My kennels had been causing me grief lately and what had been a slight leak had turned into something far more serious, with the dogs appearing from their house one morning soaked to the skin. I don’t ask much from a kennel really, just something to keep the dogs out of the elements and provide them with somewhere they can kip when they are locked down of an evening. I’d had some really good one from A15 Fabrications back in the day and they were superb. This one I had now was custom built by a local lad who was young and keen and he’d even engraved the dog’s names above the door, such was his diligence and desire to please. I’d had them for just over a year and in the old house they were in the tree-line which afforded them some additional shelter from the elements, even if it did result in them being covered in bloody fleas during the entire summer. In the new house, the kennels are out in the open and exposed to the weather in all its fickleness and I think that has been the problem. The roof is just shiplap and it lifts off for ease of cleaning and inspection, not that I’ve ever lifted it off. The kennels are big enough for me to get into through the door so I’ve never really bothered lifting the top up. I was taking a fresh bottle of apple cider vinegar down to the dogs one morning and I happened to notice cracks appearing in the roof. It looked to me that days on end of torrential rain, followed by days on end of blazing sunshine repeated ad nauseam, had resulted in effectively ruining the wood, which although apparently treated, seemed to be cracking anyway. I ducked into the kennels and checked out the interior for dampness and it all seemed ok so I made a mental note to improve the kennels a bit when I had some spare time.
My first bit of DIY was actually due to some peculiar, almost horizontal rain we’d experienced one afternoon. The door to the kennels was literally just a hole and this meant that vertical rain was effectively kept out but there was nothing to stop this horizontal rain going straight into the dog’s quarters. A quick trip to the local hardware store saw me erect a cheap pine shelf above the entrance to the kennel, thereby giving the dogs some sort of awning. It looked crap if I’m honest and entirely obscured the hand carved dog’s names but it provided them with a little bit more shelter from this weird weather we’d been having. My next move was to buy some of this anti-slip matting that’s often used for car boot lining. I cut this to the size of the kennel door/hole and then screwed this below the shelf, giving the dogs a flap that would keep the worst of the rain out. Again, it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing but I was long since past caring about that. The dogs were now warm and dry and that’s all I cared about. I even called my wife down to inspect my handiwork and this confirmed her long held views that I was rubbish at DIY.
Weeks went by and the dogs were still dry and my handiwork was doing exactly what I intended it to do. That was until the morning I mentioned at the start of the article. I got up intending to take the dogs out with a view to grabbing another deer but the sorry sight of them emerging from their kennels all wet and bedraggled diverted me from my original plan and got me into tinkering mode again. I thought the roof might have had a few leaks which had caused the drenching, but upon inspection, the entire roof had come apart! The batons that hold the planks together had come away and the planks themselves had simply separated. The dogs must have sheltered as best they could during the night but still got a soaking anyway. Poor buggers.
Setting aside my intentions for chasing deer, I jumped into the Mitsubishi and sped off to the hardware store. I might add at this point, that my love affair with Land Rovers has come to an end. My truck was like a shopaholic mistress that I indulged because, despite her being a financial black hole that money just disappeared into, I still loved her deeply. Well, the money’s all gone and the bitch was still demanding more from me. It was never anything major that went wrong, just lots of little things that maybe in England wouldn’t have cost much to fix, but out here, it cost plenty. Not many places work on them for a start and everything has to be imported, thus making it an expensive vehicle to maintain. To maintain the analogy I started earlier, the bitch has been dumped and is currently sucking some other poor, unsuspecting fool dry of his hard earned cash. It’s a shame it had to end like this, as my Landy in England was a beauty and never let me down. That was a 2.5 diesel and was as slow as it was reliable. The one I had here was a top of the range job, with all the bells and whistles and I think that’s where I went wrong. The V8 cost me a fortune to run on top of all the niggly maintenance jobs and in the end, enough was enough.
Anyway, back to the story. Once at the hardware store, I bought some corrugated plastic panels that I slung in the back of the motor and I was soon winging my way home to get the dogs fixed up nice and snug. The plastic panels were screwed to the now repaired roof and gave overlap at the sides of a couple of inches, with a foot at the front and 6 inches at the back. There was no way that rain was getting through there! Of course, my kennels now looked really rubbish and what started as a handsome, handmade rustic looking kennel, now looked like one of those lean-tos made from old doors and tarpaulins you see on badly kept allotments. Personally I couldn’t give a monkey’s though as those dogs were never going to spend another wet night in what should have been their little sanctuary. I did make a concession to the wife though and there will be some trees planted to screen the monstrosity from prying eyes.
