August 1, 2020
Since we’ve been living up here, we’ve been entrusted with the odd bit of animal sitting, mainly chickens, which comes with its own rewards. This week, however, our animal sitting activities have been taken up a level.
Our neighbours up the road have gone off for a week leaving us in charge of three pigs, several sheep, a dozen hens, some pheasant chicks, three guinea fowl, two dogs and four extremely aggressive geese (the whole operation isn’t so much a smallholding as a novelty Christmas song). Fortunately, this mainly just involves checking that the various animals are still where they’re supposed to be and have water, chucking food at some of them, and shutting the door on the geese (hurriedly) at night and letting them out again in the morning.
The hens are still young uns so aren’t laying, but the guinea fowl are more than making up the deficiency (I have to confess, I had no idea that you could keep them for eggs as well as for just having fantastic polka dot feathers and making a racket; apparently they also eat ticks and don’t make as much of a mess of your garden as chickens do).
And it’s also been a chance to enjoy all the good bits of having a dog – going for walks, appreciating the aerodynamic qualities of a good stick, finding that specific spot behind the ear where it’s the most satisfying to be scratched – and none of the rubbish bits (mainly, picking up poo and paying vet bills). Even if the younger one (apparently a Labrador-kangaroo cross) has spent the week practising leaping until she managed to get out of the yard unaided today – and the weather has occasionally been a little suboptimal for walkies …
People often ask us if we’re ever going to get some pets of our own. I do occasionally consider it but on the whole I think that the best kind of animals are the ones you can give back to their owners when they become tiresome (see also: children). Certainly, I’m no closer to wanting a dog, or a smallholding, of my own after this week … although I may have to stop googling ‘raising guinea fowl’ before things get out of hand.
May 31, 2016
… But I would have thought that – were you the owner of a large, boisterous and poorly trained dog which had just jumped up twice at a visitor and then started sniffing their crotch in a way that had gone beyond embarrassing and was verging on sexual harrassment before proceeding to growl, bark, and finally lunge forward and nip at a rather tender spot on their inner thigh while you stood around ineffectually telling it to stop – the correct response is not ‘she’s all right really’, but ‘oh my God, I’m sorry are you all right?’
But in truth, while the British will famously say sorry when someone steps on their foot,* I keep forgetting that the same tendency to over-apologise never seems to apply to the behaviour of their dogs. This throws me every time it happens, even though I’m British myself, so I confined myself to pointing out that their dog had just bitten me (the word ‘actually’ may have forced its way past my gritted teeth with deadly intent) and leaving without a word.
* There was a Spanish woman who came to work in Bigtown a couple of years back. When I asked her how she was liking it (having apologised for the weather) she said, ‘I’d probably like it better it if people didn’t keep apologising for the weather and reminding me.’ For which I apologised. Obviously.
April 3, 2015
I was out on the bike delivering the village newsletter today* reacquainting myself with the cunning places everyone hides their letter boxes and driving the neighbourhood dogs into a complete frenzy (well, everyone’s got to have a hobby). One of my least favourite is a dog which looks like a big teddy bear but has had a go at me in the past whose owners leave it running free in the garden. Thankfully, the letter box is on the gate so you don’t have to tangle with the dog directly, but the gate is not very high, and the letter box is basically at dog height and the whole arrangement feels somewhat unsafe especially as all the time you’re trying to fold up the damn newsletter and stuff it in the narrow slot of the box, the dog is going round in circles, launching itself periodically at your hand. This was made all the more frightening, somehow, by the way the dog doesn’t bark or growl at all, just circles around in silence to have another shot.
