Forced Retirement


With the season just starting, the dogs were in fine condition and probably the fittest they’ve ever been. I like to keep them fairly fit all year around as there are no real close seasons for me. I don’t run them too hard during the summer though as the temperatures can get a bit much for them. They do get a dodge out in the early mornings though as I try to avoid going out with the lamp in the summer months. As soon as the lamp is on, clouds of bloodsucking insects descend upon us and the entire walk is spent slapping myself in an effort to kill the mosquitoes. As well as getting the dogs fit, I’d been making something of an effort to get myself in shape too as I’d had another daft idea to run another marathon. I ran one last year and swore I’d never run another. My knees and hips were aching for days afterwards but it’s amazing how quickly you forget the pain and all that’s left is the sense of achievement. I didn’t take the dogs on the last marathon as the pup was too young and his mam only ran half of it. Seeing as the dogs were pretty fit, I intended to take them both on the full marathon this time and see how they went.

With the global financial crisis hitting everyone, I was told by my boss that I had to use up any leave I had owing so I booked a week off and pencilled in my marathon for that week as I would have a few days to recover before I went back to work. I’m not one for training much and I don’t seem to need it so I was content with just getting out for a 6km run every morning at 5am and the dogs were really benefitting from this too. These runs have dropped off though as the hunting season has started and it’s now pitch black at 5am. I did start wearing a torch headlight but I kept tripping over and that was the end of that. My morning jog has now been replaced with a morning hunt and it’s proved very useful in sharpening the dogs right up. One particular morning over the paddock soon changed my plans though.

The alarm on my mobile phone went off as usual and my auto-pilot kicked in. I was up, dressed and out of the front gate in about ten minutes and there was still no sign of daybreak as I plodded along the country lane, dog lead in each hand, plotting the downfall of any deer that were unlucky enough to cross our path. Mornings like this are what I live for and many’s the time I’ve enacted this scenario in various parts of England. I can remember walking the sunken Kentish lanes, clouds of breath frosting up in the morning air, dogs in tow and alert for any signs of game. The red berries on the hedges were in stark contrast to the backdrop of frosted grass that gave away the fact that old Charlie had been this way very recently. The days of wearing a Barbour and battered old corduroys were gone though as the need to keep warm was not a priority these days. If I’m honest, I can’t even remember how cold it used to be but I do remember the layers upon layers that I used to wear. These days, I’m more often to be found wearing a t-shirt but I draw the line at shorts. I will not offer myself up as a banquet for the mozzies. So along the lane we went, an Englishman abroad and his two mongrels. Searching the land for game to run like so many have done before me. It was the same ritual as I’d done so many times at home in Kent but transposed to a different continent. Hell it was even the same dog for a lot of the runs. It just goes to show you just how versatile these dogs are. The old bitch was bred for the ferreting game and although I used to do a bit of that, she also had other jobs with me. Her ferreting days are long now as it’s illegal to even own a ferret here. No matter for her though as she’s useful in so many other ways. She was handy at lamping and a real good finder for the foxes, although she decided the business end of them was not for her at an early age. Decent with the gun too and always retrieved well. All of that seems to have translated well over here and despite my misgivings about how she’d cope with the heat, she’s done ok. I’ve probably had the best season ever with her so far and she’s proved to me that she’s a real adaptable bitch, able to turn her hand to whatever quarry I present to her. Her hunting ability has remained her strength though and she will find quarry if it’s there. Her son is more likely to catch these days as he’s bigger, stronger and faster. To an outsider he might seem the real hero as he’s there at the kill all of the time, but I know where the hard yards came from. Much like the draw dog gaining the praise at the end of the dig, when the real hero is the terrier who’s stayed until dug to, the youngster is the flashy, showy dog that does gain the plaudits while his dam is often the one over-looked. I’m guilty of it myself some times but deep down, I know her worth. And that’s not to take anything away from him as he really is doing himself proud. I wince when I see him take his quarry sometimes as he’s a touch on the reckless side but he seems to come through without any major problems. He’s a mass of scars and scrapes, especially on his flanks and legs but so far, he’s avoided serious injury.

