Meet 'Dexter' the luckiest dog in UK, who survived a 230ft cliff fall

Lucky Dexter and his owner Mark Harris
Meet Dexter - the luckiest dog in the UK - who recently survived a 230ft fall down a cliff in Cornwall.  After his harrowing experience, his grateful owner Mark shared with us his heart warming story of Dexter's rescue in a bid to educate other dog owners about the importance of dogs wearing leads.

Make sure you have a tissue handy before you start reading...

Having parked at the beach car park in Portreath I got myself kitted up to go on a 15km walk along the coastal path and then returning inland to return to the car via the fields and inland streams.  On this occasion Dexter (my springer spaniel) and I only managed to get 1km from the Portreath beach.

We climbed what must have been some 80m and then reached the plateau on the top of the cliffs.  We were 20 meters from the cliff edge and Dexter’s recall is so good, I considered the risk of the cliff quite low.  However I never took into account what he would do if a large bird flew up in front of him and disappeared over the edge of the cliff.  With hindsight Dexter should have been on a lead because the sight of such a bird allowed for a red mist to descend over Dexter and he careered straight after it.  All my calling and shouting in that very instant could not stop what happened next . . . .Dexter disappeared over the edge of the cliff!

Dexter lying on the beach below the cliffs
In blind panic, I ran to the cliff's edge hoping that there would be a ledge but there was a sheer drop of over 70 meters to the beach below. Dexter’s body was lying on the beach at the bottom of the cliffs sprawled and unmoving.  The feelings are hard to describe.  My heart felt so heavy at the realisation of what had just happened.  My Dexter, my unquestioning best mate who I had brought up from being 8 weeks old had ended his life in a split second rush to the brain in the hope of “bringing up” a bird (ultimately doing what he was trained to do).  He had had a tough introduction to life as he had a detached retina in his left eye and therefore no visibility.  His life ended far too soon!

Knelt on the soft grass at the top of this cliff, I was lost as to what to do next.  I called my parents and I was ready to walk back to the car but they said that his body had to be recovered and to call 999.  Immediately I felt so irresponsible to even have to make the call to the emergency services for what was completely my fault.  I took a photo of him lying motionless on the beach as I needed something to cling on to and remind me of my idiocy of not following the code of walking dogs along the cliffs.

I was just about to call 999 when there was movement from below.  First Dexter’s head moved a little.  Then he raised himself up on his front legs and the back legs followed. His hind quarters looked very weak and shaky.  He walked slowly towards the sea and the wash lapped over his paws.  He walked back towards the base of the cliffs and curled up on the sand.  I truly thought this is where he had chosen to end everything.  I thought he must have been in such pain.  

I called 999 and was connected to HM Coastguard.  The operator managed to pin point my location through my mobile phone and he assured me someone would be there shortly.

Dexter had not moved.  The Coastguard arrived within 20 minutes - quite an incredible response time.  There must have been 10 of the team on site in this super quick time - ashamedly all for me and Dexter.  They got me back from the cliff’s edge and took control.  They placed anchors at the top of the cliff and with lines attached and a pair of binoculars looked down at the beach below.  One of the team ran towards me and asked how close Dexter had been to the base of the cliff.  He had been about 1.5m away and he said the good news was that it looked like he had moved right up close to the base of the cliff. The words that are imprinted in my mind were “there is still hope”.

Due to the height of the cliffs and more so their unsafe and crumbly nature, the coastguard decided to call the RNLI boat from St Agnes to ride up onto the beach and pick Dexter up.  I was driven down to the harbour at Portreath to take Dexter and if still alive and get him straight to the vets.

I had a vet in Truro ready to receive Dexter and with the post code programmed into my satnav, I waited with Colin and Mark from the Coastguard at the harbour.  News came over the radio that I would have to be collected and taken to the beach because Dexter was not allowing the RNLI team to collect him.  Then word came through that they had him and the next thing I see is a small high powered dinghy approaching between the harbour walls at Portreath and as the dinghy hit the sand on the beach, one of the crew jumped out followed by Dexter on a lead!  How did he manage this?

Dexter photographed after his rescue
Dexter was clearly in shock and disoriented as he did not really notice me.  He did eventually trot over to me.  Immediately I could see that his bad eye was in really bad shape, he had a nose bleed and some scratches/bruising.  Other than this from external inspection, he seemed much better than I had ever thought possible.  I carried him straight to the back of the car and placed him in his crate and placed a towel over him.  Colin and Mark bid me farewell and Godspeed to the vets.