My next port of call was the place where my old enemy Growly Dog lives and it’s a similar arrangement of flimsy gate, narrow slotted letterbox, and rabidly anti-cyclist canine so I wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Growly Dog came galloping down to meet me and barked, as expected but as I parked my bike, got out the newsletter and started folding it up to stuff it in the slot, she was completely thrown. Instead of barking or even growling she just gave a sort of whimper and backed away, casting accusing glances in my direction. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I actually ended up feeling quite sorry for her. I wonder if ASBO buzzard is similarly timid if confronted. I’ll have to find someone who’s braver than me to find out…
In other news, the wet weather means the frogspawn is still hanging in there, and one thing about them being in a tiny pocket of water not much bigger than the mass of frogspawn itself, is that you can see the little tadpoles developing inside (or at least you could if my cameraphone was any better). It’s been wet enough so far that they haven’t dried out; I’m not sure I can bring myself to wish that situation to continue…
*I probably should have used the car, but I’ve failed miserably on my challenge already, sorry. Just too difficult and besides, I was faster on the bike than the postman was in his little red van.
January 15, 2015
There’s a spot on my route to and from the papershop known as Growly Dog Hill, because there’s a collie dog who lives at the house there whose dearest wish is to get out the gate and bite the cyclist’s leg off. Being a collie, she’s brighter than the average mutt so she doesn’t just bark furiously as I approach, oh no. She waits silently right by the gate and just as I pass the gate unleashes either a bark or a growl, invariably startling me out of my skin (I’m not a collie, so I am clearly not bright enough to remember that this happens every single time I ride past).
Anyway, I now know she’s a she because I met her owner out the other day walking her and her sister. I thought I recognised him and guessed that this was my nemesis, which he confirmed. It’s all about context with dogs, clearly, because despite the fact that here she was within biting distance of the dread cyclist, she just totally ignored me while her sister happily said hello and got her ears scratched – or then again, perhaps she was just trying to lull me into a false sense of security. ‘They’re very different personalities, despite being sisters,’ he commented. ‘Well, perhaps that’s sisters everywhere…’
I wasn’t on the bike today, which was probably sensible because with the wind I would have likely taken off, if not been blown into the next county. So I haven’t yet ridden past Growly Dog’s stronghold yet since meeting her in person. I will be interested to see whether our having been introduced makes any difference to her stated desire to bite my leg off.
And also whether, having written all this, I remember anything about it until she once more startles me right out of my skin.
April 22, 2013
OK Northern Ireland, I love your scenery, I love your friendly people who are the nicest in the world except when they’re trying to kill each other (and that even includes the man who greeted me with a cheery ‘keep going girl’ from the footpath as I slogged up a hill into the wind on the Brompton), I even love your weather which, for someone who is used to South West Scotland, counts almost as semi-arid although I could do without your omni-directional headwinds – but what is it with your dogs? Twice in the last two days I have had a loose dog chase after me on the bike, snapping and snarling, something I’ve rarely had to worry about anywhere else.
Yesterday we were heading down the coast road when two dogs emerged from a driveway and one shot across the road (my heart was in my mouth because it’s a fast road) to sprint along beside me barking in fury. And then this afternoon, returning from the supermarket, a Jack Russell (regular readers will remember I’ve had issues with them before) was instantly transformed from mild-mannered family pet to a one-dog wolf pack, albeit quite a small one, snarling at my wheels and looking ready to keep chasing me across side streets regardless of any traffic. Both times the dogs had let the other half go by and only took issue with me. I’m not sure if it’s because one bike might be just about allowed to pass but TWO is beyond provocation – or if it’s something about the Brompton that sets them off. Come to think of it, I’ve passed grown men on bikes that have reacted in similar ways …
Either way, I haven’t really felt in any danger. In fact – and I think this a far more effective Britishness test than which cricket team I support – both times I was more worried for the dog’s safety than my own. I did wonder whether I ought to have stopped rather than risk having them hit by a car but I wasn’t really sure whether I was going to be able to get across the finer points of the green cross code to an enraged canine, so I took the coward’s way out and kept going until they gave up. I suppose it’s good to know I can outride a mutt, even on a Brompton, uphill, and into the wind.
