OPINION: Goodbye Scruffy – the most loyal of companions

The farm dog is the unsung hero of UK agriculture.

Sometimes mocked for looking like their owners, be it an overfed Labrador or a stocky and short-tempered Jack Russell, they can offer an excellent foil to their bosses idiosyncrasies.

Scruffy, my short, slightly long in the nose fox terrier, make of that what you will, passed away just before Christmas. She was the most loyal of companions.

Life can be split into chapters defined by the particular dog owned at that time. My childhood chapter belonged to Polly, my mother’s dog. She wasn’t really my mother’s dog, more that she wasn’t my father’s dog. Farmers from his vintage don’t own miniature black poodles. Amusingly, my father was quite fond of Polly but was desperate not to show this in public. Freshly trimmed French poodles weren’t de rigueur around a farm.

Mutley is a friendly neighbour’s terrier – basically a procreating organ covered in lots of hair

My teens were defined by Mandy, my sister’s Labrador, who carried dirty washing from bedroom to laundry and my twenties by Toohey, a legendary fox terrier, mouser, bon viveur, friend to children and adults alike and a leader among dogs. Not in that Denis Wise small dog aggressive way, but a more respected Field Marshall Montgomery fashion.

I was once told that you only have one good dog in your life. Considering that everyone regarded Toohey as over-qualified for that accolade, Scruffy had a lot to live up to.

Scruffy was a one-person dog. She largely ignored others, seeing them as an inconvenience, except for Mutley that is. A friendly neighbour’s terrier, who is basically a procreating organ covered in lots of hair.

Scruffy’s chapter started in April 2000, four weeks before I met my wife. The correlation is not lost on me. A fluffy, playful 14-week-old fox terrier puppy releases a pheromone that can make even the most unappealing of single men an object of desire for women.

She (Scruffy, not my wife) rewrote the definition of unconditional love. She shadowed my every step and loved nothing more than a day in the combine listening to Test Match Special. She had her faults; she ate the inside of my truck. Whenever we arrived at our destination on the farm she would jump out the back of the Land Rover and run 500 yards in the opposite direction, without fail, from six months old up to November of last year.

She was quirky, loved M&M’s but spat the blue ones out, adored stilton and hated dog food. She was born to farm; mornings were spent sitting in the middle of the driveway juxtaposed between the farm office and the farmyard awaiting instruction.

Dogs hold the key to many an amusing farm anecdote. There is Meg, a terrier owned by Matt, who was bought for vermin control but will only chase shadows. My friend’s dog, Jack, that needs to change mudguards on each bout so as to be in the sun, or Andrew’s rather tubby Labrador that refuses to sit anywhere but the front seat, so Mrs Wilson has to sit in the back.

But perhaps most importantly beyond their working capacity they offer a vital companionship. They bring a sense of humility when things are going well and a sense of fun when one needs a lift. You can have more than one good dog in your life, and my last 14 have been all the richer for her.

Ian Pigott farms 700ha in Hertfordshire. The farm is a LEAF demonstration unit. Ian is also the founder of Open Farm Sunday.

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