Of Sheep, Jim-Jams… and horizontal mountaineering with dogs!

The last two months I’ve been fighting a losing battle of trust with my otherwise lovely Springer Spaniel, Toby – and it’s all because of his newly acquired interest in sheep on Davidstow moor, where we’ve been going for the frolicking with balls and sticks for over seven years, with nary a flicker of attraction to things ovine before… Actually that’s not strictly true – as a dog ruled by his nose, Toby has always had a healthy interest in sheep poo (to be fair most dogs do, of course) but he also loves to rip up discarded bits of fleece too.
Toby aka DestructoDestructo dog – in earlier times Toby could render a thick cotton chew rope into something resembling a Rastafarian version of Cousin It in less than 5 minutes….

And that was the extent of Toby wanting to mess with sheep up until mid July, when my other cross-Springer Benji (now know as Decoy Dog) distracted me for a few seconds with his usual aimless bumbling, took my attention away from Toby and, before I knew it, Toby was hurtling away from us into the distance. At first I thought he was after some crows as there’d been no sheep that I could see in that direction, but the ground sloped away and they must have been just out of my line of vision. Now, as you may know, I have to use a walking stick and very slowly at that, so I had to get Benji into the car and then follow in the direction Toby had headed so far as the dirt road I was on lasted.

Long story short, he chased one sheep, got it cornered in a gully and, without drawing blood, proceeded to worry it into a stupor before he got bored and, after having huge ‘fun’ for best part of an hour, came back to me and Benji (we hadn’t been able to get near him as the ground was too muddy and uneven to drive up close), covered in mud from nose to tail. Because I couldn’t get anywhere near him, and farmers are allowed to shoot sheep worriers on sight I’d called the Police out. They were pretty decent all things considered. I told them where the dead sheep (I thought) was and they went to investigate and found that the poor thing was badly injured but still alive. I thought they would take Toby away there and then, but apparently there was no sign he’d done much more than pull at the heavy fleece the sheep still had and half frightened it to death. They told me to take him home and they’re be in touch as to what would happen once they’d talked to the farmer. In the end it turned out that they had to have the sheep euthanased and, because this happened on moorland and not in a field they’d have had a hard time pursuing it to a trial (I wasn’t going to fight it anyway as we were ‘bang to rights’) so I ended up forking out two hundred quid in compensation for the carcass and was told to keep Toby on a lead in future…

… Well that was when things went really pear-shaped, because Toby’s really strong and is a total nightmare with pulling on a lead, whether or not he’s in a harness – and I just can’t walk him that way at all, let alone him and Benji. And so, for a while, I ran them in the garden and then gradually began taking them to the few places around the moor I know where there aren’t any livestock around because of cattle grids. Then, two  weeks ago, I got sloppy again and, as I drove onto the moor on a very misty, rainy day, I saw there weren’t any sheep around and decided to take a chance. BIG mistake.
I’d finished throwing the damn ball and was getting Benji back into the car. Toby was still a few yards from us, having given me the ball back, so I turned my back. When I turned around again, he’d gone. I caught sight of him just beyond one of the derelict buildings for a few seconds and whistled for him. And then he was off again like a bullet, after some sheep who’d appeared out of the mist several hundred yards off, took one look at him and started running away…

It was worse this time because I had him in sight most of the time, even though once again I had to pursue him in the car. I got within about fifty feet of him and started to try and make my way over on foot to try and stop him, as this sheep had been shorn and I could see blood on its back leg. This animal had more fight and Toby was once more having a whale of a time ‘playing’. Every time I got close enough to try to call him back, he’d look at me and the sheep would move away again and so he’d chase after it. With my lack of mobility and an impending panic attack I had to give up as I knew he’d just carry on nipping away and moving further from me.
I hobbled back to the car and grabbed the phone, but couldn’t get a signal. Cursing, I drove back to where I’d been parked (as the derelict building did have an office that was used occasionally), thinking I might be able to get it working there. Turns out this was the best thing to do, as I’d just got through to the police again when Toby showed up outside the car, whining loudly – he thought I was leaving him behind and had chased after us. This time there was no mud but I could see the blood around his mouth and a little on his chest and forelegs. Despite that and an overwhelming urge to scream at him, I calmly opened the car door for him get in, rather shame-faced this time, and saved the cursing until he wasn’t able to get away again.

