52 Mondays #40

First grey week for a while and the first rain we’ve had for a while.

52 Mondays 40

That’s next year’s rape seed in the field on the left – coming on great guns.

It’s not just a problem to navigate the rain showers this week, but the hunters too. Thursdays and Sundays are the busy hunt days, so we go off up to the forest on those days where the paths are quiet and the hunts are more organised. Nobody goes off-lead if they can’t stay within 10 metres of me.

It’s been a busy Dames kind of a week this week. I ran a course on blogging on Monday (this is not my only blog, or even my most successful blog, but it is my favourite blog to write). Don’t feel cheated on, I beg you. Though it was wet and misty, it was still a fabulous morning. Village halls in rural France on a Monday morning might not strike you as the most vibrant and idea-packed kind of places, but ours was. I love sessions like that. We stopped for lunch at the local restaurant and I listened to other women describe perfectly the kind of life I lead too. We all moved over here to renovation projects (minor) and bigger gardens, to spend more time in the garden and a bit of time prettying up the decor, only to end up a few years later in a mad swirl of work and social lives and family life and every single one of us had put our potager plans for 2014 on hold this year.

I’ve also been writing a mini self-evaluation pack for the ladies (and myself of course!) and their businesses – and having done the time assessment this week, I am pretty sure where I need to make changes in 2015. I need to be more productive and less busy! Time for some serious rethinks and shake-ups. It really was a wake-up call. Perhaps now is the time to say that I started a pair of socks in March and I am STILL knitting them. That’s how busy my life has been. It has been a fury!

The self-evaluation pack sounds like a rigorous and frightening wake-up call, but it is pretty gentle and upbeat. I’m hoping it will be useful for lots of ladies in business out there. I’m pleased with it – though of course, typically, it is unfinished. That’s a tomorrow job. I need to find a more gentle name for it though. At the moment it sounds like the colonic irrigation of the business world.

Next week, I get to wear several hats all at once, because it is the enormous Hope Association booksale. A few of us are running a stand for the refuge we volunteer at. I’ve got 150+ dog posters to print out – so that’s my doggie weekend set out. I saw a cute photo of a dog in a kissing booth, so I’m going to rent out Amigo and Ralf for dog snogs. All proceeds to the refuge. I’m sincerely hoping the two little cats in my bathroom get to find a family – they sit looking out of the window all sad and forlorn. Life in a laundry is no fun. Sadly, with the dogs and the main road and the particularly cat-unfriendly wildlife round these parts, being an outdoor cat in my neighbourhood is a job with a short lifespan. They are cuties though. I just can’t spend any time with them, and that’s sad.

Hopefully, we’ll raise a bit more awareness of the refuge and maybe even find some dogs some homes! So many returns at the moment for absolutely pathetic reasons. Last week, someone brought a dog back because he digs. Honestly, if that’s a refundable situation, I need to take mine back. I’ve just decided their holes are where I should plant trees. I know it is impossible to live with a dog that just isn’t fitting in to your lifestyle though. I just wish people would be honest. There are teething problems you know you can cope with, and teething problems that deprive you of sleep and rest and safety. And there are homes for all dogs, I believe that.

I’ll also be touting the Hope Association calendars, which I was very happy to collate. I REALLY hope there aren’t any errors or spelling mistakes, though there are bound to be. It all ended up a bit of a rush on my behalf, but next year will be better. Sneak preview of the front cover for you all…

front pageAnd yes, those are my four at the bottom. I figure they’ve all been helped by HOPE to some degree. Tilly came to me via the Hope Association. Amigo and Ralf both came from Mornac SPA which is supported by Hope. Heston, well, he’s the most tenuous of links, but he is just so very handsome! I’ve put lots of the Hope volunteers adopted dogs on the inside pages, though. It was really nice to do – collecting all those photos of happy endings. So many people who work so very hard for the animals in their care as well. So many associations and refuges benefit from Hope’s support that it means the booksale weekend has become a lifeline. Such a mammoth organisational and voluntary task for so many people as well – I promise to give you photos – normally, I just get bogged down with books.

It’s also a Dame-tastic weekend as well, and I’ve got lunch planned with a few of the ladies up in Deux-Sèvres. Might as well multi-task whilst I can.

I’m pretty sure that by Tuesday the 21st, when it is the holidays and when I have my first day off in three weeks, I will be quite ready for a rest! I said earlier this week though, if I wanted to slow down, I could. It would be very easy not to do any of it. I just love each of my different lives here so very much indeed.

