A wild romance, the stuff of great legends, has come to a brutal ending after a fatal attack. Elizabeth Gomm pays tribute to Doris – Stanley Park lake’s matriarch who died last week and calls on owners to keep their dogs on leads

The death of Doris the swan, partner to Boris, was due to a suspected dog attack and has led to a huge campaign for all dogs to be kept on leads around the entire area of the lake in Stanley Park.

The dog attack cannot be confirmed because no witnesses have come forward but both vet and Brambles Wildlife Rescue put the vicious injuries she suffered down to an out of control canine.

Doris’s shoulder was ripped out of joint and beyond repair – the vet’s only option was to put her to sleep – “saying sorry to her as he did so,” according to Mel Greenhalgh, who co-founded Brambles with her husband, Justin.

With Doris’s death a legendary pairing, that brought us wildlife photographers and watchers so much joy, came to a tragic end. Boris, as brash and bolshy as the politician he was named after, adored his bird. They were always together, eating and preening in unison, and between them they dominated one half of the huge lake.

Over the several years that I’d been photographing and feeding them, I’d formed my own bond with the pair. They trusted me and over successive breeding seasons they’d brought newly hatched cygnets to see me so the whole family could be fed.

This year, they’d been raising five young ones. In the four months since she’d hatched them on heron island, Doris hadn’t left their side. Now Boris is without the love of his life and their young are without their mother.

It’s no myth that swans can die of a broken heart. They’ve been known to starve or drown themselves after the death of a mate. I hope Boris is not defeated but, for now, he is diminished.

The day after her death on 11th September, Boris went back to the nest and was openly grieving. Slowly he’s out a bit more and, thankfully, is eating again.

It’s no myth that swans can die of a broken heart. They’ve been known to starve or drown themselves after the death of a mate. I hope Boris is not defeated but, for now, he is diminished.

I, like many others, am heartbroken and angry by this needless loss of life. The anger is compounded by the fact that another much loved swan, Jesse, was also fatally injured by a dog attack just two months ago – one lunchtime by the slipway.

The shocked owner, I understand, stayed for a while before taking his dog away. I don’t know whether he has been identified or if any action against him is pending.

At the time Blackpool Council was seeking residents’ views on the introduction of a Public Protection Order in its parks and green spaces. Many of us responded giving our views on whether or not we felt it necessary to require dogs to be on leads in certain areas.

My view was, as it is now, that orders must be placed on the entire area of the lake in Stanley Park and that they must come with the provision of staff to enforce them. One without the other is pointless. The outcome of the consultation is awaited.

No order can bring Doris back but it can prevent other injuries, save lives and give our precious water birds some respite from the trauma of being chased, playfully or not, by dogs off leads.

I like dogs and I meet many beautiful and obedient ones on a daily basis, but if saving our wildlife from others that are badly trained or just plain wilful, then all should be on leads. It should be a matter of common sense, but we all know that sense is far from common.

Blackpool Council leader Lynn Williams issued a statement following the outcry that came from Doris’s death. She said they were still looking through the 1,400 responses to the consultation, which asked for views on a number of issues affecting open spaces including dogs on leads near bodies of water.

“We are now analysing these responses but it is clear that the majority of people are in support of this restriction so we are looking to introduce it as a matter of urgency.”

Williams said this “cannot happen again” adding that the council will be working with the Friends of Stanley Park, and Lancashire Police, to tackle the problem with ‘engagement events’ and promised patrols to talk to dog walkers about dogs off lead.

“We will use our trailer unit at the park, with dog walkers and the general public to consider all opportunities and possible actions including informative signage in appropriate areas,” she said.

She promised that the parks manager would meet with Brambles who, she said “do a tremendous job with animal welfare at the heart of everything they do” to talk through the solutions to this irresponsible dog owner behaviour.

This year there have been five dog attacks on wildlife in Stanley Park, all of which could have been avoided. Brambles Wildlife Rescue – voluntarily run by two dedicated people who both have full times jobs, in their own time – is campaigning tirelessly for dog owners to keep their dogs on leads near wildlife and for rangers to enforce the rules.

Doris and Boris on their nest. Photo and main image by Elizabeth Gomm

Mel said they felt as though they had been kicked in the stomach when Doris was fatally injured. She and Justin pick up the pieces left by these attacks, they fund treatment through fundraising and never have enough for the amount of rescue work they do. When victims die it is they that are by their side at the end. Every blow to wildlife impacts on them. The pain felt by the injured creature is their pain too.

Our wildlife is precious and swans, indeed, are a protected species. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to preserve our planet and the wild creatures that live upon it. They make our world a better place, they lift our spirits and enter our hearts.

Personally, my world will be a sadder place without Doris and Boris being together. Since my partner died six years ago, Stanley Park had become my happy place. But this year that has changed. For the third year running, avian flu took its toll on our swans and geese and then there have been the two unnecessary deaths and three more badly injured.

Instead of looking forward to going for a walk, I worry about what I may find there. I would ask each and every one of those people reading this, dog owner or not, to think about the toll these tragedies take on lives and to lobby their local councillors for action and enforcement to stop there being any more.

Please help to make Stanley Park a safer space for the wildlife that cannot speak for itself.

You can donate to Bramble’s Wildlife Recuse here. Read councillors’ response to Doris’s Death here.

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