Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Chicken Dog

Two dogs enlivened our lives as children in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They were a cairn, called Bunty, who gave birth to Kennel Club pedigree puppies that we were loath to part with, and Ben. He was a black cocker spaniel.
My father, though badly wounded in the recently ended First World War, ran a chicken farm at Silchester, a walled Roman town in the south of England, positioned between Reading and Basingstoke on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders.
Ben was not only a much-loved house dog but a working dog, too – a chicken dog.
When my father wanted a bird for the oven or sale, he would herd chickens into a corner of their run, where they would squawk and flap, probably knowing that one of their number was to end up as food in the near future.
Having selected the required bird, my father would point it out to Ben with his finger – rather as a pointer dog would point with his nose. Ben would then slowly and quietly enter the mêlée and rest his paw on the selected bird, pinning it gently to the ground. Off would scamper the rest of the flock. My father would then gather up the desired chicken from beneath Ben’s paw.