We arrived at Clifton Villa Veterinary Clinic only to be greeted by 4 vets who ran out to the car when they saw me arrive.  Dexter was carried into the surgery in his crate.  I explained what happened and they took my details and I left Dexter in their capable hands.  I am not sure what was more difficult for them, dealing with Dexter or the wreck of the owner?

There followed the worst 36 hours I can recall in my life.  I arrived back at the cottage where I had been staying.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I felt shattered and drained but just could not stop thinking about Dexter.

Gemma from the vets called.  Dexter was comfortable and was under sedation and had pain killers administered.  The good news was that miraculously he had no broken bones.  Furthermore all his internal organs were fine . . . . apart from his lungs that had undergone quite severe bruising but it was not clear how much.  The plan was to monitor him overnight and see what a new X-ray in the morning would show.

The night of the accident whilst Dexter was in the vets was one of the longest nights I can remember.  I had decided to take Dexter back to my vets in Cheltenham, where they know him and I had better facilities at home to look after him if he made it that far.  I had all my bags packed and the car ready to go. In the morning I had no appetite to eat anything.  I cooked off some bacon and took one bite and was almost immediately sick.  Tea was the only restorative.  I got a bed ready for Dexter in his crate on the back seat of the car in readiness to drive him the 4 hours up the motorway to Dragon Vets in Cheltenham.  I hoped he had got through the night - it was time to have positive thoughts.

I arrived at the vets and saw the senior vet Ruth who took me through to see Dexter.  My main concern was that he had had such a shock and perhaps a bang to the head that he would not remember who I was.  I had a tennis ball in my back pocket (his favourite toy). I walked in and although the tail did not wag, there was recognition.  He looked bedraggled and was covered in patches of blood where he had ripped out his catheter.  Ruth felt that he would be OK to make the journey and would issue a few more pain killers.  When ready to move to the car, I went to the kennels and Dexter was on a lead scrambling to get out!  I lifted him into the back of the car and his breathing was really laboured.  He looked alert but also pretty sorry for himself.

We then started the drive up to Cheltenham.  Simply having him with me in the back of the car was a huge comfort and I immediately calmed down.  Whatever happened from now on in, Dexter was with me and I had more control.  

After being on the road for 30 minutes, Dexter’s breathing calmed and he had good periods of sleep.  Being in his crate, in the car, with classic fm must have felt a little more normal to him.

Arriving at Dragon Vets I carried Dexter in and he laid on the floor.  He looked relatively alert but had little strength in his limbs.  I had left the paperwork from the Truro vets in the car.  One of the receptionists sat with Dexter and he lifted his head and looked at me as I went.  There looked like an element of panic in his eye.  When I returned he stood up and walked towards me with his tail gently wagging.  He knew who I was for sure, so no further worries about him not knowing who I was.

I left Dex with the Dragon Vets team and within an hour I had had a call to say that the X-ray had shown positive results and the lung was looking better than the previous X-ray had done.  They were therefore going to operate and remove Dexter’s bad eye.  Two hours later and I received the amazing news that Dexter had made it through the operation and was recovering well.

I picked up a sore and disoriented Dexter at 18:30hrs that evening along with a selection of drugs.  I bedded him down on an old duvet in his room at home and he slept soundly through the night. Although not through the ordeal as yet, as there were a few minor complications Dexter has come an awfully long way from the unmoving springer lying at the bottom of that 230 foot cliff.

If he isn’t the luckiest dog in the world, I don’t know one that could be!

What have I learnt?  

That no one should ever walk a dog near cliffs off a lead however well trained you think they are. 

That our emergency services are incredible people.  The drive, professionalism, team work and dedication is humbling.

As I write this report, I can confirm that Dexter is improving and growing stronger by the day.  We will return to Cornwall in the near future and I can guarantee he will most definitely be on a lead!

Dogs love adventure and they can easily get into trouble at the coast. They can slip down cliffs and steep places while exploring and they can’t always make their way up again. If they do, don’t try to rescue them – they often come back safe and well on their own but you might not.

  • Always keep your dog on a lead near cliffs.

  • Don’t try to rescue a dog if it is being swept out to sea. You’re likely to get into difficulty yourself.

  • If your dog gets into trouble, call 999 for the Coastguard.

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