Monday, September 20, 2010

It's a dog's life

Neighbour Alain's old hunting dog died over the week-end. Sad, but in many ways a blessed relief. He was old, blind, thin, under-exercised and half crippled. Lived on his own in fenced-in shack of a kennel made of breezeblocks with a leaky corrugated iron roof. He'd been on his own for the last three years, ever since his kennel mate died. If a vet had seen him, he'd have immediately put him down. But vets cost money which is something old Alain just doesn't have.

The dog's kennel area is out front, in a corner of Alain's vegetable patch which adjoins our garden. I used to pop out there quite often, especially in winter, to give the poor old hound a few leftovers like rice and chicken. Couldn't see me coming of course, but soon got to know my whistle and "wotcha mate". Used to wag his tail like mad as I cleared the snow from his trough before chucking the goodies in. Alain said he'd eat anything, including chicken bones. Always understood these bones to be dangerous for dogs, but the massive (about the size of a small horse!) old hunter used to gobble 'em down, no trouble. Another thing he used to like was being nattered to while I gazed into his milky-white eyes. Hadn't a clue what I was on about but he didn't seem to care. Probably just glad of a bit of company.

Whenever I visited him, I used to think it was diabolically cruel for a dog to be housed in such appalling conditions. But, slowly, I came to terms with the fact that out here in hill country there's a big difference between ordinary dogs and hunters. Ordinary dogs live indoors and are treated as pets in much the same way as most British dogs. Hunters though, are treated like cattle and live outdoors. Which isn't to say they're not loved and cared for. Most of them are but the passing of time dictates that old hunters are generally owned by old people, many of whom are living on the breadline. Sad, but that's the way it is. Having said that, most hunters out here live the life of Riley in five-star, purpose-built kennels. They get regular exercise, are fed properly and get medical treatment at the slightest sign of a problem. This includes being stitched-up by a vet when gored by an angry sanglier (wild boar) while out hunting. You may think it a tough life but it's the only life they know and they seem perfectly happy; far more so than some of the over-fed, under-exercised and generally taken-for-granted canines back in the UK.

Anyway, on Saturday afternoon I heard the old hunter howling. Thought something wasn't quite right. Went down to check. Saw he was lying in his pen and obviously not feeling well. Went back to the house to get him some dog biccies. Then Alain turned up to give him his evening grub. Somehow we both knew the dog was dying. That evening, I went to bed with the window open as usual. Heard his howls getting softer and softer as I tried to get to sleep. Next morning, all was quiet. The poor old dog was dead.

Bit later, Alain turned up with Didier and his tractor. They dug a grave and quickly carried out the burial with me watching from an upstairs window. As the dog was placed in the grave, Alain caught my eye, smiled, then signalled to me with clasped hands as a sign of prayer. We both knew that the fine old hunter was going off to a better place. As I said, a sad but blessed relief.

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