Have a lovely weekend, whatever you have got planned.

52 Mondays #39


How can it be that the year is so full with photos? How quickly things change!

Last week was another epic busy one (when are they not??!) and I hurried from work to errands to dog walks. I got to spend a good Friday afternoon at the refuge and had forgotten the memory stick from my camera, so spent the afternoon walking dogs I know and love. Just waiting for someone to help me walk the big dogs. Much as I love the littlies, it is the bigguns who have my heart. Lots more dogs went off to Germany to be adopted from German refuges. The hounds which are so hard to find homes for here (even Breton spaniels, believe it or not!) quickly find homes in Germany. The oldies go too, and the ones who need medical treatments. I have to say, I know how they feel. I’d adopt a hound (beagle please) and an oldie or one who needs a bit of TLC. Those are my favourites too.

Sunday, I spent most of the day in the garden trying to prepare the garden for winter – mostly clearing suckers it has to be said. The fruit trees in my garden are not in great shape and they really could do with a big clear out and some better stock putting in. A job for half term I think.

Then we went for a long walk in the forest – it has to be said it is not easy walking four dogs in the forest when you are a single girl – usually at least two on a lead if not three. Amigo is generally trustworthy, but he has been known to trot off from time to time. Ralf knows many things, but his recall is z-e-r-o and although it would be no effort to catch him if he ran off, he’s better by my side. I love Ralf, but he isn’t blessed with brains. He is like a funny super-sized puppy. Heston doesn’t go off lead in the forest. He does come back when he runs off, but that walk is entirely on his own terms and it’s happy coincidence that he stays fairly near. Just far too many exciting things for a teenager to smell! He’s always on the 10m training lead so he can smell stuff, but he enjoys the stimulation of new stuff to see. After endless socialisation in La Rochefoucauld, he is now less barky when we are out in public. I don’t care that he’s barky if people park outside my house. My Heston is a super dog and he is so smart. I wish I could spend all day training him. I know he’d never get bored.

After a long summer of no forest (it’s too full of people who don’t have their dogs on a lead and don’t have good control of their dogs, sadly) it is nice to get back there. It’s definitely my home from home. On the days where the hunters are out in the fields and woods around me, it’s usually quiet and gun-free. There is a lot of deer and boar damage to the paths and woodland, so it seems it hasn’t just been a bumper kitty year. That mild winter has meant bumper litters for the foxes as well and there is so much fox spore around on our usual walks – rabbits too. Rabbits are Amigo’s thing. He spends his walks with his nose down holes and comes home with muddy chops.

Today, I’ve got a planning meeting for Les Dames de FER, the association I am part of, for local business owners of the female persuasion. Days like this make me miss the conviviality of office work and make me miss my Anne Pilling and remind me how much fun it is to work together. It must be said, I am surrounded by talented, vivacious, dedicated and enthusiastic souls and I very much enjoy their company. I have a feeling 2015 will be a wonderful year for Les Dames.

From 4pm, it is heads-down through to Sunday morning – and I’m hoping for sun and warmth to get outside once again.

52 Mondays #38


Definitely feeling the autumnal winds this week, warm as it has been. It was so warm last Monday that I practically overheated. But it’s 21°C these days, and cooler at night, and the long nights are settling in.

Things are settling down into a bit of a more regular pattern at the moment. I’m still trying to fit new clients in here and there – and it is not easy. French schools finish so late that it doesn’t leave much room for changes and alterations. Plus, the autumn takes adjustment as well. The hunt season has started and now it is not just a question of finding a place to walk that keeps the dogs from boredom, but also finding a space that isn’t filled with men with guns. Luckily, when the hunters are hanging around the places we usually go, we can head off over to the forest, which tends to have organised hunts on particular days – days which usually balance with the other hunt days. I am not much one for early morning walks – too many lone guys out with their dogs and a shotgun – so it’s midday walks right now.

Still, it is a very busy time. I’ve got a couple of meetings planned with Les Dames de FER, the group of local ladies in business. We have a couple of training sessions planned that I’m leading, and it is also gearing up to the Hope Association book sale on the middle weekend of October. They all feel like very far away events but I know they are getting ever closer.

