Updated: Aug 29
One thing I rarely thought about as my dogs guardian was what I would do in an emergency. I have done the obligatory dog first aid courses as part and parcel of a career looking after dogs and as a trainer. But I’d never properly planned or practiced first aid on my own dog, Kipper. That all changed when he had an accident on 13th October 2021 when Kipper was 4 years old.
Kipper and I went on holiday to Orkney to visit a friend, Gordon, who we hadn’t seen for nearly a year. We were having a great time exploring the different sights to see like Holm Wood, the ship wrecks at Scapa Flow, and the remains of structures from the world wars at Hoxa Head.
At Hoxa Head. This picture was taken 5 minutes before Kippers accident.
These Hoxa head structures were made up of places soldiers would have fired weapons from, accommodation camps and other war type building things. Some of the structures were bored into the ground like hobbit holes and had paths leading into them that were cut into the hills. There was a fence surrounding the structures near the cliffs that were also there. After going through the fence separating us from the cliffs, I let Kipper off lead to run. I didn’t give a second thought to the possibility there might be other high drops leading to the entrances to the other hobbit structures dotted about the landscape.
This was taken a couple of minutes before Kipper fell. It shows him running through the grass. When he fell he was quite close to me and neither of us noticed the narrow gorge hidden by the grass.
It was on our last evening on Orkney, in the last few minutes of exploring Hoxa Head, that Kipper fell. There was a 12ish foot drop about 3 meters in front of me that we didn't see. Kipper went to do some mad running which he enjoys and after a few leaps I saw him put on the brakes before disappearing from view. Time seemed to stop as I realised what must have happened and took the few steps to see the narrow path cut into the hill which now had Kipper at the bottom. Then Kipper screamed. Although Gordon said I screamed first, I don’t remember that. In my desperation to get to him, I went over my ankle and for a split second that was agony. I remember screaming then in pain and terror. But then Gordon, who works on Orkney doing wildlife surveys so is an expert at walking on the uneven and hilly ground, had picked Kipper up and carried him to me. It was obvious Kip had a broken leg. Gordon laid him on the ground beside me. I didn't know what to do. Both Gordon and I were slightly panicking. I was trying to stand on my injured ankle fighting the urge to scream again and Gordon kept repeating something like “oh no, oh no, oh no” in a high pitched, breathless voice. I’ve never seen Gordon so panicky before. Seeing Kipper’s broken leg and the pain in his face and hearing Gordon upset, I tried to kick my brain into gear about what I remember in my dog first aid training. I remembered something about splints and Gordon brought a pencil, fork and some other straight thing out his rucksack. Then we tried to find items of clothing, like the hat I had on, to secure it to his leg but couldn’t think how to do it and didn’t want to touch the leg in case I did something wrong. And I was also remembering about the dangers of shock and internal injuries. Gordon phoned the local vets who were still open; it was about half five-ish on a Thursday evening. They said just to bring him straight in so we abandoned the idea of wrapping the leg up and we just picked him up and carried him to the car. Gordon carried him most of the way. But although he is only 14Kg he felt so much heavier to lift than normal. So we took turns carrying him to the car. And on the way I am trying to think that I know coats can be turned into good stretchers but couldn’t think how to do it. And I was trying to keep my breathing calm and voice steady to best reassure Kipper that “we are going to the car, then uncle Gordon will drive you to the vets, then they will make you feel better”.
Here you can see Gordon standing in a similar gorge to the one Kipper fell in. Except this one is wider and not as deep.
It was a 10 minute walk to the car I think. Although it seemed much longer at the time. Then a half hour drive to the vets. Kipper mostly sat and stared out of the window. I alternated between breathing calmly and trying to say comforting things to Kipper and crying with worry because I had actually no clue on how to help his broken leg and if he had more severe injuries I couldn't see.
Once we were at the vets the vet and nurses were great. Kipper immediately got pain relief and drifted off to sleep they treated Kipper and me so kindly and were expert at being reassuring. He got an x-ray and he's broke his radius and ulna in a diagonal, craggy angle. No sign of shock or any internal injuries. From the height of the fall, I am really so grateful it wasn’t worse than it was.
Kipper had to stay in overnight at the vets in Orkney. We hadn’t spent a night apart since I got him 3 years ago. But the vets said they mere giving him methadone so I knew he would be pretty out of it. Joking that he would become ‘methadone Mick’ (a Still Game reference) helped keep my spirits up that night.
The next morning, I was in pain too as my ankle had swollen and looked bruised. I could wiggle my toes and mostly bear weight on it. We had a long way to travel back to Dundee so I was ignoring that problem as much as I could. I picked Kipper up from the vets at 9.30am. He looked tired, confused and I noticed that he didn’t smell like his usual doggy self. Gordon then drove us the 30 minute car journey to the ferry. We had to drive slowly as there are some serious country roads on Orkney. Getting on the ferry was a bit of an ordeal. Gordon was allowed to drive onto the ferry and drop us off at the disabled bit were there was a lift. From there I carried him to the dog deck. Then an hour on the ferry which was relatively calm. Kipper only tried to get up once when it got a bit choppy but mostly, he was lying beside me calmly.
On the ferry beside me
Getting off the ferry was more difficult as it was just me and him now. I managed to get him to the deck. From there, one of the ferry workers carried Kipper and my rucksack to the car.
Once me and Kipper were back in our car, he travelled in relative comfort there. He has a comfy fabric crate that takes up the back seats and we spend a lot of time just chilling in the car so our journey back wasn’t too bad. But the car journey did last 6 hours. I stopped once for petrol and once to give Kipper more painkillers. I was really glad about the time I’ve put in with Kipper with him practicing taking tablets. As the tablets I gave him were barely wrapped up in ham and he ate them anyway.
When we arrived in Dundee, Kipper went straight to his local vets. The surgeon met us there and he was great at putting my mind at ease. As it was 7pm by this time, Kipper spent the night at the vets. The next day he had surgery to fit a metal plate in his leg to straighten it out. And he spent another night at the vets.
I picked him up the next day (which is the day I am writing this). The vet put my mind at ease that, because there were no bones poking through the skin, that just getting to them as quickly as possible was the only thing I could really do in that situation. I was given painkillers for him and he has a stooky on that looks very nice with Halloween stickers on it and he can move about very fast; faster than me with my still sore and swollen ankle! He is also acting very much like himself, albeit acting very sorry for himself. Which is totally understandable. We are looking at about 8 weeks for him to recover. These weeks will pass with his favourite dinners getting cooked, fun and easy training games and adventures in a dog buggy that I’ve ordered for his recovery.
Since it happened, I have been going over everything I should have done or known. I have done at least 3 dog first aid courses over the years. But I now realise I don’t know enough. I will now be doing another one ASAP, practicing often and incorporating the important points from it into my classes. I am even considering adding a dog first aid course into the list of classes I offer. I can’t change what has happened but I can better help prepare and prevent something like this happening again to myself and others!
EDIT: I now run Dog First Aid workshops online and all over Scotland. See the link for the date/time of the next workshops