Binker died on Sunday morning, August 13th, 2017 after suffering an apparent stroke during the night. Binker was strong, very fit, and never gave any sign of his age – he would have been eleven in December – so his death was a terrible shock to us.
Binkie was not an easy character – after the age of one when his hormones stated racing, he could be defiant and aggressive. Even castration at the age of two did little to change him (though he did stop chasing all the females in the neighbourhood). We had a number of crises with him when, mistaking his mood, we had tried to get him to do something he obviously did not want to do. In our inexperience, we went too far for Binker, and we suffered a few bites on the way. He also had a penchant for biting visitors – a quick nip from behind on the calf to assert his territorial dominance. The mayor’s wife, a B&B guest, a casual caller and Gilbert the shearer were all casualties of Binker’s in this way. I received much more substantial bites on the thigh and arms when on 3 or 4 occasions I attempted to assert MY dominance, and the marks would remain for a couple of months. Why then did we keep him?
Simple. Most of the time he was a most affectionate dog, and an integral part of the family. He was an excellent guard dog – Carol always felt secure at home with him there, especially if I were away – and a great companion in the countryside, where he belonged naturally. Away from home, he was never a threat to anyone. People I met on walks were amazed when I told them that this friendly dog could be a terror if they met him on his home territory. He could be trusted absolutely with all farm animals, especially sheep and poultry and even domesticated rabbits.
Once I had made clear the rabbits were part of the household he never touched them, and even when I released one to join its wild brethren in the valley, Binker knew which was which and only chased the wild ones. I ascribed his shortcomings to our lack of experience in bringing him up. After all, a spoilt child is the fault of the parents, not the child. I did learn to recognise his mood, and the different levels of gradation that would lead to a bite, and
so I usually managed him to avoid the extreme confrontations. Others did not understand this and were on the receiving end. The French dog trainer, a big, strong, rather arrogant man, in the end retreated ignominiously from Binker’s snap. And Peter, my brother in law, after a week of Binker lying adoringly at his feet, misunderstood Binker’s intense territorial instincts and, despite our warning, went to touch Binker in his den (the boot of the car) and received a deep bite to his arm. Most owners would have had him put down after one of these incidents. And after one, indeed, Carol insisted that he would have to go and I had the heartbreaking task of taking him to the vet for the lethal injection. I cried all the way into Aunay, barely able to see the road through my tears. Out of the car he jumped in Aunay, opposite the vet, blissfully unaware of what was in store for him, and trotted with me across the road. It was a Saturday morning and normally the vet’s would be open. But today it was closed! It was a public holiday which I had not realised (we rarely did in France, living our life at La Vauterie quite separate from the daily life of the surrounding area). And so Binker was thankfully reprieved and Carol accepted him back into the household.
Binker was a Korthals Griffon (http://www.griffonkorthals.fr), a hunting dog of medium size (30-32kg). In the winter he had his long shaggy coat, and looked relatively stocky. Shorn in summer he was like a lean, silky smooth racing thoroughbred. His colouring was most attractive: large, brown, velvety, floppy ears, his head mostly rich brown but with a blonde beard/moustache, and his body a superb mixture of greys and white, with the hint of brown in various places. He was an extremely handsome dog, a complete eye catcher.
In the early days at La Vauterie, he would go for a “walk” with me after breakfast and late afternoon or evening down to the river and back through the woods and along the property boundary to the sacred lake. Sometimes he would get an extra one thrown in. I was, of course, doing the walking and Binker was doing the bounding, and sniffing, and chasing.
After the first year or two, he rarely stayed with me the whole course. Once at the river and turning for home, he was off, racing back to Carol, whom he regarded as his natural master. By the age of 6 or 7 this walk no longer interested him, and he refused to go with me. So I went on my own – my daily commune with nature, watching the changing patterns, marvelling at the fact that everything I saw I owned, and making my plans for coming hedging, fencing, cutting, etc. And it was at this time that Carol decided she needed some brisk walking for health reasons, so she would take Binker on the lead on her circuit via the village. And Binker loved it. As soon as Carol picked up the lead he would be jumping in the air like a pony. Most strange I thought. He had hardly had a lead in his life because there was no need at La Vauterie, but here he was eager for it. Looking back, I can see he got bored with the same old walk, and he wanted more variety beyond our 14 acres.
There was one curious incident when he was very young – about 6-9 mths at a guess – when he disappeared entirely from the house and its surrounds. When he never returned, I started a thorough search of the entire property right down to the river. There was a rumble of thunder in the air, and I thought perhaps this might have frightened him. So I called his name all the way down the valley and through the woods, but there was no response. And then I suddenly stumbled upon him, curled up in a grove of pine trees. He seemed frightened or distant and I never understood why he never responded to my calls. He had been missing over two hours and he certainly knew the way home well enough. I put it down to the thunder or the first hormonal stirrings of independence.
We lived only 40 minutes from the Normandy beaches so out of the main holiday season we would often take Binker to Arromanches (Gold Beach). When the tide was out, but incoming, Binker would race along in the shallow waves chasing the fish coming in on the tide. He would go completely out of sight on occasions – it’s a very long beach.
