Monday, 20 February 2012

A Hard, Bitter Lesson

In the middle of the cold snap we were contacted by the mayor of our local commune. As a result of his call, I walked across the snowy fields to meet our neighbour; to be told our dogs had killed their baby goat.

No, they did not see it happen. But they had previously seen the dogs, Bertie especially, roaming their fields and teasing their livestock.  My heart bleeds  for the family and for our dogs.  Kind friends give us the benefit of the doubt and Tod does not want to believe it. Maybe it was a fox during the depth of the cold.  I fear though that it is all too possible. Anyway it is my complacency and naivety - letting Bertie wander and thinking it was okay because he eventually came home - which has placed us all in this dreadful position. We cannot prove otherwise. We have to take responsibility for it.

We've paid for the goat, of course, but that is only part of it and barely touches their anger and distress.  We are fortunate our neighbours went to the mayor.  The husband belongs to the hunt and it would have been quite possible for him to have shot the dogs the next time he saw them.  We promised that from now onwards the dogs would always be on the lead when we walked them and we would find a way to fence them in.

It has been a harsh new world for Bertie who walks four miles to our one, nose to the ground, tail wagging frantically, zig-zagging backwards and forwards chasing enticing smells or racing after blackbirds in the hedges.  Now he is forced to walk alongside us. Every few minutes he runs the length of the lead to be brought up short and held back to our slow speed.

Our land covers two hectares (that's about five acres) and includes garden, field, bushes, trees, hedges, banks and old buildings to explore.  Somehow we need to give him / them (though Vita's less fussed) freedom to race and chase through this terrain but keep them constrained and our neighbours' livestock safe.

We cannot afford to fence the entire boundary and the nature of the land, with its access points for tractors to cross the fields, plus its steep banks and gulleys, would make fencing a challenge.  So we're opting for "electronic fencing" where we will have a wire on the ground and the dogs will wear a collar that gives them an initial warning buzz and then a mild shock if they go too close to the perimeter. Hopefully that way they will gain a controlled freedom.

In the meantime, we do have the garden up at the house fenced and as it's a warm sunny day, I went round checking that the fence was secure and took both of them up on the lead.  They could play around safely while I pruned some roses.  It took Bertie thirty seconds to disappear behind the wood store, jump over the gap I thought I'd plugged and reappear the other side of the fence heading for the bank and Monsieur F's field beyond.  Fortunately, if called early enough and with sufficient enthusiasm before he gets "in the zone" of the hunt he can be persuaded back.

I went round the other side of the wood store and realising where he was getting out, I fixed some chicken wire across the gap.  He watched me do it from the safe side of the garden.  As I finished, I turned round to find Vita standing grinning behind me!  She'd found a way out of the garden (heaven knows where) and was checking on my handiwork. So I hauled her back inside, restored calm and started pruning.

Ten minutes later a small truck climbed towards the brow of the hill between Monsieur F's fields and the two of them raced the length of the garden fence.  But Bertie didn't stop.  He dived across the garden and disappeared under the honeysuckle covering the well to re-emerge the other side of the fence heading up our chemin rural.  In the  four and a half years of being here (with dogs) he is the first to have discovered that the fence stops short of the well and there is a gap under the honeysuckle.  And what's more, he's taught it to Vita. So that's how she got out.

After more excited calling from me he came back.  I decided this was all too much for my already jangly nerves. We've come back down to the cottage (on the lead) for a cup of tea.  I do so hope that the electronic fence works!


  1. Your babies are wonderful. I love the from a distance. Looks to me like you would have seen a certain amount of blood on your dogs if they had killed a baby goat. I'm just sayin'.

    You will figure it out. I hope the electric fence does the job.

    I'm so sorry this has happened. I am sorry for the baby goats owner's also.

  2. Like the wild magnolia I think you would have seen some traces, but as it is and whoever was responsible, you're lumbered with the consequences.
    I really feel for you....between frustration at not being able to let the dogs roam, worry about what happens if they get out, and your relationship with your neighbour.