And it’s time to wind the garden down – so I’m still hacking back trees that have sent out spontaneous re-generations. I think the flooding had a lot to do with it. Three flooded seasons in five years is not good for these trees and the plums and the cherries are sending out their distress signals. I have managed to completely clear the bottom of the garden of plum offspring, but it does feel like a never-ending task. Thursday, I’ll start the cherry offspring and get a little closer to the house. It’s another of those things that you seem once in a while to get on top of, and then you head straight into the next year and realise it is all beginning over again. I feel very tired at the moment, in between huge bursts of energy, and often find myself wanting a willing clone who could help out a little. At the rate I work, I think four or five clones might be enough to make a really good job of all the things I’m trying so unsuccessfully to do.


Making a difference

A while back, a lady with whom I have become good ‘virtual’ friends posted a story. It made such a difference to me on those days when I feel really sad or depressed that I can do so very little. This story spoke right to the heart of me, and I suspect it will with you too, if you have ever been the champion of the underdog, the fighter of lost causes, the one voice against the masses. And if you have been a champion, a fighter, a lone voice, it can be very easy to give up and to give in.

The story is called The Star Thrower, and it is the perfect antidote to feeling like you are little but a drop in the ocean. Written originally by an American anthropologist called Loren Eiseley, it has been adapted many times. I think every new teacher should have this story above their desk, and every doctor, every nurse, every volunteer, every police officer, every fire-fighter. If you are in the ‘helping’ industry, this story should be your mantra. It will uplift you when you need it, reaffirm your purpose every day, and remind you of why you have chosen the often difficult and depressing path that you have.

The Star Thrower

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.” “

*  *  *  *

I think it is very easy to lose sight of what you have achieved when there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish that need throwing back in the sea, but something crazy happens when you start doing it. The Star Thrower story isn’t finished if you ask me. If you ask me, the story is just the beginning. Because I bet the wise man understood that he could make a difference, even just a little one, and he probably spent the day helping the young man throw as many starfish to the sea.

I wish everyone would hold that in their heart and know that if we all made a difference – just a little one – every day, then soon, we’d be an army. And an army can make a very big difference indeed.

52 Mondays #37

Okay… two days late. Better than last time!


It’s been a busy week already. One of those weeks where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. On Saturday, some fool decided to open my gates and let the dogs out. I caught up with that fool, who lied, and then confessed. Yes, she saw the dogs, yes she heard them. Yes she slid the latch back. Yes she opened the gate. Yes, she closed it behind the three dogs that got out. Really, I should have a sign on the gate. I guess the right thing to say would be ‘Attention aux chiens’ or ‘chiens en liberté’ but if you can’t see there are four dogs loose, then a sign like that isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference. Maybe I need a no entry sign. In four years, only a handful of people have ever come through those gates on the sly – and it does seem a bit over the top to have a ‘Dogs on the Loose’ and a ‘No Entry’ sign, when really I should have a sign that says ‘Idiots: None today, thanks.’

Luckily, I caught up with Ralf five minutes down the road. The cows that got loose a few weeks ago moved more quickly. Just as I’d rallied the search parties, cancelled my appointments, managed to find paperwork for one dog but not the other, then found the other, Amigo came sneaking back in. Then I saw Mr Heston’s fine feathery tail rooting around Mr Richon’s bins. He managed to avoid being run over, by my manic gesturing to the speedy drivers.

On Sunday, the manager at the refuge sent out an alert about a cocker spaniel that was due to be put down. This little six-year-old female, Daphie, had done nothing wrong, just had been attacked by the owner’s other dog, and the owner had taken her to the vet to have her put down. The vet called Nanou, the directrice, and Nanou put out the alarm. The owner had, quite perversely in my opinion, decreed that the dog couldn’t go to the refuge, and if no home was found in 48 hours, she would have to be put down.

I spent Sunday morning sharing her story and then fielding calls from all over France saying they would take her in… it does restore your faith in humanity. I needed a bit of faith-in-humanity restoration after the arson attack at Manchester Dogs’ Home in which 60 dogs perished on Thursday. I felt quite empty on Thursday night, and only five hours’ hard labour at the refuge on Friday made up for it in any way. Dog kisses have a way of making things a bit better. Finding a home for that little cocker was the least I could do to set the balance right in the universe. On Monday, I went to pick her up and drop her with her new foster home (and hopefully an adoption will follow) – she is just delightful. She is a tiny little girl and the sweetest little thing – a real happy little dog.

But… on my way back from dropping off Daphie, my engine management light came on. Cue generalised panic and worry. Luckily, the very fab Honda Angouleme man fixed it in an afternoon – and I know business in France often takes a hit for being slow and difficult (hands up whoever has stood for an hour waiting for service in an otherwise empty shop?) but I have always found the mechanics to be really proud of what they do and to take real care in providing a reliable and economical service. Still, it wasn’t cheap, but at least no little orange light of engine doom.

