Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Those of you who followed the saga of our sheep-murdering dogs will already be aware that Paddy and Milo are now safely and happily ensconced in pastures new and, more importantly, pastures free of succulent, woolly temptation.

Paddy, the Jack Russell terrier, lives with close friends of ours in Southport, a town with a negligible ovine population. Milo, the golden retriever, went to close friends of theirs, the Mawdesleys, although he has now moved on. Apparently, Mrs Mawdesley's elderly parents, Mr and Mrs Cunningham, looked after him for a week and were so smitten that they asked to keep him. So Milo now lives with the Cunninghams in a well-heeled part of suburban Cheshire, where there will be no opportunities to sink his teeth into tender sheepskin beyond the occasional Premiership footballer strolling in an expensive winter coat along the mean streets of Alderley Edge.

Meanwhile, our new retriever puppy Fergus is being subjected to sheep-aversion training on a daily basis. If he so much as nods a polite "how do ewe do?", he gets a ferocious bollocking. This sometimes seems a little harsh, although not by comparison with the method favoured by some folk hereabouts, who assure us that a puppy shut up with a truculent ram for an hour will thereafter give sheep a very wide berth indeed. As I think we all would.

Anyway, much as we still miss Milo and Paddy, we love Fergus, and everything is happily resolved. Or so it seemed until shortly before Christmas, when I received a phone call from Mrs Cunningham, Milo's new owner.

Now, I haven't met Mrs Cunningham but I have no doubt that she is a warm-hearted and altogether admirable woman. Her daughter, Mrs Mawdesley, whom I have met only once, certainly is. But the no-nonsense pragmatism evident in the daughter appears - there is no way of putting this without causing offence - to be missing in the mother. She is inclined - there is no other word - to soppiness.

"Is that Mr Viner?" she said. "This is Mrs Cunningham, Milo's new mummy. I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas and to tell you Milo is a tweetie-pie."

I agreed that he is an extremely loveable, good-natured and well-behaved dog - apart from when he is ripping out sheep's throats, that is.

"He's a tweetie-pie," she reiterated. "And I don't think he's capable of killing sheep. I think they were already dead, killed by a fox."

I assured her that I would not have accepted a £1,500 compensation claim from Mr Jones the farmer had I not been absolutely certain that Milo and Paddy were jointly responsible for the carnage that I saw for myself and indeed helped to clear up, hauling scarcely alive ewes with their entrails hanging out into the back of a Land Rover.

Moreover, we would hardly have given up an adored family pet, subjecting ourselves to the abject spectacle of our 12-year-old daughter sobbing into Milo's fur for an hour when she realised that he would have to live somewhere else, had we not been convinced that it was the correct course of action. To keep him and risk the same thing happening again would have put Milo at risk of a bullet and been intolerably provocative to our neighbours, most of whom are farmers. So, I said, no matter how remote they considered the possibility of him harming another creature, they should never, ever take him into sheep country and allow him off the leash.

"Well," she said, having digested this dire warning. "All I can say is that he's an absolute tweetie-pie."

She then handed me to her husband, who also wanted to express his affection for Milo. "I'll just hold the phone to his ear," he said before I had time to object, "so you can speak to him."

And so it was that I found myself talking to a golden retriever on the telephone three weeks ago, and for want of anything better to say, wishing him a merry Christmas and a happy new year. "I don't suppose he knew what on earth was happening," I said, when Mr Cunningham mercifully returned the phone to his own ear.

"Oh, he knew all right," he replied. "I could tell he recognised your voice." I wish I'd thought of something more profound to say.

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