Robbie and owner Gill receive his PDSA Pet Survivor trophy from Vet and TV Presenter Steve Leonard

About PDSA Pet Survivor

In October, alongside the Sunday Express, we launched our nationwide search for the PDSA Pet Survivor of 2013: the pet that has faced the worst injury or illness – yet lived to tell the tail. After receiving an overwhelming number of extraordinary stories a panel of judges, including TV vet Steve Leonard, pet lover and Atomic Kitten star Liz McClarnon, and PDSA vets, shortlisted six miracle pets to take part in a public vote.
Pet lovers throughout the UK voted in droves for their favourite story of death-defying survival against all the odds and today we can announce that the winner of the title PDSA Pet Survivor of 2013 is courageous cat Robbie, from Croydon.

Robbie survived terrible burns after sheltering in an abandoned sofa that was later set on fire – with the poor cat still inside.

The Pet Survivor Award recognises Robbie’s sheer determination to pull through against all the odds, as well as his owner’s devotion to his care and the dedication of the vet team, who provided his life-saving treatment.

Robbie was nominated for the competition by his now owner, Gill Smith (54), a retired police officer from South Croydon. Gill took the kitten in after his fire ordeal so he would have a safe ‘forever home’. Robbie was just six-months-old and thought to be a stray when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Warning: the stories below contain images which some may find upsetting


Robbie the cat
Robbie suffered horrific burns, but stunned everyone with his survival spirit and patient nature

Pet Survivor Award winner - Robbie

Stray kitten Robbie trapped in sofa inferno
Age: 6 months (at time of injury)
Location: Herne Bay and Croydon

Looking for a dry bed for the night little stray Robbie managed to find himself a very comfy spot inside an abandoned sofa. Sometime later his sweet retreat became a raging inferno with Robbie still inside.

Robbie was rushed to nearby Broadway Vets with severe burns to his face, head, legs and paws. Principal Vet Sarah Platt said: “Robbie was in shock when he arrived and needed intensive care. He stayed with us for six months during which time he had two skin grafts and daily dressing changes. One of his back legs also had to be amputated. But Robbie always loved attention even when he was critically ill, very few animals could have coped the way he did.”

Despite the pain and discomfort, Robbie was very tolerant and patient as he received thousands of pounds worth of treatment to put him back on all-fours. Incredibly, much of this was paid for by the local community after the vet practice published appeals in the local paper.

Gill was visiting Herne Bay when she saw Robbie’s story in the local press and joined in the fundraising activities to finance his treatment. She visited him regularly, despite living some distance away and, when no owner came forward, she offered Robbie a home for life.

PDSA Vet Elaine Pendlebury said: “Robbie is a truly inspiring story for us all. He coped so well with his pain and suffering and fought back against severe injuries that not all pets would have overcome.”

Pet Survivor Judge Liz McClarnon, said she found the judging of the six finalists almost impossible as all touched her heart: “When I read Robbie’s story I thought what a beautiful and brave feline he is. To be honest I cried reading his story.”

Vet and TV presenter Steve Leonard added: “All of the Pet Survivor stories made me very proud of my profession and grateful to work alongside such dedicated animal enthusiasts. Animals so often surprise us with their stoicism and tenacity, and there are so many lessons we could learn from them. Robbie’s is a horrific story, but has an amazing outcome with a great community effort.”

The competition finalists

One-year-old Robbie was up against five other incredible pet survivors in the competition plucky pets who are in the running for the title of PDSA Pet Survivor of 2013. Although Robbie romped away with the winner’s trophy, his two closest runners-up in the voting were:

Rex, the Border Collie who suffered severe head injuries after squeezing through a crossing gate and being hit by a train. Rex’s skull was shattered and he eventually had to have an eye removed but he still managed to wag his tail.

Will, a three-year-old Saluki-Lurcher cross who was found abandoned, starving and with a broken leg in the Yorkshire Dales. He had been there for around three-weeks before a group of walkers discovered him and the Upper Wharfdale Fell Rescue Association were able to bring him to safety.

PDSA would like to thank everyone who entered their incredible pets for the competition and everyone who voted for their favourite per survivor. All funds raised from the text votes will help PDSA provide treatment for the sick and injured pets in our care.

