Scare for Skippy inspired Swanage’s new animal ambulance

A new 24 hour pet ambulance service has been launched in Purbeck by Swanage woman Charlotte Walker after her boxer dog Skippy nearly died in a late night emergency.

Skippy was struck down by bloat, an often fatal condition, on a Sunday evening in January and to save his life Charlotte had to get him to an emergency vet appointment in Dorchester.


Skippy the boxer is back out and enjoying life after his close call

Already a talking point on Purbeck roads

Although she had a car and managed to make the 45 minute journey – knowing that dogs can die within 20 minutes of showing symptoms – the near miss made her determined that no other family should have a similar experience.

A year on, Charlotte has taken on the Purbeck franchise for Animals At Home, a national company which offers animal ambulance and pet taxi facilities alongside dog walking, pet boarding and feeding, house sitting and pet cremation services.

With a fully equipped pet ambulance, approved by the relevant Government departments, Charlotte is working alongside local vets to help wherever she can – and has already become a talking point on Purbeck roads.

Her animal ambulance has the same livery and colours as human ambulances, although it is fitted with an orange light as a warning sign rather than blue lights.

Charlotte’s new animal ambulance is already turning heads in Swanage

Fully approved emergency vehicle

Charlotte Walker said:

“From the outside, the vehicle looks like a human ambulance, which can cause a few strange looks, but it is fully approved by DVLA as an emergency vehicle and has safety approval from Defra too.

“There are two stainless steel cages in the vehicle, so should there be an accident, God forbid, everybody is safe.

“Knowing the lack of veterinary care services locally and the rural nature of Dorset, I want to provide a service that can help people and their pets in their time of need, whether they are residents or visitors on holiday here.

“People are already booking home sitting for the summer months, so they are planning ahead which is good – this is an area for visitors and I can help if they want to go off to an event which doesn’t allow dogs like Abbotsbury Swannery, or to a show.

“I can even be a chaperone for their pets at a wedding or provide a crematorium service when the time comes to say goodbye to a beloved member of the family, as there is quite often not the transport available to do that.”


Approved by Defra and the DVLA and fully equipped for any situation

Retrained in animal health and behaviour

Charlotte, who took a degree in environment pollution science and physical geography, has since retrained in animal health and behaviour when she realised her true calling in life.

And she took the final decision to commit to the Animals At Home franchise when Skippy became seriously ill and she had to make some difficult, instant decisions to save his life.


Charlotte knew that something was wrong when Skippy began acting strangely

“My heart sank”

Charlotte Walker said:

“I noticed that Skippy was acting strangely, sitting bolt upright and facing walls, then took himself off to bed – with hindsight I think he was going there to die.

“I had this feeling that I couldn’t let him go to bed. I got him to stand and noticed his waist was like a barrel, his stomach was swollen like a balloon full of air. My heart sank.

“As it was a Sunday evening I called the nearest vet practice and was transferred to the emergency service helpline. They confirmed my suspicions – a gastric torsion, more commonly known as bloat, an extremely serious condition which is fatal if not treated.

“Worst of all, Swanage was at least a 45 minute car drive from the nearest vet surgery that was open and dogs can die within 20 minutes from starting to swell.”


Like nothing was ever wrong – Skippy is back to full health and loving life

“Those ‘What Ifs’ haunted me”

Charlotte added:

“I was lucky and had a car, but a few hours earlier I had fallen and twisted my ankle, which was swollen like a balloon and causing horrendous pain.

“When I was driving through the pitch black countryside roads of Dorset, worrying if a deer would jump out at us, I talked to Skippy telling him to hang on and I pondered the ‘what ifs’ – what if I didn’t have a car, or I couldn’t drive?

“What if my ankle had been too bad to drive? What if I had no one else to drive me, or was too distressed to drive? Those what ifs haunted me and I realised just how much a rural area like Purbeck needs an animal ambulance.

“It’s difficult to find vet coverage in Swanage – there’s a national shortage of vets, that’s the problem, and Purbeck is suffering like everywhere else.

“I’m speaking to all the vets in the local area so that they are aware of me and I can work with them – emergencies so often happen when everything is closed, but I can help prevent what happened to me from happening to other people.”


Charlotte is pictured with her qualification certificate for driving the animal ambulance

Contact details in vets’ offices

Skippy was saved with minutes to spare and although his stomach did twist while he was on the operating table, the veterinary surgeon was able to address and fix the problem.

Skippy now acts as though nothing ever happened and shares the family home with 15 year old cat Smeg, who was rescued by Charlotte as a kitten when she found him trapped inside a fridge which had been sent for recycling.

Charlotte says that the two pets have taught her what strong needs people have for their animal companions and how important emergency support is, especially in more rural areas.

Her business details will start appearing in vets’ offices in Swanage, Wareham, Upton and Wool in the coming weeks, and she can also be contacted through the parent company’s website.


Smeg and Skippy chill at Charlotte’s Swanage home

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