Shooting season is in full swing for us now. The first day stirred up the partridges and gave the dogs a chance to be disobedient in front of paying customers. Gamekeepers' dogs are different from pets or field trial dogs; ours are multi-purpose working beasts and as such tend to fall into the "jack of all trades, master of none" category. Not perfect but effective. It's hard to explain to a dog that, although I wanted you to work far away chasing pheasants for the last month, today I want you to sit patiently and wait until I send you for a bird, just ignore those others falling around you and hunt closer please. Don't forget to bring me back what you find and hold it until I take it from you. Jazz and Dulcie came and did an admirable job, and in hot weather. I never cease to be amazed by their drive to find lost and wounded birds.
We are 50% down on working dogs. Pip is still lame in her front foot from a thorn and Podge scratched her cornea chasing birds home from thick cover. Pip has had to go back on antibiotics and I will make her a boot tonight to stop her licking the pad of her foot. Podge's eye is much better and I will probably work her on Monday and give Jazz a rest. I usually work a pair.
Hazel, a 5 year old springer spaniel we adopted from my old employer, is also going to be given a chance this season. She came to us with the "useless" tag (as have 4 of our other dogs) after suffering training by electric collar. She hunts and retrieves like a demon but recall can be optional. She gets so focused on hunting she seems to go temporarily deaf. Mike says it's a common affliction known as "spanielitis". I hate the thought of losing her on a shoot day but if we can get her past this and working regularly, she will be a much happier more fulfilled little dog, and a real asset to the team. Everyone needs a purpose.
The weather has been so beautiful today I used it as an excuse to defer housework (again). I thought living in a small cottage would be easier - less space to keep clean - but it's quite the opposite. There is so little room to put anything, my small amount of stuff gets dizzy it's moved around that much. The dining room is doubling as a tack room, the office is under the stairs and there are sheep fleeces in spare bedroom. I seem to live in the kitchen. Mike lives in his truck.
Well, the pup needed training anyway and there are just so many blackberries still in the hedgerows. I couldn't resist collecting just one more tub. Just one more lot of jelly. This is the last time I swear. I'm going to need an intervention soon. But I picked and trained, and Spud went for her biggest walk yet, and brought me back 3 half eaten partridge carcases. One came out of the river and had been picked completely clean by crayfish except the wingtip feathers. Fascinating. I swapped her the skanky birds for a handful of biscuits, an amiable exchange. She has the desire to retrieve which bodes well for future training; retrieving is something that is incredibly difficult to teach if the natural inclination isn't there. When I ran out of biscuits, she was happy to eat some of my picked blackberries instead.
I've spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen cooking for tomorrow's shoot and for our dinner. I've made one venison meatloaf, a big pot of venison chili, gallons of potato, leek & pea soup, plus venison sausage rolls, and scones. I still have the blackberry & apple jelly to finish tonight after I feed and water the horses. I try and keep the dogs out of the kitchen when I'm cooking. Though I don't mind a few dog hairs in my jelly (all dog owners know it has healing properties), I don't suppose the workers will want it in their soup.
The dogs were sent out of the kitchen, but shortly after a chicken joined me. I looked down to see Mrs Sussex staring up at me with her head cocked and making a little noise at me. It almost sounded like a complaint. She certainly looked perturbed - if a chicken can look perturbed. I thought about the leftover food I just put out on the lawn and wondered if she wasn't getting her fair share and came in to complain. Then I remembered the dogs. This is what I found:
A very greedy shepherd. I took her picture then shooed her off the baked bean buffet. Who knew chickens were such tattle-tales?
I also promised to take a picture of the bathrobe-dog coat when I finished it:
The coat has been hemmed and velcro closures put on the front and the belt. The coat is modelled by its new owner Pip (does that make it a "lab coat"?) who obviously thinks this is loungewear. It needs the bootie on her front foot, to complete the ensemble.