Also at about the age of 3, Carol decided he wasn’t getting enough exercise, and one evening she took him in the car down to the bottom of the lane and let him out. She drove home and Binker raced after her. It was only about 600 yards but he seemed the better for it. And so it became a regular evening exercise, and I soon took it over, and extended it as far as the crossroads beyond Le Moulin, which was as far as one could go while keeping on the little-used, quiet lanes. And this routine of an evening run of about 2kms became established, summer and winter, for the rest of the time we were at La Vauterie -about six years. It probably played a key part in Binker’s fitness. He would hare off as soon as he was let out of the boot, and soon be out of sight if one did not jump back in the car quickly and get after him. Sometimes he was distracted by an animal – a fox, a badger, deer, or rabbit (and once a herd of wild pigs) – and would disappear over the fields, but he had an unerring instinct for home and while I might wait for him to reappear, he would usually have found his own way back to the house long before me. The usual pattern, though was for me to follow behind him at a speed of 20-30 kph. In his early days he would reach 40 kph, especially if he thought I might overtake him. He always wanted to be in front, whether on these evening runs or on our many walks. And I preferred it that way since I could keep an eye on him and watch out for any car (fortunately rare) coming in the opposite direction.
I thought that these evening runs would end once we returned to the overcrowded roads of England, and they did for a time when we lived near Crediton. But our next move to Westworthy near North Tawton took us to a much quieter part of Devon, and I soon discovered I could resume the evening runs. This time it was the run up from Bondleigh Bridge just over a mile away, and in the summer this run was usually after a walk from the bridge to Clapper Woods along the river. Binker wanted the run even if he had had a good walk during the day. And he did get some good walks, mostly over Dartmoor which was just 20 minutes away. No longer having any land maintenance responsibilities, I was able to plan long walks, and Binker was the ideal companion. No walk was too long for him, no weather too bad. And he never argued about the route! I had some wonderful walks with him to the different tors of North Dartmoor, including a search for Cranmere Pool and the Ted Hughes Memorial Stone.
He could scramble up all but the highest rocks so we would often have a sandwich lunch together on top of a tor. And, of course, I never had to worry in the slightest that he might chase or worry the sheep on the moor, unlike many dogs that had be kept leashed by their owners.
Binker’s temperament certainly caused us many difficulties and we never knew when there might be a confrontation over getting him to bed at night. But it was part of his independent outlook, which I very much admired, even while I was battling it. There was nothing cur-like about Binker. I think I enjoyed his company more because he was so independent minded and occasionally defiant. I recognised a fellow member of the awkward squad. It was never a traditional master-dog relationship, more a matter of equals -at least from my perspective. Binker may well have thought that he was in charge!
One could never forget Binker’s presence. Not for him a a quiet withdrawal into a corner of the room to await a call to action. He liked to sprawl on the rug in front of the woodburner, a space he regarded as his own. And we were happy to see him there – it was his home as much as ours, and it was a very contented scene. In fact, he tended to sprawl wherever he lay down so he was not a dog one could miss. The only time he curled up into a compact form was when he went to bed in the entree (which was deliberately kept cool) or when he slept outside.
He also made his presence felt through an array of sounds for different circumstances and moods: obviously his deep bark at the approach of anyone coming down the drive or even someone going along the lane 70 yards away was enough to waken the dead or make one jump out of one’s skin if concentrating on something else. Then there was his Kevin-like grunt “Uuuhhh” as he flopped down in disappointment when he realised there was going to be no immediate action. He had a mewing sound when licking himself, and a mew-whine mixture when he could smell a bone or similar on a worktop and which he knew from experience was ultimately destined for him; his full-on whine came when he was locked in somewhere or trapped and unable to get out, as in the barn. He could also howl like a wolf, something he always did when Carol played or sung a certain Mika song. In fact, in the end, one would only have to say the word Relax in a high pitch and Binker would start his wolf howl. There is a Youtube video of him somewhere singing along to Mika (link here). His deep growl, of course, was an unforgetable warning not to cross him! He never bothered making a noise when he wanted to get into the house – he would just scratch with his great “plaw” on the door, knowing that we could not bear that and would do something pronto. There was also his Mew-Mew noise when he agitated to go for a walk.
Binker was very much like a coiled up spring, ready to shoot off at a moment’s notice. An apparently sleeping dog would transform himself in seconds when he saw one of us put on a coat or shoes. At these times he became so excited that we had to put him outside while we finished getting ready because he really was unmanageable otherwise. However, if we were going to the shops and we could not take him with us, all we had to say was “shops” and he would immediately quieten, sit, and look at us with reproachful eyes. If we ever had to be away for a few hours, as we had to on some of our house viewing days, we would look forward as much as Binker to getting home and being greeted by our doggie. He made home really feel like a home.
The house is now quiet, too quiet, without him. We miss him dreadfully. The one thing we are thankful for, though, is that he had no lingering illness, no drawn out decline into infirmity. He was vigorous to the end. We simply could not imagine Binker ever being a slow old dog. He died peacefully in his sleep, a matter of 8 hours after he disturbed us in the early hours of the morning when he had clearly lost his orientation. We could not bear the thought of cremation and wanted him buried. But where? Our problem was solved by Carolyn Richards, the owner of Westworthy, who allowed us to bury Binkie in a corner of the little woodland there. It was the only place in England that had felt like home to Binker.
And now that mighty heart is lying still.