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Unleashing catastrophe

Outdoor Living

TO THE SLAUGHTER Lambs and sheep are defenseless against dogs that are let run loose by irresponsible owners.

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

When James’s friend came to visit he brought with him a pair of city hounds. Being raised on the streets as they were, these were totally bereft of manners and decorum and uneducated in the ways of the country.
What rich scents they found at the lakeside! Whereas their nostrils had formerly been filled with only what could be gleaned from lamp posts and trees in the park, which unpleasant odours would consist almost entirely of the fouling of other dogs, here they were suddenly exposed to the scents and smells of the real world. It struck me that the blind man of Bethsaida could hardly have expressed greater surprise at having Christ open his eyes than this pair of mutts did when confronted with the forest floor for the first time in their grubby little lives.
Their first reaction was one of fear. One cowered behind its master’s legs, while the other was quite taken aback by the wide vista the open lake offered, and stood quite still, almost with its mouth open in disbelief. Then gradually the two of them began to quiver their nostrils. One ran a short distance before giving reluctant heed to the command barked by James. The second took off in the other direction, and when efforts were made to retrieve this individual, the first disappeared into the briars.
I wasn’t bothered. “They’ll come back when they’re hungry.”
James was less certain. “There’s lambs in the field beyond. If they get wind of them there’ll be trouble.”
“What do you mean?” his city friend asked with alarm in his voice.
“If those dogs get in among the sheep...,” James paused with dark meaning, and then with a hint of reproach in his voice, “You oughtn’t to have let them off like that, not really.”
“They’re not dogs. They’re pedigree hounds,” said his friend, defensively. “And I didn’t let them off – they just went.”
“Whatever they are they won’t be for long, not if we don’t get them back.”
And so began an afternoon of scurrying about and hunting. We hurried in the direction that one of the dogs had taken, although both James and I knew this would be a useless tactic. Once on the trail of deer or hare, that dog could change direction a dozen times in as many moments. The scent of badger or fox would at least lead it to the sett or den, and we knew where these were.
We stopped to listen and heard distant crashing through undergrowth, followed by the thrumming of padded feet. A brindled form rushed past.
“Billy! Billeee!” shouted the townsman, as he broke into a gallop in pursuit of his pet.
“Oh no,” groaned James. “If we lose him as well we’ll be out here all day.”
But there was no point in rushing. With a couple of hundred acres of woodland to run about in, those dogs could keep themselves entertained indefinitely. It might be better if we walked as far as the sheep field, and at least keep an eye open there.
As we did, James explained the law regarding dogs that start worrying sheep. “There’s thousands of sheep get killed by dogs every year, and mostly in the spring when there’s lambs about. Once a dog gets a taste of blood there’s no stopping it. It’d run right through you as if you weren’t there.”
“But those two wouldn’t harm a fly,” his friend protested.
“And why do you think they’ve taken off chasing after things? Do they want to make friends with the wildlife? Is that what you think?”
We reached the field gate and looked in to where the sheep were grazing peacefully and undisturbed. About half of the ewes had lambs; the rest were heavily pregnant.
James asked the question. “If they were your animals and a stranger’s dogs were chasing them about and tearing at them, what would you do?”
His friend paused and thought. “I don’t know. What could you do?”
“I’ll tell you,” said James. “There’s a little implant you can get, goes just behind the dog’s ear. Once that’s in it’ll never chase sheep again. It’s made of lead, and it’s put in from a distance, with a twelve bore.”
“They wouldn’t...”
“They would.” said James emphatically.
And they would indeed. We did get those dogs back, eventually. Unfortunately, they will not be the only ones out there. Sheep-worrying is catastrophic for everybody, dog owners and sheep farmers alike. Take care out there. Keep your dogs on a leash.

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