One of the things I have found that make Staffords such good housedogs is the plain fact that they are so quiet. If I compare the dogs I had previous to the present ones, even the quiet ones are made to seem noisy in comparison. That’s not to say all are silent as I know some to utter the strangest of noises when excited, whether that is due to an unexpected visitor to their home or whether they are working in the field.
Obviously this silence when working was something to be desired in the old trials run by the Irish Kennel Club and indeed, any dog uttering excessive noises was penalised. Anyone who has been to any of the alternative bull and terrier shows however, will see how gassy the bulldogs can be when they are restrained from getting to their neighbours.
This silence can be viewed as a good thing for those keeping the dogs simply as a companion but I have had course to view it as a pain in the arse on occasion.
The downside to this silence whilst out in the field was evident earlier this year on at least two occasions. I am fortunate in so much that I live on my permission, meaning that I just have to walk the length of my back garden, through the hedge and the hunt is on. Due to this close proximity to my hunting grounds, I am out at every opportunity. I know the grounds like the back of my hand and the dogs are even more familiar than I am. Now when I first brought Nell home, it was a few days before I had her out in the field and then a few more days after that before she was allowed off the lead. She wouldn’t leave my side at first but then she started to investigate things such as noises and smells, always staying fairly close though. I got the impression that she would have little panics if she wasn’t in sight of me. Interestingly enough, after a few days of being off the lead, she managed to get herself lost through ether following a scent or just losing track of where we were. I searched high and low for her for over an hour, but upon finding nothing, headed for home to grab a lamp as the evening was fast approaching. As I climbed through the hedge into my back garden, to my surprise, she was sitting on the back door step waiting for me. Not bad homing instincts for a pup!
Anyway, I digress. The incidents in question happened when we were out mooching about, not after anything in particular, just seeing what was what. The first time was very early on a Sunday morning and we had just gone through a field of Christmas trees. This field has never had any holes but always held rabbits for some reason. The dogs had buggered off chasing the bunnies left, right and centre and I could only smile at their ineptitude at rabbit catching. What they lacked in speed and guile they made up for with guts and determination. As the Christmas tree plantation abruptly stops, there is a small orchard of Golden Delicious apple trees which usually contain a few bunnies between the rows. Now the dog was with me, but I had lost track of the bitch. As I said earlier, she is not one to wander too far and she had gotten out of the habit of returning home when she had been separated from us. My thinking was to stay put and call for her thus letting her know where we were. Some sixth sense in the dog meant that he knew hunting was put on hold for the time being and he sat by my right leg whilst I lit up a cigarette. For over fifteen minutes I called and nothing was seen or heard from Nell. My mind started wandering about the distances to the nearest setts and earths, but I ruled them out more in the hope that she hadn’t gone to ground rather than any sort of reality. After a few more minutes I kept hearing something in the wind. It was one of those occasions where you actually question your own hearing, asking yourself if it was real or imaginary. The sound was something like a baby crying but it wasn’t constant, rather more intermittent. Two or three more of these cries made me realise I wasn’t hearing things and that something in the apple orchard was making these noises. Breaking into a run, I reached the hedgerow marking the edge of the orchard only to hear the heavy breathing of a dog on the other side. As I looked over, I was greeted by the sight of Nell with a large dog fox which was making a last ditch effort to fight back with what little energy and life force it had remaining. This was a big fox and it was at times like these that I wish I had some scales to accurately record the foxes we catch. Within seconds the fox was dead and I let Nell rag the carcass to her hearts content. What this episode showed me was that without the noise of the fox, I wouldn’t have heard a peep from the little bitch and would have walked around for hours looking for her as she seldom leaves a kill until she is good and ready. This was illustrated all too well a few weeks later.
Funnily enough it happened in the Christmas tree field again but this time I was far away from the action. This particular property consisted of around 600 acres and it takes a fair while to walk around. I don’t even remember where or when the bitch went missing which is entirely my fault for not being conscientious when out. Because it backs on to my house, I get complacent with the land and treat it as my own, even though I shouldn’t. Trying to cal for the bitch, I couldn’t hear or see anything. Usually she is very obedient and I had learned that is she didn’t come when called it meant she was either out of earshot or she had made contact. Well I searched for about an hour and a half and still nothing. It was getting very dark now and it was raining hard enough to split rocks so I had begun to get a little worried. Deciding to go home for the lamp and drop the dog off, I got myself my goretex jacket and my gloves and headed back out. I figured that I had a better chance of seeing her eyes shining in the lamp than I had of trying to see her in the twilight. I still had no luck after nearly three hours and I was wet and cold into the bargain. I had walked along loads of the usual tracks and not a sign. As luck would have it, as I passed the bottom end of the Christmas tree field, there was a group of young trees being around five to six feet tall and quite densely situated; I caught sight of a dishevelled looking dog which ran out. Her eyes caught in the lamp and she was back in again, disappearing from view. I got to the spot where she had been and she was in the middle of these young trees sat with the carcass of a fox she must have killed hours earlier. Not wanting to lose her again, I quickly attached her collar to the lead and stood there wondering what the hell had been going through that little bitch’s mind. She had the unmistakable stench of fox on her and her muzzle had wisps of russet and white hair about it.
The only thing I can think of was that she had caught and killed this fox, and had refused to leave the scene of the combat until she had been found and I had seen what she had done. She had sat there for hours in atrocious weather just because she would not leave hr long dead quarry until she had some sort of recognition. She didn’t even put up a fuss as I began to lead her away from the cadaver which told me that her vigil was over once I had seen the evidence. The funny thing was that I must have walked within twenty yards of her at least three times whilst trying to look for her and she never once uttered a sound.
Not knowing whether to berate her or congratulate her, I walked home torn between curses and kisses. Obviously I was very happy we had added another fox to the tally and she had done her job well and enjoyed it. The problem was that she had stayed with her quarry until she had been retrieved by me. How do you change something like that? Maybe I need some of those locator collars that the Australians use on their boar dogs? That would seem to offer a solution. The funny thing is that she is very obedient normally! It just seems that she likes old Charlie more than me!
Upon reflection, as long as she is catching and for as long as she is able to, here’s to many more nights of finding her lying up with many more foxes! The obvious solution to the problem is to put this bitch on a lead, but then we wouldn’t get foxes. Given the choice between a soaking with a fox at the end of it or keeping her on a lead and no more foxes, I think I’ll plump for the soaking!