Watch the website for details of the PDSA Pet Survivor Awards 2014!

Rex the dog
Rex’s determined nature helped him to survive a collision with a train, which shattered his skull


Rex was hit by a train, shattering his skull
Age: 2
Location: Brough, East Riding

Playful Border Collie Rex was on a walk near his home and decided to race a train on the nearby track. Suddenly he disappeared from owner Philip Aberthany’s sight. He managed to squeeze through a crossing gate and, to Philip’s horror, was hit by the train and thrown onto the opposite tracks.

Rex was rushed to the vets with severe head injuries and with his left eye out of its socket; Vets at the Swanbridge Veterinary Hospital stabilised Rex but advised the distraught owners that he was unlikely to last the night. And even if he did there was a chance of permanent brain damage.

But when owner Caroline visited Rex at the surgery he managed to lift his head a little and wag his tail. “I left him with a blanket that I’d kept stuffed inside my jumper jumper all day, hoping the smell would comfort him,” said Caroline. “He looked so poorly but he was determined to hang on.”

Eventually Rex was strong enough for vets to operate: “His skull was in bits,” said John Levison, “His eye eventually had to be removed and all through his treatment Rex never growled or snapped once. We were amazed at the speed of his recovery.”

Now Rex is back on four paws he is due to visit local schools to highlight the dangers of straying onto train tracks.

PDSA Vet Elaine Pendlebury said: “I think that many other dogs would have died after being hit by a train. Rex must have been at death’s door and showed that ‘fighting spirit’ to overcome his life-threatening injuries. Rex’s bravery is truly an awe-inspiring story.”

Will the dog
Will is happy in his new home after his terrible ordeal on the Yorkshire Dales

Will (Wufra)

Lost in the Yorkshire Dales for three weeks with a broken leg
Age: 3
Location: Grassington, North Yorkshire

Starving, freezing cold and with a broken leg, Will, a Saluki/Lurcher cross, was saved from certain death when a group of walkers spotted him in the Yorkshire Dales. Vets believe he had been there for at least three weeks.

Brought to safety by Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association (who called him Wufra), Will had no known owner, so local dog lovers Brian and Helen Coates took him in, and rushed him straight to the Kingsway Veterinary Group practice.

Will had a shattered leg and weighed just 12kg, just half the weight he should have been. His internal organs had begun to shut down and at that stage he was closer to death than life: “Will arrived at our surgery in a terrible state,” said vet Tony Turnbull. “He was so severely underweight and dehydrated, we were worried he wouldn’t last the night. He needed a lot of intensive care, but he was a real little fighter and stunned us all with his determination to live.”

Finally, after three weeks and a 5kg weight gain, he was strong enough to undergo an operation to repair the fracture to his leg. Loving owner, Helen said: “I felt we had to give him a chance. He had come through so much and he was still hanging on to life, even though the odds were stacked against him. It’s so wonderful to have him here in his forever home in front of the fire, and that’s where he’s staying!”

Alan Scowcroft from UWFRA said: ”Wufra (Will) is extremely lucky to be alive and we’re very pleased that he is now making an excellent recovery. Our team is on call for emergencies 24/7 whether those requiring rescue have two legs or four.”

Pip the dog
Pip was crushed by a tractor wheel shattering her pelvis, hydrotherapy helped her recovery


Crushed by a tractor but sheepdog Pip fights back
Age: 1
Location: Blackburn

One hot afternoon, Blue Merle Border Collie Pip took a breather under the wheel of a tractor to shelter from the sun. Seconds later, hidden from the driver’s view, Pip was horrifically crushed as the vehicle moved forward.

Distraught owner, Joanne Waggett, rushed young Pip to Abbeydale Veterinary Surgery where she heard the shocking news that her dog’s pelvis was completely crushed. To compound matters, the vet team also discovered that the diaphragm had ruptured and Pip’s stomach had been forced into her chest. The only saving grace was that she could move her tail, indicating her spinal cord was still intact.

Pip’s pelvis was rebuilt by plating the right side and removing the hip bone. Miraculously, Pip not only survived but was trying to get to her feet just two days after surgery.

“Pip is an extraordinary dog,” says Head Nurse Lianne Lowe. “It was so rewarding to see her survive against the odds.”