Back to the story at hand. We got to a field of set aside that used to be a farm until it was recently sold to developers. It’s due to be built on but I’ve seen nothing of the builders, which I suppose is evidence that we are indeed in a global recession. We’d taken deer here on a couple of previous occasions and I was hoping we could repeat that this morning. I released the collars on the dogs and off they went into the scrub. Dawn was just breaking and the horizon was a pale orange glow which would soon herald the bright sunshine of another winter’s morning. The dogs were working ahead of me but they didn’t seem too animated so I ploughed on in the hope that we’d push something out. The scrub went on for about another 500 yards until it was replaced by the lush grass of a turf farm. I’d seen a few hares on there in the past so I put the disappointment of there being no deer behind me, in the hope that I would see the youngster on the arse end of a hare. As we got to the edge of the scrub, the bitch started bouncing and then was flat out in the blink of an eye, straight across the turf. I strained to see what she was after and I hoped it was a hare. I fumbled around in my gasmask pack to try and grab my Clulite and by the time I had it switched on I just caught the pup in pursuit of his mother and a dirty great pig!

Ready & Waiting

I was off on my toes after them as they headed back into the scrub and although I was going absolutely flat out, the dogs and their quarry were leaving me for dead. Within a few seconds they were out of sight and I had to try and follow the sounds of the chase as best I could. I stopped and listened and I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my own laboured breathing. The sound of splashing reached my ears and I guessed that the pig must have made its way into one of the many ponds that dot the area. I was off and running again in an instant. I got to the first pond in a couple of minutes and there was a commotion in the middle. I got as close to the edge as I could and lit up the source of the noise with the lamp. There was a dog there alright but no pig. The young dog was floundering in amongst the lily pads and panicking wildly as he’d got caught up. I flung some expletives his way as he’s not the world’s best swimmer. What was bothering me was that his mother must have been on the pig on her lonesome and the cavalry that was supposed to be helping her, was busy going nowhere in a stinking pond. Lamp off again and listen. 

Barking! Ever so faint though so time for some more running! 

I was getting closer as the barking was getting louder, although I still couldn’t see anything. I reached a stream that barred my progress and ran a short way until I found some boulders that I used to cross. It didn’t look too deep but I was to prove that old adage that looks could be deceptive was entirely true as I slipped off the rocks and fell in. I was really cursing now as I was up to my waist in cold water. The gas mask bag that held the lamp was soaked through so that was rendered useless. I clambered out onto the bank – muddy, soaked and swearing like a trooper with tourette’s syndrome. I could still hear barking and I imagined that she had the pig bailed up in another one of the ponds. With heavy feet and gasping lungs, I picked up the pace once more and followed the sound of contact. I felt like I was on one of those comedy sketch shows where the hapless victim stumbles into more and more calamities that he’s unable to see. Swap the comedy staple of standing on a rake for my falling in a stream, and exchange putting my fingers in the electric plug socket to getting caught in massive spider webs and you’ll have some idea of the farce that was being enacted here! The webs in question were spun between the trees that barred my progress to my bitch. I stumbled through one, clutching at my face and squealing like a girl, only to run straight into another…and another. The spiders at this time of year are very big but thankfully, the poison is not particularly strong if you’re unlucky enough to have one bite you. Viewed from a distance I must have looked deranged in a funny sort of way as I flapped and shrieked like I was on fire. Once I’d got my composure back and most of the silk off my face, I pushed through the last bush and came face to face with an enormous pig!

I’ve seen a few pigs in my time but this was the biggest I’ve personally come across, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this. He was stood at the edge of the pond so that the water came up above his knees. The bitch was darting in and out, alternately barking and harrying him which served to enrage him. They both looked pretty knackered and I know how they felt. Daylight was almost upon us and I could see the young fool making his way across to us, stopping every so often to get his bearings. I was in two minds as to whether I grabbed him on his arrival or let him join the fray. In the end the decision was taken from my hands as he just ploughed straight into the water. I figured that now was as good a time as any to jump in myself and after a few tentative grabs, I took hold of the pig’s hind legs. This was only made possible by the dog’s tenacity which kept the pig’s mind off me. Job done and time to go. Blood and mud mixed together at the water’s edge and the dogs did not want to leave their prize. I had to physically drag the bitch away and it was only when I looked at my hands that I realised that not all the blood came from the boar.

