A high-end doggy daycare has apologised after a dog suffered severe injuries while in its care.
Belgian malinois Baxter was five months old and in his fourth week at Pets and Pats in Auckland's rural Dairy Flat when he sustained severe damage to a vertebrae.
Urgent spinal surgery and other care for Baxter has consumed the $20,000 pet insurance cap in just four week and costs have continued to grow.
Owners Marcus and Cora Morrison have told the Herald of the traumatic experience that followed Baxter's injury.
The top-flight doggy daycare - which describes itself as a "private, gated, safe and luxurious country club" - charged $60 a day to look after Baxter.
Residents in Auckland's most exclusive suburbs would be familiar with the fleet of late-model vans that collect dogs for visits to its base in north Auckland countryside.
"We wanted to have a normal work life and the pleasure of having the little guy in our lives," Cora Morrison said.
On February 11, Pets and Pats staff member Liana Coleman emailed Cora Morrison at 3.31pm to say: "We have just taken Baxter up to the vet - he jumped out a partially-open window from inside to the outside area this afternoon (about 5 minutes ago) and looks like he has hurt his mouth."
An x-ray of Baxter at the Animal Referral Centre in Albany around 5.30pm showed a "suspected spinal fracture", according to vet Georgina Stewart's notes. She also noted that Baxter was unable to walk. The Morrisons also noticed damage to Baxter's face including "a weird kink on his nose that's never gone away".
An anxious weekend followed for the Morrisons who visited the vets to spend time with Baxter. Cora Morrison described him as confused and suffering. "He so desperately wanted to get up but his back legs were like rubber," she said.
On Monday, a CT scan showed Baxter's T11 vertebrae - about mid-back - was broken with signs of "severe acute trauma" to the point it had fragmented and "severely compressed" the spinal cord.
Marcus Morrison said there was a "sub-text" to questions about surgery - "do you want to progress or have him put down". "People have said to us, 'for quality of life, you should put a dog down'."
It was never a consideration, Cora Morrison said. "Everyone has problems and they're still walking around. If you can't handle the effects of having a dependent, you shouldn't have one."
Marcus Morrison: "If there's a chance to help him regain quality of life then we would do everything we could."
Stewart went ahead with surgery that day and, Cora Morrison said, "it was even worse than we thought".
"Everything was shattered."
Notes from the surgery showed Stewart needed to clear away broken bone splinters before fixing the metal plates that would hold Baxter's spine together. He spent a few more days at the vet beginning his recovery. Stewart's discharge notes said: "He has a long road ahead but the signs so far are very positive!"
Today, Baxter is able to walk, although struggles to find certainty or strength of movement. Water therapy and physiotherapy help build muscle strength and a nanny has been found to look after him after medical advice to not place him with another daycare.
After exceeding their insurance cap, the couple have continued to spend to support Baxter's recovery.
While doing so, the Morrisons efforts to talk to Pets and Pats about ongoing costs have yet to result in a meeting. Emails show Coleman deferred any talk on costs to owner Angela Beer, saying "we do not have protocols for this because it has never happened before".
Beer said she hadn't personally been in touch with the Morrisons because she was in Rarotonga when Baxter was injured. She said when she found out about it on return "Baxter seemed on the mend and things under control".
She told the Herald she spent much of her time recently caring for her mother who had advanced dementia and Coleman "really does run the business".
Beer said she wasn't aware of correspondence until mid-April. Since then, she said the Morrisons' correspondence had raised "legal action and media exposure". She said lawyers acting for Pets and Pats' insurer advised them to make no contact and not to provide the investigation report.
"We have found it difficult to not be transparent with them but while we were scared most importantly we did not want to compromise any compensation for Baxter."
Beer said inquiries by the Herald about the injury had led to Pets and Pats organising a meeting with the SPCA to join its new dog care accreditation scheme.
She also confirmed Pets and Pats had been in breach of its resource consent for six months last year, ending in January. Council records show the breach was for where and when it was keeping dogs.
In an email to the Morrisons, which they provided to the Herald, Beer said she wanted "to acknowledge that I am terribly sorry that Baxter was injured".
Beer apologised for not having made contact when she got back to New Zealand "but I was assured Baxter was on the mend". She said emails asking for "compensation" suggesting "legal or media action" had "scared" her and led to advice to "disengage" and let lawyers handle it.
"However, now that dialogue has been opened with news media at your instigation, it seems only right that we communicate with you."
She said the insurance assessment was expected to be finalised next week. "I do hope that Baxter is continuing to recover."
On the cause of the injury, the Morrisons were initially told by Coleman in an email that Baxter found his way into a staff kitchen area where the dogs' food was prepared after getting past a baby gate intended to block access. From there, she said Baxter made his way through a door that should have been closed and entered a toilet area.
"No staff had eyes on Baxter. It is assumed Baxter went into the toilet and jumped or fell off the open window ledge in the toilet." The emails made it clear this took place on the building's ground floor.
When the Herald approached Beer, she said Baxter's injury had come about in a different way. She said Baxter was inside with two dogs and two staff as cars arrived to collect other dogs leaving earlier.
Beer said Baxter's enrolment form advised he did not jump fences yet the inquiry found he vaulted two internal gates to go upstairs to a staff-only area. "If we had known as a puppy he was likely to jump fences we would not have accepted him to daycare."
Beer said: "Baxter jumped from the first-floor window where he could see the handlers and some of his friends (other dogs) below. Not the original ground floor as originally thought. This would be consistent with the vet findings. No dog has ever jumped two internal gates and out a window before."
The SPCA scheme was a new initiative that allowed dog daycare businesses to be accredited after being audited for animal welfare and wellbeing.