A couple of days ago I was kicked out of my slumbers at 05:45 by dogs barking. Constantly. I could hear them going crazy at a distance (obviously the front gate) then after a gap (while they raced down the garden path) closer-by at the rear/side fence. Clearly something or someone was on the prowl.
Whatever it is will soon go past I told myself, and turned over to resume my sleep. And turned, and turned, but the racket continued. I am not the sort of person who can pull a pillow over my head to block out the sound – I’d suffocate – which is rather extreme.
One dog in particular was giving it great ferver, I thought that sounded like Marti, our mastin (Spanish mastiff). Of course next door’s dog was joining in. Thankfully the five yappy dogs which used to live across the lane from us had, with their owner, recently moved out, otherwise the entire neighbour-hood would have been awake by now. It was no good, I could see I would have to get out of bed and give my two a bollocking to shut them up.
I threw on the nearest t-shirt (it is still quite warm at nights and I hadn’t yet fished out my sleepware from my winter wardrobe) and slid into my slippers then quietly slipped out of the bedroom. This might seem like a contradiction given the cacophony going on outside, but Ziggy was still sleeping. Having said that, he can sleep through anything.
It was still dark so I groped my way past the dining chairs, through the kitchen and into the lounge, where I could look through the window facing the front gate.
The answer to this disturbance stood right before me, in the form of a dark brown donkey which had its nose poked up against the bars of the gate. I wondered if she was expecting to be let in. She was clearly a bold donkey as she seemed totally unperturbed by the dogs. And I was surprised to see that it was JD, our small black Labrador, who was making all the noise, not Marti. As I watched, a grey horse appeared behind the donkey. Actually it was a white horse (no I don’t mean a bottle of scotch!) but you should never call a white horse white, you know. I decided this needed more thorough investigation and headed back to the bedroom to don shorts and sandals.
By the time I returned to the lounge both animals had wandered a little further up the lane. As I let myself outside through the patio door the dogs greeted me with approval before disappearing back up the garden path, presumably to try and see the animals through the fence.
As I walked up to the gate I could see the equine pair several metres away. At my appearance the grey took fright and trotted past me, back down the lane. The donkey decided to come up to the gate and say hello. As she neared I slowly put my arm through the gate and tentatively extended my fist for her to smell. (I wasn’t going to risk my fingers in case she was a biter) but she was very good and as I moved my hand up her head she accepted a stroke between her ears. By this time the grey had walked back into view and was now watching the proceedings.
The dogs reappeared, JD giving a bark to let me know she was there, while Marti just stood quietly. I must have stood there in the quiet pre-dawn for a good fifteen minutes, with the donkey siding up to the gate where I was able to stroke her back. She looked to me like she was pregnant. From where it was I couldn’t make out whether the grey was a mare or a gelding but it stood quietly, turning every now and then to grab a wisp of grass from the verge.
I was wondering if I should put my dogs in the house and let these two into my yard rather than risk them wandering up the lane and onto the road. (Our lane was a ‘dead end’, servicing only 12 properties.) Someone would come looking for them during the morning I was sure.
It was then that I heard footsteps. Whoever it was, they were walking very strangely, I thought. Then I heard thunkle, thunkle thunkle. Like, not the tinkle of a bell, but the thunkle of a cow-bell, or a goat-bell. As a little face appeared followed by a thick body, it transpired it must be a sheep-bell. Along with the donkey and the horse came sixteen sheep. I wasn’t going to bring that lot into my yard!
The dogs had become completely still by now, obviously realising that I was happy with the situation. And the presence of the sheep could explain why Marti hadn’t barked, but when Marti saw the sheep her interest was definitely piqued. The sole purpose of her breed is for livestock protection (from wolves) but to the best of my knowledge this was the first time she had actually seen sheep.
Oh this reminds me of an incident I simply must tell you about.
One warm spring night a couple of years ago I was sitting at my outside table checking my emails. A friend had sent me a link to a video about the return of wolves to the Yellowstone National Park. At the time JD was lying in her bed outside and Marti was snoozing on the floor in the dining room, the door of which opens onto the area where I was.
I clicked on the link to the video which instantly started with howling wolves. In a flash Marti came flying outside, hackles raised all down her back, and after glancing at me raced to the front gate. Even on the move her whole shape was that of a dog (or even lion) waiting to pounce, but she didn’t stay still for a second. Seeing nothing at the gate she tore back and forth along the length of the hedge at the front of our yard. Finding that clear of wolves she turned and raced back in my direction, careened past the table and headed off down the garden path. Even forty metres away, with a wall and plant-life between us I could hear her threatening growls as she scoured the fence/hedge looking for wolves. After a couple more sallies back and forth she eventually lowered her hackles and returned to sit at my side, but was clearly quite distressed by this affair.
As soon as she had reacted to the wolf howls I had turned off the video and sat, open-mouthed in awe at nature’s amazing display of inbred reaction. Having got her as a six-week old rescue dog I knew that she had never come across a wolf in her life before, but she knew exactly what it was and what to do. I continued watching this amazing video, but used headphones so as not to distress Marti any further.
I still get goosebumps just recalling it, but it does explain why there are no wolves around here! J
Here’s the link to the video if you’d like to watch it (highly recommended!).
Anyway, where was I. Went off at a bit of a tangent there…
Oh yes, the arrival of the sheep.
I stayed at the gate, motionless, for ages just watching the animals. The grey strolled a few metres up the lane and was slowly followed by the sheep. I have seen loads of sheep-dogs in my life, but a sheep-horse???
The head honcho sheep, the one wearing the bell who had, up until now, remained in the centre of the flock, appeared to be intrigued by the donkey standing so close to the gate and also came closer. I must have moved a fraction because the sheep lifted its head and, seeing me, instantly spun around (I didn’t think I looked that scarey!). At this the flock moved as one in copying their leader and shot off down the lane, its greyness (the horse) joining in the stampede.
Donkey had just stayed where she was. Then after looking up at me she slowly ambled off down the lane after her buddies. I trust they all found their way home safely.
I know I found my way safely back to bed to try and catch a few zzzzz before it was time to be woken for a cup of tea in bed, which is brought to me daily by slumbernut, who at this point was still gently snoring on his side of the bed.
I dozed off while wondering what the rest of the day would bring.
Alas, nothing compared to the start of the day.
Marti and JD ‘on guard’ at the front gate. This was taken in 2013, before Marti ‘filled out’.