With the leads back on the dogs, I noticed a puncture in the bitch’s shoulder and she was limping quite badly. I checked her over and she was in a bit of a bad way. I admit I didn’t want to look too closely as I feared the worst. I could see a fist sized hole in her stomach and her throat was bleeding an awful lot too. She was on top of the world though and very pleased with herself even if she was having trouble walking. The walk home seemed to take forever and the old girl was getting slower and slower the closer we got to home. Her son was covered in blood too, but none of it was his own. People had started leaving their houses to go to work and I hoped they didn’t pay too much attention to the bloke with the baseball cap pulled right down trailing the limping, bloody dogs along a quiet country lane.

As soon as I got through the front gate I let the dogs off their leads. This was a mistake as the bitch immediately went to her kennel and slumped down. I ran up the stairs to the house and grabbed a bucket. Once it was filled with warm water, I grabbed the first aid kit from the Land Rover and a clean sponge that I’d bought with every intention of washing the car. Needless to say, it was still in its plastic wrapping. Hooray for lazy car owners…a clean sponge! The problem now was just how do I get the dog out of the kennel so that I could attend to her? Food was useless, cajoling had no effect and neither did threats. If I wanted her out of there, I had to go in and physically bring her out. Which is what I did.

Once on her feet in the run, I began sponging her down and the extent of her injuries became apparent. The small puncture in her shoulder had covered her in blood and her once white leg was dark red and sticky. Her throat had a deep puncture in it and the hole in her side was gaping. She had numerous skin tears down her flanks from the pig and all in all, she was in a pretty bad shape. The youngster had been keen to join his mother while I tended to her but he’d now slunk off after being told in no uncertain terms that if he continued to pester her, I’d have made him into a handbag! One thing was certain to me as I knelt in that kennel run, covered in a mixture of pig and dog blood, and that was putting together this broken dog was way beyond my meagre skills.

By the time I pulled in to the vet’s car park, her shoulder was the size of a grapefruit and she was still losing a lot of blood. I was hurried through reception and straight into the ex-ray room. Two shots were taken and these confirmed that her shoulder had been broken as well as her leg but the breaks were in places were they could do nothing about it. A drip was put in her front leg and she was given an injection of morphine. Forms were passed in front of me and I signed without really reading them. I gather they were something to do about absolving the vets from any blame should the bitch not make it through either the anaesthetic or the operation. It turns out the vet had worked in England at some point and he said he thought he’d stitched his last lurcher up years ago! I was sent home with the voice of the vet telling me that he’d do all he could ringing in my ears. As I drove home, I told myself that I would look after her but so many scenarios popped into my head. What if she had to have the leg off? Would I let her struggle around for the rest of her days with three legs? Probably not. Where’s the quality of life for a running machine that can’t run? One thing that was certain though, was that if she managed to pull through this one, then she was definitely retiring. She had guts aplenty but she’d not been brought up hunting pigs and she had just learned the hard way what a danger they can be. At 6 years old she can live the easy life keeping the yard free of lizards and have a dodge out on the odd rabbit every now and again.

Wounded Lurcher

The next day revealed the extent of her injuries and as well as the broken leg, she had severely bruised lungs and 70% of her shoulder muscle and tricep had been torn away. When I went to pick her up she was a mass of stiches and plastic drain tubes, which were oozing straw coloured liquid and blood. She was still groggy from the drugs and I picked her up and carried her to the car. Once at home she went straight in her kennel and there she stayed for the next few days. I bathed her drains with salt water and administered her anti-inflammatories, pain killers and antibiotics twice a day. She proved to be a tough old thing and her appetite returning revealed to me that she was on the mend.

As I sit and write this, all of the stiches are out and she’s off her meds now. She’s confined to the yard for another 6 weeks which is driving all of us crazy and she’s got too much energy! She screams the yard down when I take her son out and my wife has to console her. Fingers crossed she’s going to be ok once those broken bones have finished knitting together. Whether she’ll be able to run properly again is another matter though but I suspect she will. I will be good to my word though and retire her as I can’t afford to lose her should she come across another pig. So that leaves me with just the youngster for the season so once again I am under-dogged but I’ll have to make do. She did get out of running the marathon with me though but the pup took her place. He was in a lot better condition than I was by the time we finished it too!

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