The rest of the week has been gardening central. The weather has been just glorious – though storms tonight – and I’ve been adding to my compost heap. Pruning mad. The last of the fruit is ready to be brought in and I think it’ll be back to grape jelly for this year’s meagre harvest. August was too cool to be of much use, but dry as well. No idea what the big boys of Cognac will say about this year’s harvest, but if you ask me, it’ll be a poor one. Hazelnuts are finished. Walnuts are coming in. The seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are going great guns and hopefully I’ll be able to overwinter them safely enough.

2014 is definitely on the turn. The dahlias are the only flowers still going strong. My aspens have decided the year is over and even the final apples are ready to go.

IMG_4655 IMG_4657 IMG_4658 IMG_4659 IMG_4661 IMG_4663 IMG_4668

As for the rest of the week, I’m hoping for good weather to make sure I can crack on with gardening before it’s too late to do anything useful. The dogs, as ever, are pretty useless at gardening.

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Yes, that’s a leaf on Tilly’s head. She doesn’t even care.

Anyway, I best get on with lesson planning for the morning!

52 Mondays #36

Channelling the White Rabbit. Yes, I’m running behind again. Took the photo. Didn’t upload it.


Next year’s rapeseed has been planted already and the fields are busy, busy, busy. I’ve been busy, busy, busy too – trying to stay on top of the garden. We have had the most delightful weather: 26°C all week and lovely temperatures. Perfect for a bit of hardcore pruning. I’m gradually working my way around the garden. Most of my clients have started back now, and Les Dames de FER, the federation of women in rural enterprise, is kicking up a notch after the summer vacation. Seems like I have been doing nothing but playing catch-up, but a few days of grind and I am more on top than I was. If you’re lucky, you might even get tomorrow’s 52 Mondays on time.

Tomorrow I’m switching back to early morning walks – it is getting dark too early to walk the dogs after I finish my lessons. At least two or three lessons last week finished in darkness. Still, it is warm and the weather looks to continue this week – up to 29°C and just delightful for me. Nothing needs water and it’s giving me time to catch up in the garden too. I even planted some of next year’s perennials a couple of weeks ago – most of which are popping up their first shoots. Foxgloves, rudbeckia, echinacea, nigella. It will certainly take the pressure off next March and April!

52 Mondays #34

52 Mondays 34


The first week of la rentrée, the return to school. I’ve had lessons every morning through August, so I am not feeling the sudden jolt of back-to-schoolness that I am sure many other people are feeling. The evenings are shorter now – it’s dark by 9 and I’m suddenly scrabbling about trying to get the dogs out and walked by 7.30. Soon, it’ll be back to early morning walks and snatched midday breaks. Not such a hardship when it is a little cooler! 

Bit of an Indian summer at the moment – mid 20s – but it is cooler at night. Time to get the chimney swept and the wood in for winter. 

It has been one of those years where you wait and wait for summer to arrive properly, and it never does. That’s okay with me – it has not been wet, just cool. No weeks on end of temperatures fit for lizard kings. We had a few days reach into the 30s but not as many as the last few years. I’ve started to sow some of next year’s perennials. This year has been a garden washout and I hope next year will be a better one. Been a good year for grass and not a lot else. Everything seems a month in advance of where it has been – I think it will be an early and long winter. What joy! 

I’m currently in prune mode, rampaging round the garden with secateurs and hedge-trimmers. There’s a huge beech thicket that needs taking right back down waist height, which will be a lot of fun (and sweat) to do, and there are suckers galore from one of the cherry trees. One day, I might be able to see my garden again. 

My usual Wednesday classes start again tomorrow, back to busy Wednesdays. Feels a long time since the last ones in June. Then it’s the long haul through to Saturday evening. I’m trying my best to keep Sundays work-free, but it is not easy. Sometimes, I think ‘oh, it’s only one lesson’ but it’s often bang slap in the middle of the things I usually do, and I waste the time before in messing about and setting up. Hopefully, I can actually have a day off from time to time!

Now we’re back in the school saddle, feels like time to revive the Wednesday Whoo, or even a feel-good Friday. We will see!

Working like a dog

The last of my summer holiday days today. Well, I say holiday… Meeting this morning followed by a very busy afternoon at the refuge. Another one of tears and smiles. When term starts, I’ll be back to Mondays and Fridays for a few hours again. 

