we left Billy in overnight for observation and drove back to Helford for lunch. En route I rang to say I didn’t want my dog operated on – the thought of two open wounds prone to infection was too much. Result: disgruntled (millionaire) vet.

Having had a very good lunch, we were about to walk home when the Liskeard vet rang to say Billy was in some distress and had to be collected immediately. I had drunk a bottle of wine over lunch and was feeling jolly but not mad enough to risk driving 90 miles to collect a suicidal dog. My friends rang the surgery back in a fury and pointed out that they had been willing to keep him when an operation looked likely but not happy when it didn’t. They relented; we could collect Billy in the morning.

I did, and drove him back to London, where, three weeks later, he remains in his splint. There appears to be little pain, even though he is lame. He is happy, and time will tell whether he recovers fully. I think he will.

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