Girt dog of Ennerdale

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The Girt (or Great) Dog of Ennerdale (also known as the 'Vampire Dog of Ennerdale') was a mysterious creature that killed between 300 and 400 sheep over six months in the fells of Cumberland, England, in 1810.[1]

History[edit]

Even from the first attack, it was believed that the killings had not been done by an ordinary dog. The slain sheep had only several of its organs removed and eaten, and was drained of its blood[2]

Local farmers left their normal duties to track down and kill the creature, but the mystery animal eluded them. The only evidence of its presence was an increasing number of dead livestock. The death toll increased to eight sheep a night, with many sheep mauled but left uneaten.

A £10 reward was put out for the creature, and children were kept indoors for their safety. Alarm grew among the locals as the creature seemed to have an uncanny ability to evade the traps set for it. A belief began take hold that the beast was supernatural. Dead sheep were poisoned and left on the hillside in the hope that the animal would feed off the carcasses, but they were left untouched as the killings continued. It also had an adverse effect on other local animals. Normally brave hunting dogs set out on the trail of the animal would cower and whimper behind their masters when its scent was picked up.

Finally, one of the farmers caught a glimpse of the animal, but it was not the dog some expected it to be. It was described as very large, sandy brown in colour with dark stripes running down its back. The creature was described as having the qualities of both a large cat and a large dog.

News of the Girt Dog had spread across the county, and dozens of professional huntsmen descended on the Valley, eager to collect the reward and make a name for themselves. As many as 100 men on horseback and hundreds of dogs attempted to catch it, but the beast eluded the hunters and continued to kill.

The beast’s strange behaviour continued. It would sometimes kill during the day and seemed to take pleasure in savaging livestock but not feeding from them. In one instance, the creature tore lumps out of the hindquarters of a big ram and then left it alive but crippled. The creature also would allow a single pursuing hunting dog to catch up to it, only to crush the dog's foreleg with its jaws.

During one hunt, the pack had pursued the beast into a small wood and armed men and hounds surrounded the copse. Escape seemed impossible. However, the creature made a break for it and ran at one hunter by the name of Will Rothery. Rothery, with a clear shot, lowered his musket, amazed at the size and strange appearance of the animal, and could only manage to shout “Skerse, what a dog!” as he moved to one side to let it pass. It is said Rothery was taunted about the day forever after.

However, with more hunters and their packs pouring into the valley and the odds against the Girt Dog getting higher, its demise was ultimately inevitable. A man by the name of Jonathan Patrickson got close enough to the beast to get a shot off at it, spraying the Girt Dog with pellets. The creature was now wounded and the hounds were more of a match for it. The hunt pursued the beast for many miles down to the River Ehen where the creature plunged into the water. The dogs looked on from the bank, refusing to enter. But one man, John Steel, got within range as it once again came up on the bank and mortally wounded the Girt Dog. Weakened and weary, the animal was no match for the pursuing hounds and the creature was finally killed.

The carcass was paraded about the area and when weighed it tipped the scale at 8 imperial stones (51 kg) When all the locals had seen it, it was sent to Keswick Museum and Art Gallery and stuffed for all to see. Unfortunately, a past curator who complained that, by the 1950s, the stuffed exhibit was getting very raggy and moth-eaten, decided that as it was “nowt but a girt cur dog” it should be thrown out.

Possible explanations[edit]

John Gould's lithographic plate of a thylacine from "Mammals of Australia"

It is now commonly believed that the Girt Dog of Ennerdale was, in fact, a thylacine (otherwise known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf.) Travelling circuses and menageries of the time were known to contain what were described as “tiger wolves” – a description that fits the thylacine perfectly. As import laws and animal control were so relaxed in the early part of the nineteenth century, an escape from one of these itinerant shows is easy to imagine.[3]

These creatures, a native of Tasmania (Australasia), were also known to prefer the softer organs of its kills and also had a fondness for drinking blood. And of course, the thylacine also had the distinctive dark stripes, running from its shoulders down to its tail. Growing up to nine feet (almost 3 metres) in length, a thylacine running around the fells could certainly be described as a “Girt Dog.” Officially, the last known thylacine died in captivity in 1936, although even to this day there are reported sightings of these creatures in the Tasmanian wilderness.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Terry Marsh (9 September 2010). A Northern Coast to Coast Walk: From St Bees Head to Robin Hood's Bay. Cicerone Press Limited. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-1-84965-150-9. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  2. ^ The Pathfinder. JimJarratt.co.uk
  3. ^ Tom Holman (13 November 2007). Lake District Miscellany. frances lincoln ltd. pp. 126–. ISBN 978-0-7112-2851-1. Retrieved 24 November 2012.