Beating the Black Dog…

I’ve known the Black Dog. The melancholy has always been lurking below the skin of my life for as long as I can remember. Naturally once I overcame my lethargy and sense of hopelessness I tried everything from medication to meditation to CBT. I adjusted my diet, my exercise, reduced stress triggers, alcohol, cigarettes and moderated my caffeine intake. But by far and away the one thing that has given me the most relief, the most long term satisfaction with absolutely zero side effects has to be what I discovered in July last year.

I’d been loosing sleep. A neighbour’s dog was spending hours barking at night and it was driving myself and my wife insane. We did the neighbourly thing and had a polite word with the owners but they blanked it out as if it wasn’t happening. A few of the other menfolk were speaking about poisoning the hound but I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with that approach. I had my own plan in mind.

The garden of the strange barking dog (in the night) backed directly onto ours with only a head height fence dividing the gardens. And our rear attic window enjoyed a perfect, uninterrupted view of the midnight pest as he growled and howled in the early hours. So, I went on line and ordered a hobby air rifle with night sight, ammunition, sniper stand and then I sat back with a grin. If I had to put my finger on the trigger (as it were), the moment that my life began to change, and change permanently, I think that was it.

My mind was busy planning the upcoming “intervention” so I didn’t notice the days passing before the package arrived. Couriered from a supplier in Paris. Instructions were adequate and that evening I drove to the isolated farm yard of a friend and began practicing. When I was finished that evening I set the kit up and went to sleep with a smile.

Black Benjy duly accommodated: he took into barking sometime before 1.20am. I dove out of the bed and throwing a dressing gown and slippers on, got into action. I have much to thank Benjy for. For several nights in a row he returned to his pew on his back door step as I honed my art. Adjusting the power, choosing the correct weight of pellet and learning to steady and shoot all took time. And despite pellets whizzing around him, bouncing behind him and twanging off windows and doors, he stayed true to form. The distractions merely paused his serenade and I found it quite staggering the nonchalance he displayed until finally I hit the bulls-eye.

Not that once was ever going to be enough for Benjy – I had to administer the same medicine several more times that night. Each time, he’d yelp and dive flabbergasted back through the dog flap and into the kitchen. The pattern continued for several nights. An initial sting and ensuing shock. Disbelief followed by belligerence and a macho attitude followed swiftly by a second lick and Benjy would dart inside, tail tightly tucked to his anus. Eventually Benjy came to associate the sound of our attic window opening with incoming pain and he’d disappear through the flap to whence he came. A week after the arrival of the air rifle I can genuinely say that Benjy was a changed canine.

So that’s how it got going. It hasn’t been a cheap hobby – I’ve upgraded the equipment several times and the all-body-camouflage-gear for woodland based targeting was expensive. But in terms of the euphoria, the sense of satisfaction and the sheer adrenaline it has been value for money.

Since those heady days shooting at Black Benjy I applied for and received a licence to eradicate vermin such as rabbits and pigeons. And I enjoy that. It hones the skills and keeps the emptiness I described at bay. It also helps pay for the kit.

But be that as it may, and this is where I believe I may loose the sympathy of many readers, my first love has to be the joy of seeing an unsuspecting Alsatian leap two foot into the air. It may seem totally perverse but the laugh I get as a Dachshund races squealing like a pig under a bush is like nothing I’ve ever know. There is no man made substitute in liquid or tablet form that compares. Days after a successful strike I’ll often awake in the dead of night due to a bout of spontaneous laughter, remembering the tone of a particular shriek of fright from a Jack Russell or the contortions of an overweight Bulldog. My wife is rarely so amused to be disturbed but such is my laughter, my helplessness that she often just rolls over with a chuckle, infected by my sinister chortles.

I can’t give any justification for this cruelty to the dogs themselves and it wouldn’t stand up in court. However I can and will argue that my actions serve some public good. It started like this.

After the “Benjy affair” I had secretly yearned for another target, another chance to feel that adrenaline. I roamed the streets of the housing estate in the evening listening for nuisance barking dogs or checking for menacing unfettered beasts. But no, none. And I had no desire to go on a random shooting spree targeting beloved family pets. Until I bumped into Mrs Morgan coming back from the front green in a proper rage – her five year old had been happily playing goalkeeper in a neighbourly game of soccer until he dove face first into dog shit. When I weighed up the risks to public health (especially that of children) versus the benevolent wave of my magic wand there was never any doubt. A new chapter in my crusade opened.

As luck would have it our front bedroom window looks out over the green where the kids play. Most dog owners dutifully pick up the poop after their own pets and these dogs have nothing to fear – they can come and go as they please. But as always, there’s a minority, the selfish few, that cause the problems. I began to notice that the same offending dogs and their owners would return time and time again to shit on the green. I helped change their pattern. The pleasure from these encounters is often enhanced by the reaction of some of the owners – imagine the anguished cries from a tough would-be-gangster as his prized pedigree Doberman Pincer yelps and bolts for the woods. Stupendous.

The old guy from the neighbouring estate who takes his Shitzu for a daily dump on our green? Shown no mercy. The posh lady with the Mercedes who pretends not to notice her Poodle offloading unwanted hand luggage? Ha! And as my aim and accuracy improved I’ve been able to release the chastisement just as the dog in questions hunches up his back to pass motions which helps to reinforce the message to the owners – although on several occasions the shock has in fact added to the speed at which the feces has been passed. If complaint’s have been passed by the owners to An Garda Síochána* they have of yet, amounted to nothing.

So my advice to anyone fighting back the black dog: think outside the box – find a passion to your liking and to hell with what anyone else thinks. And if you are thinking of a career in “Unilateral Pet Nuisance Behaviour Modification” do not under any circumstances discuss it with a medical practitioner in advance. Me? I remain to this day, a one man crusade, a lone hero without recognition or reward, an unsung community activist, working endlessly, beating back the wrongs of the shaggy dogs, the brown dogs, the white dogs and the scrawny dogs of Dublin West. The Black Dog? He stopped calling around a long time ago…




An Garda Síochána*: Ireland’s Police Service.

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