May 12, 2010
I was in a farmyard this morning, and I noticed a little black and white cat, barely more than a kitten, coming out of a barn with a mouse in its jaws. It dropped its prey at the feet of the old sheep dog which sleeps chained up in the sun there, and nudged it with its head, as though to show it what a wonderful present it had brought it.
‘Awwwww,’ I said to my cycling buddy. ‘How cute is that?’ and we cooed for a while at the little vicious killer and its ancient partner in crime.
I have definitely lived in the country too long now.
September 26, 2009
The embarrassing part of this story is that it happened just after the other half and I had faced down two really mean looking boxers (the dogs, not the sweaty men in satin shorts) which had decided that the track up to the footpath was part of their territory. Having got past that particular hazard, we were walking down the road home discussing dog-ownership etiquette. ‘They really should be under better control,’ I said. ‘It’s not like the herd of little tiny dogs down at the turn to the ford. Those ones get out but they’re not exactly scary.’ ‘Yeah,’ said the other half. ‘They sort of remind me of how many five-year-olds can you take in a fight.’
How we laughed. Until we got to the turn off for the ford and one of the herd – not my friend from last time – came bounding over the wall towards us. Now normally when dogs get out of their territory they’re pretty craven, but this one hadn’t read the manual and the next thing I knew it had dashed across the road, swung round behind me, and closed its tiny needle-sharp teeth on my calf. Ow. Suddenly the words ‘you stupid bitch’ were entirely appropriate (for indeed, it was a she) although I only thought of that when I had got home and inspected the damage. It’s pretty humiliating being bested by a creature you could theoretically drop kick over a wall (although perhaps not so humiliating as realising you could only take 12 five year olds in unarmed combat. That’s my nursery teaching career out the window then).
So our walks from now on may have to be accompanied by stout sticks. And I’m going to start being extremely cautious around cows…
*Yes, I know this is the archetypal not-news story but hey, it’s my blog and it happened to me and I bet you any money that even in the days of hot metal, ‘Dog Bites Newspaper Proprietor’ would have made the front page.
November 27, 2008
Spotted in Bigtown this afternoon: a smiley sort of labrador busily picking up all the discarded plastic bottles along the river bank.
Admittedly, she was doing it because she liked to play with them, not because she’d been trained to gather them up and put in the bin, but as her owner said, ‘Ach well, if it makes me look good, I’ll no argue wi’ that!’*
Still, it’s a thought. And with a different sort of dog (Rottie, staffordshire, growly alsation) trained to return litter to the litterer with menaces, we might actually be getting somewhere…
* As you can see, I’m making great strides with the language. Although the postie was telling me something complicated about his lost horse** yesterday that I couldn’t make head or tail of.
** Not how he delivers the post, in case you’re wondering. We’re not that rural
September 25, 2008
Wherever we go – on foot or bike at least – we’re followed by the sound of barking dogs. Every house and farm has at least one, although a small pack of them is more usual, generally yelling blue murder at us from behind the safety of the gate. I’m not sure if they bark at us because pedestrians are unusual, or because they bark at everything: passing cars, pheasants, clouds, the rain, air. But bark they do, bravely seeing off the desperate brigands threatening their hearth and home.
Then yesterday, one of the mini wolfpack that lives on the corner of the turn to the ford* managed to get out by leaping the wall as we went past. Within the gate, its less agile companions were still baying for our blood. Six inches away, on the other side of the gate, this ferocious vanguard of the pack was … rolling over to have its tummy scratched. Ah. It did have the grace to look embarrassed about it, but a tummy scratch is a tummy scratch after all, and I give particularly good ones.
Perhaps, if the writing lark doesn’t work out, I will have to take up burlglary. A few handfuls of dog biscuits and a willingness to be licked may well be all the equipment I need. And for a guard dog of my own? I think I’ll be getting some geese…
*Dry at the moment, but thanks for asking