In the dog house

Me with the letter I received from a rather disgruntled reader

I have received a rather stern letter from a reader who seems somewhat annoyed with me. I’m quite pleased that I have reached almost 100 columns (this is number 99) and it is the first message that has not been positive and encouraging, so I will take that as a good sign!

I love to receive letters and communication from readers, even the negative ones, as it proves that people are reading what I am writing, which can only be a good thing for our newspaper. And if I demonstrate my ignorance then I am more than happy to be corrected. After all, every day is a school day!

The column I wrote in early March entitled ‘A wolf in dog’s clothing’ discussed the dangers of letting dogs off leads in the countryside, especially at lambing time, and it was this one which prompted the letter.

I think my dad will be looking down and chuckling at what my son jokingly called my first ‘hate’ mail, because I know Dad received his fair share of critical mail too. Of course, it is far from ‘hate’ mail, and is written by someone who has seen first-hand the carnage caused by sheep worrying incidents so is understandably angry with irresponsible dog owners. I’d like to thank them for taking the time to get in touch, and for imparting other nuggets of country wisdom that I don’t have the room to include here.

But in relation to the column, the writer seems to have the wrong end of the stick and make assumptions that are wrong. They did not include their address, so I can’t reply to them personally, so I shall set them straight here, just in case any of you reading are also living under similar misconceptions.

The letter-writer states, “I am surprised you walk your dogs off the lead. I am assuming you copy what your father did, now you dog walk with your sons, so they in turn will do the same.”

In fact, my dad never owned a dog in my lifetime, and so I have not learned anything about walking dogs from him to pass on to my sons.

The writer then goes on to tell me how dangerous it is to walk dogs off leads around sheep at lambing time, and of the potential costs to pregnant ewes and the farmers who own them.

Now this makes me wonder if the reader had actually read the whole of my column, or was so incensed at the first few paragraphs that they had to stop and immediately put pen to paper to express their anger.

The whole point of the column was to demonstrate the dangers of having a dog off-lead around livestock. Some cases of sheep attacks are because owners do not believe their dog has the capacity to attack, and so I shared my own case precisely to demonstrate that even the most placid of dogs can chase sheep. This was one occasion in the early 2000s outside of lambing time and no harm came to the sheep. I certainly learned from it, and I hope that others, including my sons who were there at the time, do not make the same mistake.

If that point wasn’t clear, then I apologise.

The reader also suggests that country folk are not at fault, but lays the blame for thoughtless behaviour at the door of uneducated ‘townies’. Perhaps they have missed recent police rural crime team and National Farmers Union statements which declare that country dwellers who allow their dogs to roam free from their own homes are a major part of the sheep-worrying problem.

I would like to assure the writer that I am not one of those (I don’t actually own a dog, but look after other people’s). Nevertheless, one of the greatest pleasures of dog walking is letting well-behaved pooches roam freely off the lead, but ONLY when it is safe to do so, away from livestock and other dangers. I see many farmers, and rural and urban residents alike, doing the very same thing, as they have done since time immemorial, and I will continue to do so myself. It is just a small irresponsible minority who ignore those dangers.

I hope this has set the record straight, and assure the letter-writer that myself and my boys take our dog-walking responsibilities very seriously indeed.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 10th May and the Gazette & Herald on 8th May 2019

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