Back home on the farm, Joanne slept by Pip’s side for two weeks. She was even given her own hydrotherapy pool – a converted cattle trough filled with clean water and sterile salts for Pip to swim in twice a day.

“That she survived the accident is a blessing, but that she is now able to run and play and herd like a normal dog is truly a miracle,” said Joanne.

To top it all, Pip recently passed her initial sheepdog assessment and is all set to make a super, loyal, hard-working sheepdog.

Vet Martin Gabbot said "Pip’s survival was unbelievable, I have never seen a dog come back from this type of injury in 12 years. Pip is very intelligent and incredibly friendly, and the family made a huge effort with the recovery."

Malteaser the cat
Malteaser almost froze and starved to death, but was saved by vet nursing and love from her owner


Frostbitten cat found in compost and ‘loved back to life’
Age: 5
Location: Ely, Cambridgshire (now living in Yorkshire)

When Bengal cat Malteaser went missing in February, her owner Amanda Kayes (36) was very concerned for her normally stay-at-home pet.

Though heavily pregnant, Amanda searched for Malteaser that evening and took the next day off work to find her beloved pet. “I put up fliers and called the all local vets. It was so cold and the temperatures were dropping rapidly. I was beginning to think that we would never see Malteaser again.”

It was five long, cold weeks, with temperatures reaching -12C on some nights, before Amanda received a call from a vet. A concerned householder had found a cat collapsed in their compost heap and taken her to the surgery.

Malteaser was found five miles from her home but thanks to her microchip she was reunited with Amanda: “I was so relieved, I rushed to see her and she made a few squeaks when she recognised me. She was really unwell though, had lost half her bodyweight, lost several teeth and had heavily frostbitten ears and paws.” The frostbitten cat stayed with Cathedral Veterinary Surgery for two weeks, where Amanda visited her twice a day.

“Malteaser was really sick and just skin and bone,” says vet Ian Halliday. “She needed intensive care and was extremely malnourished. What saved her was the daily visits from Amanda”.

Now fully recovered, she is enjoying every minute she spends with Amanda and the new baby. Vet Ian Halliday says: ”In our opinion, this cat was loved back to life.”

PDSA Vet Elaine Pendlebury said: “Malteaser was at death’s door – she’d lost about half her body weight and was extremely malnourished. Cat, owner, vets and nurses all worked to pull Malteaser through what could have been a very grim outcome.”

Thumper the rabbit
Thumper was nearly paralysed in a fox attack, but surprised everyone with his will to live


Left for dead: miracle rabbit walks again after fox attack
Age: 4
Location: Worthing, West Sussex

Four-year-old rabbit Thumper faced the fight of his life when he was attacked by a fox in the garden of his home and left for dead.

On finding her beloved pet in a terrible state, heartbroken owner Emma Miller rushed him to Grove Lodge Veterinary Group in Worthing. Vets warned her that Thumper might not last the night: “When I heard this my whole world fell apart,” recalls Emma. “Thumper has been with me through thick and thin and I would be lost without him as he’s part of my family.”

When morning came, there was good news at last for Emma. Thumper was still holding onto life despite the result of the x-rays showing he had sustained four fractured ribs. There was also a wound on the back of his neck, where he had been shaken – indicating there was a chance he had spinal injuries:

“Thumper was mostly paralysed but he was still fighting so were we not prepared to give up on him, “said vet Laurel Bowker. “Most rabbits would have died from shock after an attack like this but not Thumper - and our nursing team wanted to give him every chance.”

Gradually he became more responsive, and the vets confirmed that he still had feeling in his legs so he was almost ready to go home. “Thumper couldn’t hop for two weeks,” said Emma “but now he can do four hops and the vets are all amazed by his progress. They call him the bionic bunny!”

Judge Liz McClarnon said: “I know all too well about rabbits dying of shock, when I was younger mine died after a fox attack. Thumper is so brave.” 

PDSA Vet Elaine Pendlebury said: “Thumper must have been just a whisker away from dying. Rabbits are so prone to shock and it is a miracle Thumper pulled through. That Thumper overcame all of these injuries is inspirational and truly can be called a survivor!”

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