With the kennel now sorted, I took a step back for a bit to admire my handiwork which I quite liked, in a utilitarian kind of way. My thoughts then returned to earlier in the morning and the pursuit of deer. I chucked on my old combat trousers, threw the dogs bedding in the tumble drier and head out of the front gate with two eager and excited lurchers.
Once I’d reached the local sewage treatment plant at the edge of the woods, I released the dogs and clipped the dog leads to the belt loop on my combats. The rest of the leads were tucked into the side pocket on the leg and then we were off. With the smell of sewage in my nostrils, I was eager to put some distance between us and the treatment plant so I started off at a decent pace. As soon as I rounded the drab, grey building, I saw the arses of what looked to be a large buck and a smaller, younger animal disappear into the scrub about 150 yards away. I immediately looked to the dogs, who indicated that they hadn’t seen them by just plodding along in front of me. It’s hardly surprising they didn’t see them either as the grass is head high for them so their vision is seriously impaired. I cursed under my breath as the deer disappeared but hoped that we’d see some others in more favourable conditions.
The deer had ran on pretty much the course that we were heading and once we reached the area where I estimated they were when I saw them, the dogs picked up scent and started bouncing. Their excitement grew and pretty soon they were gone.
It had taken about 10 minutes to get to where I’d seen the deer, as we’d had to cross some marsh and a meandering creek so any hope of the dogs finding those deer had well and truly gone. I assumed they must have picked up the scent and ran more in hope than in expectation. My dogs have disappeared many times in those woods and we play out the same routine of me staying where I am and they eventually come back, tongues lolling and thoroughly exhausted.
Five minutes turned to ten and still no dogs. No problem though as this wasn’t unusual. Then ten minutes was suddenly fifteen and I started whistling. My mind wandered back to those times when my Nell used to lie up with foxes in the conifer plantations and despite me being right next to her, she would never come off the dead foxes and I wouldn’t know where she was. Back then I would just walk the route of where I thought she would likely be and I would whistle a song to myself in the hope that I caught her attention. Funnily enough, I always used to whistle “(If Paradise Is) Half as Nice” by Amen Corner and it seems to have stuck as I still whistle that now. Whereas Nell used to treat me with indifference in a straight choice between leaving her fox and coming home, the two dogs I have now are a bit more clingy and don’t like to be away from me for too long. By now, the dogs had been gone for about twenty five minutes and I was seriously worried now. I had a plan though – call my wife and tell her to bring the truck down to the nearest road and see if the dogs had decided on going home. It was a long shot but Nell used to do that when she had got lost so it was worth a try. This was a great plan that cheered me up a bit, until I realised I’d left my phone on the kitchen counter. Dickhead. So I was in a wood, hadn’t seen my dogs for nigh on half an hour and had no way of contacting anyone at home to see if they’d returned. Great.
Amen Corner had been abandoned in favour of shouting at the top of my voice as I was seriously worried by now. I moved off in the direction I last saw the dogs running and my mind was full of thoughts of snakes, which are a constant worry. I can only trust in the dogs’ natural aversion to snakes and lizards and hope they had the good sense to keep away. I think I must have ran about a mile into the wood when I heard and then saw Van coming towards me. She was on my left about 100 yards away when a whistle caught her attention and she cut a sharp angle and headed straight in to me. She was knackered and went straight into a deep puddle to cool herself down. I was so relieved to see her and I knelt down and stroked her heaving sides as she soaked herself in the black, sulphurous water. She’d had no contact as there was no fur around her mouth and she didn’t smell of anything except the water she was bathing in. She clearly travelled a long distance but what I was unsure about was whether that was in pursuit of game or it was an effort to find me.
I let her get her tongue back in and by this time there was still no sign of the pup. I bit the bullet and decided to head for home. I intended to pick up my phone and recruit my wife into the search for him as this was a huge wood and there was more chance of us finding him with two of us. I waded my way back to the sewage treatment plant and I had that sick feeling in my stomach. Anyone who’s ever lost a dog before will know that feeling. The thought that you may never again see that dog you raised from a pup, that someone else might find him and decide to keep him, or even worse, find him cold beside the road. Add to that the hazards of the local wildlife I have to contend with and I was a very worried man. One last look out across the grassland and a whistle……nothing. With an anxious feeling in my guts, I turned and started off once more.
