Elizabeth Wright
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It's A Dog's Life

This part of the South Downs is a paradise for dogs and their owners. The attractions are obvious – miles of beautiful open countryside covered by acres of springy green turf. Dogs chase balls, rabbits, gulls and pigeons, dig holes in the chalky ground and follow nature’s tantalising smells. Their owners keep fit by walking for miles over the glorious landscape.

But this place has a dark side. Only yards away from the paths and road is the jagged edge of the infamous Beachy Head cliffs. At its highest point there’s a 500 feet drop down to the sea. Not only has this unfenced stretch of headland claimed many human lives but also that of a number of dogs.

Surprisingly, many do survive, and much of the credit for this must go to the Coastguard cliff rescue teams. Animal rescues are given the same priority as human rescues and, in addition to their standard casualty equipment, they have a special net with draw-strings. The conditions the rescue teams face to retrieve scared and injured creatures are inevitably life threatening. Between them and a stomach-churning drop there are just two strong ropes, two four foot metal stakes, a portable petrol driven winch and a sturdy Land-rover.

Retired coastguard Gary Russell BEM has saved a number of dogs in his 27 years of service. With quiet modesty he dismisses the obvious hazards and says, “It’s just a job and somebody’s got to do it. I take it in my stride.”

However his rescue skills were truly challenged when “Simon”, a large and surly tempered Doberman, who’d fallen onto a ledge 80 feet down, resisted all efforts to get him up to the top of the cliff. But with the aid of the special net, “Simon” was eventually entrapped. As they were being hauled up together Gary said, “I could feel hot breath on my neck. Simon was angrily chewing his way through the net and appeared to be fast heading for my throat. I was certainly glad to get to the top.”

However, “Penny”, a greyhound, came face to face with Beachy Head the reverse way. She livened up her walk along the undercliffs by trying to climb up the chalk face, way out of her owner’s reach. Gary Russell was lowered down, but Penny, still climbing upwards, refused to stop. Eventually her owner also had to be winched down and both men managed to get the net around her.

Perhaps one of the luckiest dogs to survive a fall over Beachy Head was eleven month old “Sheba”, a springer spaniel. Her owners, Tim and Tamsin Castle and their two sons, Ben, 8, and Alex, 5, had travelled from their family home in Eastbourne to watch the much heralded move of Belle Tout lighthouse. As they opened their car door, Sheba jumped out and they could only watch in frozen horror as she chased a seagull and disappeared over the cliff edge.

Mr. Castle is quoted as saying, “I was sure she wouldn’t have survived. My heart lurched when I saw her go over.” They called the local police who alerted the coastguards. The inshore lifeboat was on exercise in the area and the crew could not believe their eyes when they saw Sheba running up and down the beach, barking. After tumbling down 300 feet she had, incredibly, sustained nothing more than a bruised eye.

A dog with more lives than the average cat is 7 year old Jack Russell terrier, TK. Having previous been kicked by a horse, gashed on a barbed wire fence and survived eating poisoned fox bait, he tried to top all this by trying to fly off the top of Beachy Head.

His owners, Ian Brett and partner, Pauline Allen, from Hackney, north-east London, had travelled down to the coast to give Ian’s 30 racing pigeons a training flight. But, as the pigeons flew out to sea, TK gave an excited yelp and tried to follow them.

His horrified owners phoned the coastguards and Duty Man Roy Hopgood and Auxiliary Ben Calloway arrived. From the top they could see no sign of the little dog. The Eastbourne Lifeboat was then called out to search along the shoreline and to the amazement of all the crew, one very wet, but uninjured, Jack Russell was seen sitting on the beach.

Ben Calloway said, “TK is very lucky to be alive. He didn’t even appear to have a scratch after falling 300 feet. We do advise everyone to keep their dogs on leads when exercising them in this area. Their pet may not be as fortunate a TK.”



Prize winning article entry for a writing competition.


© Elizabeth Wright