My morning meditation was interrupted by a sound no farmer ever wants to hear; the barking of wild dogs. It was still dark, and I could hear them close on the ridge behind me – quite a large pack in the paddock where my cows and their young calves are grazing.
Not long after, the dogs began a blood-curdling baying and howling. I gave up any idea of meditating, and sent love and protection to my animals instead. We have had wild dog problems in our shire for a few years now. The dogs have maimed or killed much of our local wildlife, many farm animals and pets, and have also attacked humans.
When the dawn crept up, and the baying stopped I glimpsed seven dogs running along my front paddock in the rain, one limping, bleeding, lagging behind. These aren’t dingoes, Australia’s native wild dog, these are domestic dogs that have been dumped or perhaps run away from home.
One still had a tatty blue collar on. As much as my gut clenched, I felt enormous compassion for these animals as I looked at my own two dogs, curled up on the rug at my feet, patiently waiting for their breakfast. I wondered if my neighbours would be out with their guns this morning, and if any of the dogs would be shot, as so many of the wild dogs before them have.
As I made my morning pot of tea I pondered the plight of these wild dogs, and it led me back to thinking about people.
These dogs have fallen through the cracks. Dumped because their owners changed their mind, or couldn’t afford to feed them, or were neglectful and uncaring, irresponsible, or just didn’t understand what being a pet owner actually entails.
Dogs need a safe place to live, with food and care. They need to feel part of a pack. They need rules and structure. They will get by on the most rudimentary of surroundings and food as long as they have that love, guidance and bond.
The wild dogs in our shire have no one to care for them and no safe place to go. In fact some of them are now so savage that it would be impossible to rehabilitate them. They are traumatised and aggressive. Here are Labradors and Ridgebacks and Spaniels and Terriers, here are cross-bred dogs of all sizes and descriptions, and they are out in the wild, banding together to make their own pack, and it’s so much Lord of the Flies…
They are running on survival instincts, there is no-one to give them safety or teach them manners and social rules and conventions. They will never rise to what they could be. They steal to eat, they destroy out of boredom and anger, they turn on each other and us. And for that they are condemned.
It’s the same for people.
We all need to feel safe. We need shelter and kindness and somewhere we can belong. We all need to learn the basics of looking after ourselves, getting along with others, having respect for the world around us, and learning our society’s fundamental values and rules. With security, guidance and love, even if our surroundings are rudimentary, and our meals basic, we can rise to find our best. We can grow and evolve in positive ways.
Not everyone gets the childhood they need to help them thrive. But humans, like dogs, are resourceful and resilient. We find ways to survive.
And thankfully there are good people in the world who step in to be the mentor, the teacher, the guide, the helping hand, the provider of safety for those who fall through the cracks.
But there are many, many wild dogs, and many, many lost children. There may be some among you who’ve grown to adulthood and look like they cope, look like they fit in a little. And some will be openly wild dogs, snarling at the hands that come near.
Offer them all kindness, offer them all compassion, and if you are called to it, perhaps you may find a way to do more.
I hear the crack of a rifle echoing round our hills. I hug my own dogs, and shed a quiet tear.