Who let the dogs out?

DSCF5581Over the weeks that this blog has been silent, the story of Ed’s antipathy to dogs has slowly built to an horrible climax. The killing of Baz is only the latest episode in the epic-like saga of fraternal hostility between Ed and Will. Were this a Greek tragedy, one shudders to think was the conclusion would be.

But the circumstances that led Ed to pull the trigger and bring sorrow to his nephew (and stepson) go back some weeks. Convinced, on far from certain evidence, that the neospora in his herd that caused some cows to abort came from dog faeces, Ed embarked on a campaign (for which, after David’s experience of a dog worrying his sheep there was some sympathy) of encouraging dog walkers to keep their animals away from his stock. The campaign became increasingly hysterical (though even Lynda was persuaded not to walk Scruff on Grange Farm any longer) until the moment when, in failing light, Ed shot Baz as the trainee working dog set off after an hare.

Was Ed to blame? Will thinks that it was a deliberate act; Ed protests (with his father as his witness) that he did not know that it was Baz. The listener is somewhat perplexed by that focus: can farmers really shoot dogs that are presenting no immediate danger to their beasts? The dog presumably belonged to somebody who was going to be devastated when an apparently unhinged dairy farmer executed their pet.

Baz, of course, was not a pet, but it’s a word that points us to the heart of the issue. What is our relationship with the animals who share our lives? That Ed proposes to atone for the act by buying George a puppy suggests that he is utterly confused. He does not keep animals in order to be emotionally attached to them. His cows do not provide him with something to love; that Vicky treats cattle in that manner annoys him; his poster campaign suggested that he had little sympathy with those who kept a dog for companionship and the joy of walking in the countryside. But for many people animals are not commercial property. Pet owners are (by and large) pet lovers. Farmers (by and large) cannot afford to be sentimental.

The question of our relationship with the animals who share our lives was one to which the hagiographers frequently returned in the saints’ lives of the early mediaeval period. Cuthbert came out of a cold sea to have his legs dried by otters; Benedict shared his meals with a raven; Antony asked the wild beasts nicely not to eat from his garden and they desisted. The message is clear: at our best, at our most holy, we live in co-operation with the animals. There are hints of the vision of Isaiah 11 where the lion lays down with the lamb behind these stories; Isaiah paints a picture of a world with its primeval harmony restored. Not only do animals live in peace with each other, but human beings and animals live together without either threatening or fearing the other.

Perhaps the pet owner is sensing just a little of that; the dog who returns at its owner’s call and is eager to please gives us a glimpse of a better world. The dog that is allowed to worry sheep or to defecate on a dairy farm points us to the selfishness that mars our relationships not only with each other but with the whole of creation. The death of Baz is a part of the tragedy that afflicts not only the Grundy family but the whole of creation. The joyous moments that all animal lovers experience with their pets point us to a peace that might even, one day, reconcile Will and Ed.

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