Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Pointing the way to a cure

October 27th, 2018

With the threat of the first winter snows this weekend – earlier than I would normally expect – it’s certainly time to start feeding your garden song birds if you haven’t already done so.

I’ve heard so-far unsubstantiated doom laden forecasts of weeks of snow to come.  If the numbers of geese flying over the house each morning are a harbinger of winter weather, as folklore might suggest, our wild life generally may be in for a rough time.

Many of us feed our garden songbirds because we can enjoy watching them from our living room windows.  But the health benefits of spending time in the outdoors and enjoying nature are becoming increasingly recognised.  I know for myself how easy it would be to sink into inactivity and disconnect from nature if I didn’t have the countryside on my doorstep and dogs to walk, which is why I count myself so lucky to have had these benefits all my life.

So, with the first frosts I’ll be feeding regularly from now on and I look forward to seeing the goldfinches returning to feed on the niger seeds.  Once the message gets out on the jungle drums woodpeckers will start coming to the peanuts.  Blackbirds and thrushes, which don’t have the right sort of claws to hang from a feeder, will hoover up the seeds discarded by the tits and sparrows and finches.  Maybe we’ll be lucky and attract some long tailed tits this year.

We have resident robins in our back garden and in the front which have stayed with us all year.  They are territorial little birds and pugnacious with it, ready to take on most comers to protect their food sources but they welcome additional help on frosty mornings when their natural food of worms and insects are in short supply

The garden song birds don’t build up fat reserves to see them through the winter months so they must forage almost non-stop in the daylight hours to maintain body heat through the long nights.

Most garden centres have a large section set aside for bird food and feeding equipment.  Conservation and a sense of moral responsibility to aid the wild birds’ survival are key factors why we spend so much as a nation on feeding them.  But research shows that personal wellbeing and connecting with nature are other strong motivations.  And it’s no great surprise to learn that the older we get the more inclined we are to feed the birds on a daily basis.

Of course, we should be encouraging the young generation to learn about the wildlife in their gardens and develop their own ideas about conservation.  Who knows, it might help detach them, even momentarily, from their mobile phones and ipads which so many seem to be clinically attached to.

Fly in the ointment

A chance remark provided the answer for a reader whose dog wasn’t responding to the best efforts of the vets to treat her.

Mara is a German shorthaired pointer from a Spanish rescue charity who now lives in Perthshire.  She was the victim of a Spanish neglect case which made the newspapers over there so she clearly had a tough start in life.

Mara became listless and anaemic, losing weight, had loss of appetite and no energy.  Because there was no record of her birth it was thought she might be older than she appeared.  She needed some teeth extracted and tests before the op. showed she had a low white blood cell count which suggested several worrying conditions.  She didn’t respond to the antibiotics prescribed.

The lightbulb moment came when Mara was seen by a Spanish locum vet and Mara’s owner mentioned her Spanish origins.  The vet tested for Leishmaniasis which is caused by a sand fly parasite and affects dogs from Mediterranean countries.

The tests were positive although none of Mara’s symptoms obviously pointed to the disease and it was decided to refer her to the Royal Dick Vet School near Edinburgh, for specialist treatment.  The Dick Vet confirmed the diagnosis and tailored prescription medicines were ordered from abroad.

Latest reports are that Mara is responding in leaps and bounds – quite literally, apparently.  And she has acquired an unexpected habit for a pointer of retrieving hedgehogs which she delivers, unhurt, to her owner.

It’s an instructive story. I am told that Leishmaniasis is not uncommon among Spanish rescue dogs and as more dogs are being rescued to Scotland from overseas, vets are starting to see it more often.  It’s something owners of rescue dogs from abroad should bear in mind and they should tell their vet of their dog’s background.  And Mara’s experience convincingly makes the case of the wisdom of having pet insurance.

As if the Spanish flea wasn’t enough, when the Dick Vet x-rayed Mara they identified multiple metal fragments in her chest, consistent with gun shot.  She’s in a stable, loving environment now and joins Tavish the lurcher and Fox the Jackahuahua (cross Jack Russell and chihuahua), free to run the Perthshire hills.

Written on Saturday, October 27th, 2018 at 9:33 pm for Weekly.