‘Freddie’ the seal attacked by dog near Hammersmith Bridge

Image above: Hammersmith seal on Saturday 20 March; photograph Charlie Haynes

A seal which has been posing happily by Hammersmith Bridge in west London for the past few weeks, gaining fans among local residents and walkers, was attacked by a dog on the afternoon of Sunday 21 March.

The seal, known to some as Freddie, was taken to the South Essex Wildlife hospital.

Photographer Duncan Phillips was there. The pictures are distressing.

Image above: the seal moments before the attack; photograph Duncan Phillips

Several passers by tried to help the dog’s owner get the dog off the seal and eventually managed to drag the dog away. Others shouted abuse at the dog owner, who had been walking with her young daughter and had the dog off the lead.

Vet Rachel Kirkby, who was passing, was joined by wildlife photographer Lloyd Arnold and a cyclist. The three of them held the seal down until help came. They managed to get it into a large dog cage and police carried it on to a London Fire Brigade boat to take it to Tilbury docks, where it was picked up by a team from the animal sanctuary.

The South Essex Wildlife Hospital has given the injured seal medication and he is due to be examined again on Monday morning.

Rachel Kirkby and Lloyd Arnold have also been treated for injuries. Rachel received a bite on her thigh and one on her hand in the struggle and Lloyd went to A&E with a bleeding mouth after he was headbutted by the traumatised seal as it tried to escape.

Images above taken by photographer Duncan Phillips

“It literally clamped its jaws onto the poor seal and didn’t let go”

Runa Bousquet, who lives locally and was out walking with her dog (on a lead) and her teenage daughter, saw the attack. She told The Chiswick Calendar what happened.

“I was there when the dog started running towards the seal. To be honest, to be fair to the dog owner, they were a good 800 metres away.

“I’d just walked past the seal [on the south side of the river about 200 m west of Hammersmith Bridge]

“I’d say we were about 500 metres away from the seal and there was a lady up ahead running towards us and her dog was racing towards us and it suddenly shot down the side of the bank – it was a terrier, I think, some kind of terrier.

“It shot down the side of the bank on to the riverbed. It was low tide and she was yelling after the dog. People thought she was worried about the dog and they said “don’t worry, we’ll get her” but she said “no, no I’m worried he’s going to go after the seal”, so she was racing along the tow path.

“It raced so fast that nobody, I mean, I don’t think anybody else saw it coming…

“It literally clamped its jaws onto the poor seal and didn’t let go”.

Runa watched as passers-by raced forward.

“They were trying to grab hold of the dog and pry the dog off the seal and the owner by then had caught up as well. There must have been at this point about three men trying to help. It was quite panicked, people were shouting, a couple of people were swearing, shouting at the owner of the dog, using bad language and the dog wasn’t letting go at all.

“I mean literally, these guys had their fingers in its jaws, trying to pry the dog off the seal. The poor seal was very distressed, twisting and turning its flippers.

“One of the men actually started kicking the dog quite aggressively and the owner got rather upset, but at the same time she too was trying to pull her own dog off the seal. Eventually they managed to get the dog off the seal but then he bit one of the chaps who was trying to pull him away, on the ankle, and turned round and punctured the seal yet again”.

Images above: Photographs by Runa Bousquet

Seal’s rescuers bitten and headbutted in the struggle

Runa described how vet Rachel Kirkby, who arrived seconds after she did, took her coat off and put it over the seal’s head to try and calm it, and how she, the photographer and the cyclist held it down with all their strength to stop it escaping into the river. It was pouring blood from a gaping wound in its flipper.

During the attack by the dog the two had rolled quite far down the slipway and the tide was beginning to come in, so apart from it taking all their strength to hold it, they were under pressure of time from the tide. Runa made phone calls.

“He was very distressed, making noises, they were really struggling hard to try and calm it down and keep it safe. I was the nearest person with a phone in my hand. I called all sorts of numbers, I called the RSPCA, Marine Wildlife Rescue. I also called the police, I called all sorts of people at their request and then I think between them they contacted the Fire Brigade as well, who I think were eventually the ones who turned up.

“But in the meantime the tide, which was what I was watching…

“The vet who’d taken her coat off, she was also bitten by the seal because he was so traumatized. She had three puncture wounds in her thigh and the seal was so traumatized it flipped its head back and the photographer was, for want of a better word, headbutted by the seal and his mouth started bleeding. So he held on for as long as he could and then we sent him to A&E”.

One person Runa called brought a blanket, another a coat for the vet. Once someone had brought a large dog cage and they’d managed to get the seal into the cage, she left.

Image above: Photographs by Rachel Kirkby and Runa Bousquet

“I arranged for somebody to come and take the vet to the hospital. She started shaking once we had secured the seal in the cage and once the seal was safe in there, I think she went into slight shock”.

Eventually the police carried the cage with the wounded seal onto a London Fire Brigade boat.

The South Essex Wildlife hospital provides a rescue and rehabilitation service for wild animals and is dedicated to putting life back into the wild.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: More than six years before Hammersmith Bridge could reopen to vehicles

See also: Ungrateful cat rescued by RNLI

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