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The Canine Air Defence Squadron

The canine air defence squadron

The balloons came over the house at about six o’clock. It was a beautiful morning – a clear blue cloudless sky, the first day of summer, the dew still on the grass, birds singing sweetly, and three hot air balloons floating gently overhead. They are a beautiful sight – huge globes of air in bright primary colours, passing over the house in a quiet stately procession a couple of hundred feet above. I can see the tiny people in the wicker basket underneath; sometimes I even give them a wave, though they seldom wave back.

Bristol_Balloon_Fiesta_2009_MMB_04_G-OFXPI’m not sure why they don’t wave back, but it could be because of the dogs. You see, six a.m. is about the time I let the dogs out, and our dogs … well, they don’t really appreciate the balloons. The silent beauty of it, the stately overhead procession, the exquisite colours – it’s all wasted on the dogs. They don’t appreciate the beauty, not at all. They just see them as invaders.

These balloons are on our territory, and it’s our job to let the whole world know about it, and to see them off.

So that’s what they do – they run around all the fields at top speed, barking madly, until they succeed in chasing the balloons off. This can take quite a lot of time; ten or twenty minutes’ hyper activity and frenzied barking at six o’clock in the morning (poor neighbours!) but in the end the dogs always succeed. As the last balloon disappears over the horizon the dogs return to the house, sides heaving and their tongues hanging out, with a satisfied grin on their faces saying ‘See? we did it again!’

I imagine this must be quite annoying for the balloonists. After all there they are, enjoying the adventure, the wonderful views and the exquisite silence of the early morning sky, and then, what happens? The dogs start up. Not just our dogs, probably, but every farm dog all across the country, chasing the balloon from one spot to another, always reminding them that THEY HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE THERE!

Maybe that’s why the balloonists don’t wave back? It’s their own fault, to some extent. After all, the balloons aren’t completely silent. Every minute or two the pilot turns on the furnace and it roars like an angry lion. So here we have these enormous multi-coloured birds deliberately flying right over the dogs’ territory and roaring – what do they expect?


It’s very satisfying for the dogs, of course, because the balloons always fly away. So it’s obvious that balloons, just like postmen, are afflicted with a sense of guilt. They approach the house quite often but they know they shouldn’t be there and so they always run away. So the dogs feel proud, righteous, and justified. The canine anti-aircraft squadron has saved the family once again!

Their biggest challenge, though, is the Red Arrows. We live quite near an airfield and once every year there’s an air show which invites the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force aerobatic display team. The Red Arrows are famous but it’s clear they’ve heard about the dogs’ reputation too, and it’s made them nervous; you can tell that by the way they behave. They don’t dare approach the house singly; they always come in a group of nine, flying in a tight diamond formation for mutual support. They use modern technology too – high-powered jet aircraft; and they rely on surprise, as well: nine jet aircraft, flying in low at treetop height, to try to catch the dogs while they’re still asleep in the sun.


But the dogs are up to it. They spring into instant  action – from afternoon snooze to full hyper-speed run in a millisecond, ears flapping, heads bouncing up through a field of barley as they bark out full-blooded defiance!

And it works! Almost immediately the Red Arrows start to panic – their tightly knit diamond formation splits up and planes fly right, left, up, down, and round and round in circles, like rabbits running every which way in a desperate attempt to confuse the dogs. But the dogs are persistent, furious, relentless, and soon they begin to detect the first signs of fear – the planes start to trail smoke, blue smoke, white smoke, red smoke like blood! In their urge to escape the dog-fight the planes become more frantic – they loop the loop, turn upside down, almost crash into each other in fear. The dogs sense they are winning.


And then, suddenly, it’s all over. After about twenty minutes of desperate action, the planes come together, and run. And as the last plane, its tail between its legs, flees over the horizon, the heroic dogs return. Exhausted, gasping, but grinning and triumphant. They have saved the family again, and they know it. Six humans, and we did nothing. Just two dogs, against the might of the Royal Air Force.

Never in the field of canine conflict, has so much been owed by so many, to so few.

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