Something moving through the grass caused me to stop and I turned. I couldn’t see anything but I could still hear something running. I was scanning the grass in front of me and it was clear something was heading my way and then a big white muzzle broke through and Jasper was back with us! He came straight to my side and when I touched his head he whimpered as if he was in pain. He then dived straight in the swamp and panted for all he was worth as he tried to cool himself down. I walked over to him and he stood up, holding up his front, left leg as though he’d taken a knock. I gave him the once over but I couldn’t see anything wrong with him. He did have some fur round his mouth so I was left to assume that he’d made contact and took a kicking for his troubles. His mother was sniffing around his mouth and they both had a good soak while I sat and watched.
Whatever the reason was for his whimpering it wasn’t his foot as after about 10 minutes, he was up and running again. Maybe he was just exhausted? Maybe it was a symptom of his anxiety at being lost? I don’t know. What I do know is that there was precious little wrong with him now!
We’d been out for some time now and I was in two minds about carrying on or going home, but I was inquisitive and I wanted to press on as I had a feeling Jasper would lead me to whatever he had been doing. I’ve often found that dogs will take you their quarry if you watch them and let them, so off we went with both dogs leading the way. Initially they didn’t seem to be “leading” me anywhere but after a while, Jasper was pulling ahead. The fact he kept coming back to see if I was following indicated to me that he was indeed taking me to a specific spot. I could tell me the tracks on the ground that he’d been this way recently as there were skid marks in the mud where he’d stopped and turned and they were all in the opposite direction to the way we were walking. We’d walked quite a way now, past where Van had showed and maybe another mile past that again. We rounded a particularly boggy corner where the swamp tried to claim my boots from me and there he was….a buck.
He was laid out across the path, head away from me, with Jasper standing over him like he was saying “told you!” I reached down and touched the deer in order to make sure he was Jasper’s and sure enough, he was warm and supple still, indicating a fresh kill. I scruffed the pup’s neck again and whispered “good boy” as a smile played across my face. I checked my surroundings and then started dragging the buck off the path into the scrub. There was no way I was carrying that deer out of there so I set to work salvaging what I could until I came back for the rest. I figured I could take the two legs back so with the dogs back in the swamp, I got down to business with my 3” Muelay. I’d lost my good knife last year when a deer crashed into me and it fell out of the pocket of my old army trousers. I’d bought this Muelay to replace it but it wasn’t as good, despite costing nearly double. It did the job though and I made quick work of the hind legs. I did have to stop quite a few times though as I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes! At any one time, I must have had two dozen on each forearm and I could feel them on my neck too. I brushed them off and that would give me respite for a couple of seconds until I was covered with the bloodsuckers once more. Not content with biting me on my exposed parts, the little parasites starting biting me through my t-shirt and I was feeling more and more like a pin cushion. With a sense of increased urgency, I took those legs off and started away back the way we’d came. I could feel my bottom lip starting to swell up where the mozzies had bitten me and my neck, arms and shoulders were itching like crazy!
As I walked out of that wood, I was on the look out for a bag to put these cuts of meat in. I tried to remember where I’d seen an old fertilizer bag but it was beyond me. Once I got close to the edge of the wood I was desperate to find something to stick those legs in as I really didn’t want to walk down the main street of my village with two great big dogs and kids asking their parents why I’d murdered Mr. Tumnus! Then something caught my eye….something that was just ever so slightly out of place in a wood……a bright blue Reebok Pilates ball! How that got there I will never know but beggars can’t be choosers and it would have to do. A quick flash of steel and the ball was cut in half and the legs were wrapped up nice and safe, away from my neighbours’ gaze.
I couldn’t tell you how far Jasper had run that deer but it was a long course over some truly awful terrain. Fallen trees, swamp, waist high grass, creeks and the iron hard ground of the pine forest and he’d kept going for mile after mile. I wish I’d seen it but alas, I had to make do with end result rather than the pleasure of watching the dog I bred running his natural quarry. I walked back home that day as proud as punch, even if I did have a lip the size and colour of a Borrowdale sausage!