When I downloaded all my photos, I realised it had been both a remarkable and an unremarkable four hours this afternoon. First up were photos for a little male miniature pinscher who has come in from the pound. 


This is the ‘short back and sides’ photos they need for their files. One portrait. One body shot. pinscher

This morning, Dogs Today magazine asked me if I could send them some comments on dog aggression so all the while, I’m getting numbers of chien mordeurs and trying to work out at any one time which dogs are classed as dangerous. I’ve been bitten once, by Charley, a rat terrier. He lay down, I went to pick him up. He didn’t like it and he told me so. Even when there have been quite significant dog fights, there are few bites. I’d said that given the circumstances many of our dogs have faced, the fact that they have never bitten their tormentors probably makes rescue dogs a safer bet than most. You simply couldn’t push most other dogs to the limits that some of the dogs here have faced. It wouldn’t be ethical. This is why I love rescue dogs all the more. If you’ve not been mistreated, you’ve probably been neglected, manners-wise, and yet even the dogs who are completely bonkers are not really likely to bite. The bites come when dogs are afraid, more often than not. Apart from Charley, the other dog who has had a snap is Pam. She’s a griffon cross I got on photo yesterday. 


She was utterly terrified when she arrived here – worse than most. But she is making great strides. Got her out on a lead yesterday and she actually wanted to come to be put on the lead, though she still ran away back to her kennel every time her instincts got the better of her. Two months on and she can be put on a lead. Slow progress, but amazing progress. 

refuge life

Two ladies helping me out with photos of the pinscher at reception. It’s only 2pm and there’s a lady in reception adopting a kitten with her two boys. 

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 Belle sits by the gate watching the world go by. 2pm and it’s fairly quiet. 

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 This little pudding is Aglae. She was adopted, overfed by her owners (pretty much as cruel as underfeeding her if you ask me) and she’s in reception waiting for a home. She’s a shy, wary little thing and she usually waddles off to hide under a desk. Today she sat on the reception chair and I missed a great photo opportunity!

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Outside, Wolf gets both a grooming and a petting. This big shepherd cross has been at the refuge for four years and is a real sweetheart. But he’s big bad old Wolf in the eyes of the public and nobody has yet come forward to adopt this beautiful dog. He’s male. He’s big. He’s old. Three things that stand against his success in the adoption world. 

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He does enjoy his grooming session though, as you can see. Not so much big bad Wolf after all. Just a big sweetheart who deserves a chance. 

Right behind me, though, I’ve turned my back on four dogs who are being brought in. I don’t know the story. It seems to me the guy who dropped them off knew them all very well, but the dogs are terrified. They have never been on a lead or had a collar on. It’s totally disheartening. These four dogs are old, scruffy-looking sad things who go into one of the free open enclosures just until indoor enclosures can be sorted out for them and they have calmed down enough to be processed. We move some of the dogs who are in the outdoor enclosures back inside – the outdoor spaces, called ‘parcs’ are for them to run about, play, feel the grass under their feet. But these dogs have their time outside cut short. And the refuge have received a phone call about a pot-bellied pig loose in Mornac. One of the staff goes to pick up the pig, and as she leaves, two more dogs are dropped off. These two are old – 10 and 11. Their owner had died and the dogs are homeless. They’re less scared than the four brought in before, but it’s still all new and scary. 




Neither the golden retriever nor the Belgian shepherd have been groomed in some time. Both have dreadlocks and matted fur. That’ll be job number one. Sort out their fur. 

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Then we have the seventh arrival of the afternoon. A female pot-bellied pig. There’s a rabbit in the vet room at the moment and this just completes the menagerie. Nobody quite knows what the rules are regarding pot-bellied pigs. This is the first one in through the pound. There’s discussion about registration and the pound director goes off to investigate registration for pigs. 

refuge life 8Poor Miss Piggy is surrounded by 150 dogs, most of whom are hunting breeds. Talk about a lamb in among the wolves. No wonder she looks worried. 

Back at reception, the six new arrivals have disappeared and there’s a moment of calm. 

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A little spaniel pup takes a nap as things settle down. 

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Round the back of the cattery, everything is quiet. Ulla and Dali are in the first parc on the right, then Benji is in the second. He is a huge cane corso, and sadly the chances of homing him are low. He’s never had any basic training and needs three people to help walk him. The little pen at the bottom houses Lilou and a little Dachshund who arrived last week. As you can see from all the washing, a lot of work has already happened before it even got to midday – the main bit of the day’s work in fact. With four hundred animals, there’s a lot of cleaning. 