    I've never liked those collars, but if it keeps your two has to be.
    I know someone who trains dogs for the police and he says they work very well.

  3. So very difficult. So sorry for you, for the dogs, for the neighbours and for the baby goat. As you say, at least they went to the Mayor and it was discussed, rather than the matter taken into their own hands - without evidence, that would have been very hard to take.

    Poor Bertie - confined to quarters. With so much land, it must be very difficult for him! Hope the collars work.


  4. Thank you everyone for your sympathetic comments. No evidence of blood, but from time to time they do come back smelling of stuff they've rolled in - so who knows. Fly I too had reservations, but I have done a lot of research and am buying a reputable system through a dog trainer I trust. When we're through this I'll post more about our experiences, not least because I'm beginning to realise there is a lot of misunderstanding out there (my own included).

  5. The electronic fence ought to work - they generally do, and once the dogs have got over the first surprise, it probably won't have any negatives for them.
    I mistrust the 'circumstantial' evidence of the goat's owners, though - we had an identical incident years ago, in Greece, when a farmer swore blind he'd seen our then four-footed killing his chickens three days earlier - and it was only because we could prove that said four-footed had actually been in a different country on the other side of Europe at the time that something unpleasant didn't take place.

  6. Pomiane thank you for adding your voice to the growing number of those expressing doubt. I hope everyone is right, but I also recognise that our foolish lack of control of our dogs is what has brought us to this point and we could do no less than step up to the mark. There are too many horror stories about what happens when English "incomers" fall out with their neighbours.

  7. You're right about potential is one of the things that made me so fed up with my part of rural France - the attempted bullying.

    I had people cutting my boundary fences to let the dog out on to the road....hoping he'd have an accident...because I would not tolerate unauthorised anglers on my land, leaving their weights and lines about to kill waterbirds.

    I've had ranks of the thugs of la chasse firing into my garden where children were playing because I reported them for breaking down nests that were protected.

    I'd be glad to hear about the collar system when you try it out...and I'm glad your dogs will be safe.

    I think if your dogs had killed you'd have noticed the distinct smell on the breath...but it's the neighbour who is your problem.

  8. I don't know how I missed this post, Sue. So sorry for the distress this has caused you, not to mention the difficulty of keeping your dogs within your own boundaries in future. Sadly, in situations like these, it's just too easy for people to put 2 and 2 together and make 5. Not being a dog-owner I have no practical experience to share of advice to offer, but I can and do sympathise.

  9. Fly so sorry to hear about your experiences in rural France. Until now we have been very fortunate. We have good relationships with the neighbouring farmers and indeed generally they don't have a problem with our dogs. One is a local counsellor and inclined to doubt it was our dog. The mayor has thanked us for taking this seriously. I think also we are tolerated because we own land that is not of interest - so for example the hunters do not disturb us. I'm hoping that all of this will settle down if we manage to secure our dogs properly.

  10. Hello Perpetua, I thought you were spring cleaning???? Thank you for your sympathy. I was watching the two of them playing this afternoon and I think, strangely, good will come out of this. Bertie has tended to go off and do his own thing and now he's having to walk alongside Vita all the time their own relationship is more enriched.

  11. Yes, with luck it will.

    We had good relations with neighbours...but the 'other interests' - used to using our land as their own for years while the last owner was too ill to leave the house - were most disgruntled by our arrival.

    If your land is of no interest then all you have to watch out for is someone who will be paid if he says your dog killed his whatever whereas he won't if a fox did it.

  12. Sue, unfortunately one of my Dalmatians is a natural born killer (the small feminine one, not the great lout who wouldn't hurt a fly) and she's caught several deer and killed one. When she merely caught a buck by the back leg and let go after a minute or two there was blood everywhere. So if your dogs weren't bloody I think you're right about your private opinion. My brother got one of those elctronic fences after his dogs kept on getting run over and it worked brilliantly.

  13. Victoria thank you for the comfort and for the reassurance about the fence. We're waiting for the delivery and I'm now impatient to lay it down and see how it works. I've a lot of gardening to do and moving backwards and forwards with the dogs on the lead all the time is frustrating.