Wildlife in Ireland and the U.K seems less than dangerous to the average domestic pet. In the wilderness of Africa, fierce wild animals roam the plains, looking for prey. In contrast, the Irish countryside is a safe haven, with no large bloodthirsty predators to threaten humans, dogs or cats. However, the native wildlife is not entirely harmless, as two pets in my local area of County Wicklow have discovered in the past month.
The first case was a loveable big Labrador called Lugs. Lugs was asleep in the back garden, when his owner was woken before dawn by a noisy commotion outside. Lugs could be heard barking, growling and yelping from the bottom of the garden. There was a loud rustling, scraping noise in between the barks. The owner flashed the torch on, expecting to see a burglar limping away with Lugs hanging onto his trouser leg.
Instead, he was surprised to see a large adult badger, stumbling across the lawn. Lugs was harassing the poor creature, pouncing at him and deafening him with an excited flow of hysterical canine curses.
The badger was ably defending himself by pausing every couple of yards to deliver a swipe with a front claw or a swift snap with his sharp teeth. Poor Lugs was becoming more battered and bruised with each blow, but in his excitement he would not leave the badger alone. His owner had to physically drag him away from the scene of the commotion. Animals sometimes seem oblivious to pain when they are excited. As far as Lugs was concerned at that moment, that badger was the only thing in the world which mattered. However, once he was back in the house, he settled down, had a large drink of water and regained his normal relaxed composure.
When Lugs arrived at our surgery three hours later, his entire face was swollen, bruised and bleeding. He was still as bright and cheerful as ever, but he looked like a badly beaten heavyweight human boxer after ten rounds in the boxing ring. We had to sedate him and stitch up the numerous lacerations under local anaesthesia. His wounds have since healed up well, but his owner is no longer encouraging badgers to forage in his back garden. A wildlife-proof fence is being erected to keep out night-time visitors, for their own sake as well as to protect Lugs.
The second victim of a wildlife injury was a Dachshund called Digger. Once again, the incident happened in the middle of the night. Digger sleeps in the back porch, but he has access to the outdoors through the back door which is left ajar. Digger’s owner was woken at seven in the morning by the howls and whines of an animal in pain. She rushed downstairs, and was greeted by a frightened little dog.
Poor Digger rolled onto his back at her feet, crying, and pushing his paws to his face. On closer inspection, multiple pinpoint spots of bleeding could be seen around his nose and chin. His owner walked around the garden looking for the cause of this injury. She could see nothing, and had almost given up when she heard a loud rustling noise from beneath the rhododendron bushes. A moment later, a hedgehog scuttled out, ran across the lawn and vanished through a hole in the bottom of the fence.
When I saw Digger later in the morning, he had recovered from the fright and pain, but he still had a very painful face. A course of painkillers and antibiotics were enough to return him to normality. Hopefully he has learned that although hedgehogs may look like entertaining toys, they are neither fluffy nor cuddly!