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Game, sett and match to badger

Owner: Dick Johnson, from Bray, Co Wicklow

Pets: Cindy, his nine-year-old Jack Russell Terrier

Background: Cindy nearly died after venturing into a badger sett

Dick lives on the outskirts of Bray, with his back garden bordering on woodland. He knows there are badger setts in the woods, but the badgers never cause any problem, and Dick appreciates them as part of the local wildlife.

Cindy loves to go for walks in the woods: as a terrier, she enjoys sniffing everywhere, chasing rabbits and grey squirrels.

Dick had assumed that the woods were safe, but one evening he learned that when a dog goes out of your sight, anything can happen, and safety cannot be taken for granted.


It was in late March when he saw Cindy dart out of the back garden into the woods.

He went after her, calling her name, but she had vanished. Dick spent hours searching for her, looking under bushes and in undergrowth, but there was no sign of her. He feared for the worst: he knew that Cindy was unlikely to have left the woods and he was afraid that she might have ventured into a badger sett.

When he was younger, Dick had heard stories about small dogs going down badgers setts and never coming back. Badgers are fiercely defensive of their home territory, and if they meet a dog nose-to-nose, the badgers is nearly always the victor. The dead body of the dog is never found.

Despite Dick's frantic searching, Cindy didn't turn up that night. He got up early the next morning, and searched the woods again, but there was still no sign of her.

On the way back, he looked inside the outdoor kennel that his other dog lived in and to his astonishment, he found Cindy cowering in there. She was badly injured, covered in blood and hardly able to walk.

Dick had guessed correctly: Cindy had gone down a badger sett and she had been lucky to escape with her life.

Dick gently lifted her out of the kennel and the full extent of her injuries could be seen. She had bite marks all over, along her flank, on her underside, under her tail and around her head. Her rib cage was exposed: Dick could see the bones protruding. He put her in the car and rushed her to the vet.

Even the emergency vets were shocked at Cindy's injuries. She needed a major operation to piece her back together. She nearly lost her left eye and she needed dozens of stitches all over her body.

She had to stay on intravenous fluids and strong pain relief for a full two days. She was in the veterinary hospital for a week, but she's a tough little dog, and she gradually made a good recovery. She healed up well over the following weeks, although she still has bald, blackened scarred areas on her flank. The fur will never grow in these areas: they're a permanent reminder of her close brush with death.


Cindy didn't learn from her misadventure: as soon as she had recovered, she wanted to go out to the woods again. Dick, on the other hand, learned a big lesson and Cindy is now never allowed to go out running in the woods on her own.

Dick – or his grandson Thomas – is always with her, keeping her in sight and calling her back if she wanders off at all.

Cindy may have narrowly escaped from the badger sett with her life this time, but if it happened again, the badger would almost certainly finish her off underground. Dick just isn't prepared to take that chance.

Visit Pete's website at www.petethevet.com