351 Breach of Trust

by   David Hancock

A terrier, a hound, a lurcher and a gundog lie on the hearth in front of a dying fire, each one is sleepy but not able to sleep, tired but mentally restless, only gently offended but seriously confused. They are beginning to lose their trust in man, their master for many millennia. A whole range of questions come into their perplexed and troubled minds: Why has man developed this field excellence in us if he doesn't want our skills any more? We protected mankind and brought them food, do they no longer need our protection from predators or the food we can bring to them? We have been sacrificed on bulls' horns to tenderise their meat, on boars' tusks and deer antlers to fill their larders. We dived into icy rivers to retrieve their shot game and went into dark frightening recesses to reduce vermin for them.

 We ran down foxes after centuries of developing the scenting skills and stamina to do so; now foxes are to be protected and we are to be put down. We got the blame for being brutal at the bear bait, the stag hunt, badger-drawing and the boar hunt. But it was at man's behest -- and often more of us died than the quarry. We were specifically bred to be determined when tracking criminals, guarding property or closing with big game; now we can be put down for looking formidable and 'persisting' as the dog-experts in the Met elect to describe our past bravery for man.

 Who can we turn to? Not to the leading animal charity--they contributed to the life-threatening Dangerous Dogs Act and wish to ban the healthiest dogs in the land from their time-honoured role. Why does an animal welfare organisation wish to have us all destroyed? Can we turn to the animal doctors? Hardly, they cut off our breeding apparatus as a treatment but then refuse to shorten our tails when we might make them bleed in our enthusiasm for man's appointed work. Weird! Can we turn to those who designed our shape and size? Not exactly, they are too busy planning the next exhibition of our beauty.

 What about the police? They are supposed to protect the innocent. Well, not the Essex dog handlers, thank you very much, they hung us from trees. Not the Met, Thames Valley or the Sussex lot, they arrest us for our appearance alone. Can you imagine that happening to humans? What about our constituent MP? No, he voted to ban us in two successive parliaments. What about Europe? oops! sorry, getting tired! Perhaps the trade unions are worth an approach, they don't like mass redundancies.

 Strange, we gave our all for man. For two thousand years he recorded our hunting skills and created great works of art to illustrate our prowess. Now, suddenly, in the twenty first century, a new wisdom sweeps the land; well, perhaps not exactly wisdom. Those Ancient Greeks, the ones that gave the world democracy, didn't they revere hunting and consider it an ultimate experience? Modern man seems to idolise Greek culture but then ignore its reasoning; odd! We'll try to sleep, if only out of our famed obedience. But our masters aren't the same any more, confusion reigns...the sporting dogs drowse uneasily.

 Not more than a few miles from the sleeping dogs, a new villager, the recently-wealthy Tristram Morally-Vain, is also struggling to sleep. He is having problems adapting to the countryside. Grey squirrels have not only stripped his young trees but have eaten the blue tit family which nested in the yard. Mink have slaughtered his newly-acquired expensive and exotic wildfowl. Magpies have wiped out the songbirds in the relaid garden. And last night his three Chihuahuas were carried off by foxes. He has been burgled five times. His request for a shot-gun licence was turned down by the local law-enforcers and his recently-purchased guarddog was taken away by the local police who didn't approve its ancestors' activities!

 Moles have wrecked his landscaped lawns and enterprising badgers are now breeding under his costly conservatory. Wood pigeons have devastated his new vegetable beds and those damned peacocks are interrupting his night's rest, every night. His delight in finding bats in his end wall turned to dismay when he discovered that that prevented his planned extension. Two hundred Canada geese have settled on his freshly-deepened lake and the surrounds look like a purpose-built pig-wallow. The chimes of the village church clock wake him every hour, on the hour. Last evening, bell-ringing practice had gone  on for over an hour without achieving either harmony or the correct sequence. Tristram was becoming confused.

 He had always admired deer from afar--until they smashed his fences, letting rampaging cattle in. He had been a shameless bunny-hugger until they destroyed his herbaceous border. He had looked forward to the relaxation of the countryside until the cows going to be milked had made him late for a TV interview-- to discuss country living. The smell from the adjacent farm disgusted him, how dare they deposit animal excrement near his hedge! Stercoration is 'green', really green, he had argued in his studio discussion--but he didn't want it carried out that close! And why can't they make that delicious local cheese without that awful smell? It had all looked so inviting when he had been planning to 'make his dream come true'. Tristram hadn't spent all those years screaming into a microphone, sweating into his sequined shirt and spending his best years strutting showbiz stages for this!  

 Across the valley, the sleeping dogs had been dreaming too, of a nightmare scenario in which a combination of repeated flooding, failed harvests, fuel-shortages, electricity breakdown, a series of   plagues, widespread anti-capitalist rioting and repeated earthquakes had recreated an urgent global need for sporting dogs: their scenting skills, their vermin-killing skills and above all, their pot-filling skills. In their dreams the dogs felt wanted once again, valued and employed. They emitted suppressed sounds of canine joy and jerked involuntarily in their excited sleep. Tomorrow might be a less confusing day. Watching over them all from the heavens a smiling Socrates recalled his own  words : "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance" and willed the disgruntled Tristram to heed him.