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PC latest: let's ban dogs in the countryside

Friday 07 September 2007

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, who admits to still being in mourning for his last dog 15 years after its death, fumes at the latest politically correct attack on rural life from, of all places, Australia, which suggests that people should be banned from walking their dogs in the countryside

A COUPLE of years ago, the BBC ran a competition to discover, in the eyes of ordinary people, who actually runs Britain. I can't remember who won but my vote, had I bothered to use it, would have been for university lecturers.

They are the people who every year turn out thousands on politically correct, soft-left clones who, if they can't get jobs on the BBC - the joint world capital along with California of the PC faith - become politicians. Or university lecturers to churn out more etc, etc...

gun dogs
Countryman's best friend
Photo: BASC

Now, here in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales, this does not tend to bother me over much - country folk are too busy to join the chattering classes - because when the subject crops up, it brings to mind my favourite epigram of all time: the reason why academic arguments get so heated is because there is so little at stake.

But this week, an academic in - of all places - Australia suggested that people should be stopped from walking their dogs in the countryside because they disturb the wildlife and, in particular, the birds. This should apply in Britain as well as New South Wales, he believed.

Now I love birds as much as anyone - a brief glimpse through these columns will surely be proof of that - but I also love dogs. Since I left my dog-owning home as a young man, I had three, all from working gun dog strains: a golden cocker, a red Irish setter (a proper one from Ireland) and an English pointer. And I still miss them all.

Although I don't know how long the Aussie academic Dr Peter Banks spent on research to "prove" that dog walking drives away wild birds, I can say this from personal experience: I walked those dogs in the countryside ever day for more than 30 years and they and the local birds got on just fine.

My cocker would go down the far side of a hedge and flush out a pheasant or a partridge on my side, even when I wasn't carrying a gun (I gave up shooting many years ago). My red setter would "point" me - literally - to ground nesting birds.

One year he and I inspected almost every day a plover's nest from hatch to the departure of the fledglings. Whilst incubating her eggs, the hen never bothered to fly away: she learned we were no threat.

here in the Dales we have constant trouble from visitors' dogs worrying sheep

My pointer, bless him, was a pussy cat, frightened of almost anything that moved. When I took him fishing, and an oyster catcher nesting by the river was put up with its eerie cries, the dog would come back to me and virtually hide behind my legs (if I weren't wading, that is, because he hated water too).

Now I know all dogs are not like this, well-trained and country smart, and here in the Dales we have constant trouble from visitors' dogs worrying sheep. They tend to get shot, which could be rough justice because it is their owners who are to blame, but shooting them might be considered a little over the top.

To risk sounding sexist, one man and his Dog (to quote the song) has been part of English country life since the first wolf summoned up the courage to slink up to a caveman's fire in search of scraps and - later - companionship. And that's the word to explain this ancient bond between man and animal.

There are hundreds of hill farmers in the Yorkshire Dales whose only companion during the long working day is his/her dog. There are millions of elderly people around the world whose only companion if their dog. Would we deny them a walk in the country?

My wife and I have been dog-less for some 10 years or more, because we could not face again the trauma of watching another one wither and die. But we are still in mourning. Respect for wildlife is on of our ruling passions but, although politically correct dons seem unable to grasp such a concept, humans have needs too. So does Man's Best Friend.

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