Dangerous animals in the UK: Part One.

Cows, dogs, foxes, and horses, with more to come in Part Two.

The death and injury rates are tiny, of course; I just like the headline. I’ve been slowly preparing for a second edition of my book, Getting Home In An Emergency, which I’m assuming will be free to people who’ve already purchased the first edition. Plus I’m doing a lot more travelling up and down the country recently, visiting here there and everywhere. So when I saw a headline from last year in The Independent, “Cows officially the most deadly large animals in Britain”, I had to have another look. Any long journey will include rural areas, and it’s basic preparedness to be aware of the potential dangers posed by farm, domestic and wildlife.

There isn’t any advice in that Independent article, though we can take a few implications from the stats presented:

  • don’t get near a calf, and most certainly don’t get between a mother and it’s calf.
  • if you have a dog in a field containing cows, keep the dog close to you.
  • groups of people seem not to be vulnerable at all, so if you have any concerns about a particularly frisky herd, try to cross the field in a group of people.

Dogs are the next most deadly animal. Heartbreakingly, of course, it’s often babies and toddlers in the news, who are killed by a pet. To pre-empt that situation, personally, I would never, ever allow such a young child in the same room as a dog that hasn’t had extensive obedience training, and has a proven character. And even then, I’d be keeping an eagle eye out. Taking a risk with the life of a child in your care; it mustn’t be done.

In the course of our daily travels around the country, however, there are different issues. So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • don’t panic! This isn’t lifted from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but it’s very true. Not only do you need to avoid the appearance of panicking, you need to calm down your physical responses – dogs can smell our emotions, so to speak, our pheromones and hormones, plus agitation may actually trigger the dog’s aggression.
  • stay still, and keep your hands at your sides. I had personal experience of this one, in Spain: I was leaving the Cortijo where I was staying, heading onto a dusty trackway, and a local dog bounded up, barking furiously. I’m not afraid of dogs, but my companion was, so I said “No”, very loudly, just once, and shook my finger at the dog simultaneously. It stopped in it’s tracks, yes, but it also went for my finger. I pulled back at the speed of light and was unharmed, and I learned a valuable lesson that day.
  • don’t face the dog – stand sideways on, it’s less threatening. Avoid eye contact too. The dog may actually sniff you, but will still choose not to bite you.  Probably.
  • don’t run! You’re acting as a prey animal if you do that, and you can’t outrun a dog.
  • distract it, if you can and if it seems right, by giving it something to chew on. Your water bottle (have a spare in your pack!) a glove, anything. If you know you might face a dog on your route, it could even be worth carrying something like a toy, or a ball, to use in this scenario. I wouldn’t carry dog treats, as I’ve seen suggested – they’re more likely to attract dogs in the first place.

Foxes are also known to attack babies and toddlers, even when they’re sleeping in their cots upstairs, though I have come across one incident when a fox attacked a sleeping cat and then the adult cat owners who rushed to the cat’s defence. The incidents seem to have been exclusively in urban areas, so if you’re walking in the countryside, whether for pleasure or during an emergency, you’re extremely unlikely to be bothered by a fox. The RSPCA has a great page on foxes, which contains some valuable links as well as further information in a pdf at the bottom of the page, I highly recommend it.

Horses are big enough to be intimidating to people who don’t know them or understand them, but injuries caused by horses are overwhelmingly likely to be from horseriding accidents, and from other interactions started by the human. The lesson is, if you’re out walking, for leisure or during an emergency, don’t approach a horse: looking at it, trying to stroke it, trying to get up on it, and most especially getting between a horse and it’s foal. It’s a prey animal, it will run if it can, but if it feels it can’t run from you, it will attack, and it’s big enough to kill you. Additionally, stallions could be more confrontational if they feel you’re threatening their mares, and a herd, if frightened by you, could stampede and cause real damage. Weirdly, this happened in High Barnet in north west London, just last month, October 2016. There were no human injuries, fortunately, but two horses had to be put down.

I took the pictures below at an urban riding school a while back, and they show how easy it might be to get into problems. This foal is six days old, and very, very wobbly. In the second picture, she’s trotting happily after her mum, but she’s so uncertain on her feet she could easily fall behind, and a human could then easily get in between them without realising. It can happen very fast, which is why it’s best to stay on the alert when there are animals nearby.

Six day old foal with mother
Six day old foal with mother
Foal is off for a trot with mother
Foal is off for a trot with mother

The focus here is entirely on staying safe around animals.  I do think we can turn all this around to train guard animals – not just dogs, but goats and geese, maybe even swans, will give you advance warning of people on your property.   More about that in part two.

 

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