Silence of the Dog Walkers

Walk with dog on leash, clean up after your dog, and now don’t walk your dog here

Living in rural Scotland has it benefits and some draw backs. I love the beautiful landscape, the friendly people, and the peace and quiet. I enjoy seeing the livestock, especially the horses, cows, and sheep.

I didn’t realise how serious of an issue lambing is. Lambing season starts in early spring. It’s almost biblical how sheep give birth during this same time period.

The farmers separate the new mothers and the adorable new lambs from the rest of the herd. I’m not sure why they do that – maybe the other sheep might injure the lambs or interrupt the process? Maybe it’s a custom or seasonal routine?

In Moniaive, some farmers chose to put their new lambs and mothers on our public paths. I first discovered it when I walked on my normal path and was greeted by two tiny lambs wearing little jackets. They were so cute. I started to take a picture but this ewe with huge horns started growling at me.

I tried to walk on, but the ewe wasn’t having it. He moved forward to block my way. I didn’t know what to do: would he attack me? If he charged me, should I run? Would he be able to hurt me? I hate to admit it, but I was a bit scared.

I walked slowly backwards. Fortunately, I was close to the gate and the ewe didn’t try to come after me.

I was a bit shaken and mad by this experience. Is that no longer a public pathway as the street sign indicates? There wasn’t normally a gate at the other end; is there one there now or did they wander into this path? Is this a temporary or permanent thing?

That weekend, I was walking three of my dogs. We normally use that public path. I thought that I would try the path and see if the lambs were gone. They were still on the pathway, this time without jackets. The angry ewe wasn’t around.

My dogs were on their leads and weren’t interested in the sheep. There was plenty of room to walk around the herd. I decided to walk to the other end of the path.

The lambs and mothers all stayed away from the dogs and I. The dogs didn’t bark at them or try to pull me towards them. Still no angry ewe in sight. I was getting close to the other side of the path; there was a gate there now. It looked like the gate was locked and I was worried that I was going to have to go back the way that I came.

A man on a quad (a four wheel motorcycle thing the farmers often use) came speeding towards me from the road outside the gate. His poor dog was hanging off the back and they were both glaring at me. Obviously, I was in for some drama.

“Couldn’t you have chosen a different path,” he demanded to know. “I didn’t know that this was no longer a public path; are we locked in now” I responded. He showed me that the gate wasn’t really locked. His dog was barking and growling at us and the farmer wasn’t doing much to restrain him.

He yells: “my job’s not easy you know” so that I can hear him over his barking dog. “I never said that it was,” I yelled back, “you would think that you would put a sign up or something to let us know.” I opened the gate and went onto the road. The farmer and his dog scowled and left.

There was a teenager near us watching this drama unfold. He took out a slingshot and started shooting at the sheep.

The whole event was a bit maddening. Does he think that I don’t appreciate his job? Is it a public path or not? Can I set up shop there too and tell people that they can’t use it? Is it going to be usable if the lambs leave? How do I get the sheep dung off of my shoes? Is my job easy?

I did some research about access to public paths and found the Scottish Access Code. There are some rules for “land managers” as well as members of the public. The rules seemed to reflect a bit of common sense: don’t do lambing in highly used public paths; don’t put dangerous livestock near public paths; and put a sign to alert people of the lambing. The sign should say how long this will last and it should suggest reasonable alternative paths.

I decided to write an email to our Council. My note included recommendations to help follow the Code. I think that it was pretty reasonable.

The email was referenced on the next Council’s minutes in the appendix. This was overshadowed in the body of the minutes by a lengthy discussion and distinct outrage about dog walkers who don’t clean up after their dogs. I believe that it’s a standing agenda item. Dog poop causes sheep to give birth too early and is harmful for the environment. I’m glad that I pick up after my dogs. I always thought that livestock caused 10% of our greenhouse gases and wonder if bovine tuberculosis and bird flu really came from dogs?

Sarcasm aside, lambing season is over and many of those cute lambs in jackets were sent off to be part of people poop (I’ve never written this much about poop). We have the public paths back. The lamb poop seemed to be a great fertiliser since it’s now full of tall grass and weeds.

Hopefully, next lambing season is better. At least I know what to expect. I still wave to the farmer and his dog as they speed by on their quad.

I suppose these events are part of the rural experience. I still love it in Moniaive. Just make sure that you clean up after your dog if you visit.

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