I called the police back when we got home and ‘fessed up to the whole thing, knowing this was all my fault and I had to take what was coming. After a mild telling off, during which the young guy told me that they were getting a couple of calls every day about sheep being chased or run over on ‘my’ moor, I was let off with a caution to always use a lead and await their enquiries about what had happened to this sheep and what the farmer wanted to do this time around. They said they’d be in touch pretty soon, but that if I didn’t hear anything in a few days no further action would be taken against me. Boy was I relieved when everything went silent and I knew we had an unexpected reprieve! But the writing was on the wall with ten foot letters for off-lead walkies forever, and I’ve been sunk in despair about the dogs’ future exercise options ever since.

In fact, there was only one option and that was to pay someone to walk them for me, something I’d been putting off until the cold weather arrived. Then, after I knew we were off the hook, I started to mull over things again over how to let Toby have at least some days where he could run around as much as he liked, but on a super-stretchy lead… Now of course there isn’t such a thing for a dog and Toby, being a tough little thug, has broken quality extending leads before now. But I had a brain wave and wondered about getting a bungee. Or something along the lines of a climbing rope…

hung-for-a-sheepMum! Where’s the ground going?!

So, after a little frantic looking around online and more damage to my wallet, I got hold of twenty-five meters of wall climbing cord, built to withstand sharp edges, teeth and extreme temperatures, and some sturdy, lockable karabiner clips. I got the simplest two-leg dog harness I could find (as hoisting wasn’t required…) and went on some line-fishing sites to find out about high-tension knots. 😛
Last weekend we went out on the moors with a healthy twenty-five meter plus cord betwixt us and any sheep who hadn’t heard about Toby’s psycho-dog status yet… Toby had his harness on, and I had the other end of the rope and karabiner belted around my waist. It worked. I threw the ball almost as far as I did before and Toby went after it OK, if a little haltingly, as we found that long coiled ropes don’t travel well and tend to get knotted under pressure. But, after a couple of untangling sessions, Toby was running back and forth with his usual athletic prowess and I hadn’t had to move much, or, more importantly, been pulled off my feet when he reached the end of his new long, long tether! 😀

We’re horizontal mountaineers, roped together in fact – lol 🙂

So, after another couple of goes, we’re now sheep safe! The harness situation is another matter, as Toby was always a little sod about having it put on – and Mummy will NOT be chasing him all over the house trying to get it on him like Daddy used to (yelling at full tilt all the while)! 😦 We’re currently working on Project Pyjamas where I put the instrument of torture on Toby in the bedroom before their late night snackette, as he won’t run away when there’s chews and Dentastix going. He then has to go to sleep in the harness and that way we can go out straight away in the morning, without the palaver of my having to rodeo-wrestle him into the damned thing… 😛

Tomorrow our new friend, Liz, starts both of the Little Darlings on a trial 3 days of walkies – yes, it’s Jim-Jams for Toby tonight! 😀

9 thoughts on “Of Sheep, Jim-Jams… and horizontal mountaineering with dogs!

    • ROFL – now that could be a solution, but for the fact that Toby is incontravertibly a dog of very little talent whatsoever.
      They’ve also eaten/destroyed all their balls and there seems to be a tennis ball famine on atm (we used to get ours free courtesy of the retired balls scheme at the local leisure centre, but no more) so all mountaineering has been cancelled until next week when fresh supplies come in… Luckily the dog walker started last week so they’ve been getting out, but cabin fever has now moved into the garden pro temps – c’est la guerre! 😛

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    • Gaze and blood hounds both – it’s the chase that does it every time! I hope they aren’t red squirrels – they need all the help they can get 🙂
      I’ve just said goodbye to 2 very nice local policemen who came over to say there were no sheep reported killed or injured from the last incident, but had to warn me that, because they’ve had so many kills on the moor this year, the farmers are now carrying shotguns and will use them if they see a dog chasing the flocks… Luckily they’re satisfied that my harness arrangement will keep us all safe so, fingers crossed, we should be OK now. 😦

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  1. Oh, dear, Jan! And here I thought I had it bad with Zooey the Cat and the poor little half-grown bunny rabbit that he brought into the house, growled when I tried to take it away, and consumed… entirely… on the bathroom floor. They are all wild carnivores at heart!

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    • Too right, Mary – they’re all wolves or tigers still deep down, so it’s in their nature. Toby is such a dear, gentle dog but he’s ruled by his nose and he loves to run, so this still feels bad for me as he’s totally constrained, but at least he can run as much as he likes and chase a ball in my garden still! 🙂

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