A campaign to stop anglers leaving discarded hooks at popular fishing spots has been started by a Bolton-le-Sands woman after her eight-year-old dog needed an emergency operation to save his life.
The drama unfolded as Helen Soutar and her eight-year-old Labradoodle, Dylan, walked along the western shoreline of Grasmere.
Approaching the lake she let Dylan off the lead so he could go down to the water for a paddle.
Moments later, a competitor in The Ambleside Trail run shouted to Helen that her dog was in difficulty.
The runner, who could see Dylan was eating a fishing line and a fishing hook with some dead fish attached, swiftly called Oakhill Vets in Windermere to put them on standby while Helen kept Dylan calm.
After a tortuous walk back to the main road with Dylan, Helen managed to flag down a passing car.
The bemused holidaymakers from London leapt into action to help and drove her back to her car so she could get Dylan to the vet in Windermere.
Sedation and x-rays revealed Dylan had swallowed a three-barbed pike hook and fishing line, lodged in his oesophagus, which prompted three-hour lifesaving surgery.
Helen said: “Leaving Dylan at the vets and travelling home without him was one of the most distressing things I have ever experienced. This dog is my best friend and the centre of my universe.”
At 9.45pm the vet rang to say he had removed the hook and line and flushed through the dead fish remains.
Thankfully, Dylan has made a good recovery, remaining infection-free, and has now had his stitches removed at Burch Tree Vets in Carnforth.
Helen added: “Thanks to Matthew Stables’ amazing surgical skills and the care of the whole team at Oakhill Veterinary Practice in Windermere and the continuing care by Henry Newell at Burch Tree Vets in Carnforth, Dylan has made a good recovery.
“I cannot praise Oakhill Vets nor thank them enough for being there and acting so quickly on that Sunday evening.”
The trauma of this distressing incident will stay with Helen for a very long time.
And this has been compounded by the knowledge that these incidents are not uncommon.
Both vets reported they had operated on other dogs who had swallowed fish hooks this year – one with a hook eaten at exactly the same spot as Dylan and the other in the Morecambe area where the hook ended up being perilously close to the dog’s heart.
They also said wild birds, swans and otters were being injured and killed by discarded fishing tackle and both vets had been asked in recent years to save swans and other wildfowl who have ingested fishing hooks.
Dylan’s ordeal has prompted Matthew, Henry and Helen to raise public awareness and appeal to anglers not to leave fishing hooks and lines behind after a day’s fishing.
Helen said: “Clearly accidents can happen but as this is becoming more prevalent and Dylan isn’t the first and won’t be the last dog to have this brush with death.
“I feel strongly that we need to speak out and appeal to anglers to please be more careful.
“I am certainly not saying that all anglers are careless, but clearly a minority are not being fastidious enough when packing up at the end of their day’s fishing.”
This view was echoed by both Matthew and Henry.
Henry added: “I feel it is important to raise the issues and concerns over the significant damages and threat to life that discarded fish hooks can cause to both wildlife and pets in the area.
“This is an important issue as, though it may seem a minor issue to discard a fish hook, the consequences can be very significant for pets, owners and wildlife.
“I had a case recently in which a spaniel was at significant risk of death following ingestion of a hook that became lodged in the oesophagus (the food pipe), right next to the largest artery in the body, meaning any sudden movement could lead to catastrophic consequences.
“Luckily in this case the owner was insured and therefore the insurance was able to cover most costs of the extensive and risky lifesaving surgery.
“In this case the risks of surgery were very high considering the location of the hook, and removal had to be done via open chest surgery while the patient was on a life support breathing system to keep her alive.
“Fortunately the surgery was successful and the patient made a full recovery.
“This appears to be a growing issue, especially in the Morecambe and Heysham area.”