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Some of the cats live outdoors and this little one takes a minute round in the quiet to sit and take stock of it all. 

refuge life 13The new-build cattery is a wonderful place. It was mainly funded by private donations and also through the local town halls, communities and a huge charity called 30 Millions d’Amis. 


Almost 100 kittens at the moment. It’s depressing how many there are. They are cute though. Most of them are napping. 

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Then back round the front, a family have turned up to find a dog. Little, small, female. Not so many of those on the books. They see a couple but nothing to take their fancy. A woman who adopted a dog the day before brings the dog back. He’s no good, she says. Her two year old is terrified. Sadly, a return we could see happening. She came yesterday and asked to see Seith, a bull terrier cross. He’s a bouncy, high-energy dog and she works from 9-7 with a two hour lunch break. Poor Seith would have destroyed the house out of boredom. She was talked out of taking Seith, but took another dog. And the other dog stays with her less than 24 hours. What can you do? You advise they take an older, smaller dog with less energy, but they are determined and then they can’t cope. Hello is returned and reunited with his stablemate. He seems to be none the worse for his 24 hours in the real world. 


Gisele and I reunite the two, check they still get on okay. They’re fine. Hello benefits from a photo shoot and hopefully someone else will find a space in their lives for him instead. The president of the refuge returns the lady’s cheque and the brief adoption of Hello is over. 

When we get back with Hello and Eloy, I can see my afternoon rendez-vous have arrived. Two people who’ve come a good 100km to see Malicia and hopefully to adopt her. She’s a sweet three-year-old female Breton spaniel who arrived 3 months ago and it’s a surprise she has taken so long to rehome. She’s adorable. 




I think back to the Dogs Today article about whether rescue dogs are innately aggressive. Malicia seems to be the conclusion to my argument. A very sweet little dog indeed. And yes, her adopters are charmed, they sign the paperwork and load Malicia up for her long journey home. She’s going to a home with another female and as always, I have butterflies until I get a confirmation email saying everything is fine. Hard to put those butterflies to rest when people come and adopt a dog one day and return it the next. I’m pretty sure Malicia’s adoptants are keepers, though. 

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She is the spaniel they have been looking for. 

Max, her stablemate, goes back to his enclosure all on his own. I manage to get a sneaky photo of Paulo at the gates – a dog who has been on my list for weeks. Another big bad oldie like Wolf, sadly for Paulo. Because he looks like a big, bad dog doesn’t he? Five years at the refuge for Paulo though, sadly. pauloIt’s 5pm and there’s still an hour til closing time. The family who came in looking for a young, small female have finally settled on Jana, a dog I photographed yesterday. She was lovely – a little bouncy, but attentive and focused. I hope she won’t scare the little girl of the family too much and that they give her the exercise she needs. The family looked at Hippie and decided she was too energetic, then chose Jana instead. You never can steer people to the oldies who are completely bomb-proof. I’d give them a Ralf any day. 


But good luck to Jana and Malicia. As I left, the refuge was still busy and there’s the small business of packing up four dogs who are off to Germany to be picked up by the families who have adopted them there. This is all the ‘on site’ work today – but there is a team of dedicated ladies who run a blog and website advertising dogs in French refuges for adoption in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. They are massively successful, especially at rehoming hunting dogs – a near-impossible task in France. Victor, Cooky, Fino and Gladys are off to sprechen some deutsch. I hope my gorgeous photo of Victor helped melt a fraulein’s heart. 


These rescue dogs… so aggressive! 

I left at 5pm – my own doggies desperately in need of a little time with me. By the time we’d eaten and played and walked, it was way past 9pm. Some days are just like that!





The story of how I got a Ralf

* I promise no more dogs for a while. I feel like a mad dog woman.


This is Ralf. Say hello to Ralf. He is 12 years old and we have a lovely story about how we met, courtesy of a doggie-matchmaker, Belle. 


Belle belongs to the refuge. She isn’t up for adoption and if she were, she’d be snatched up by about 200 people, I’m sure. She is a smart, smart dog. I have no idea about her or how she came to be the refuge guard dog, or how old she is, or where she came from. She has free rein at the refuge and she goes where she wants. Mostly, that is in a bed in the reception, or out on the step at reception. Belle is the cleverest dog I ever met. 

Belle, however, likes to go for wanders from time to time. She is so smart, she can open the refuge gates. Mostly, she goes and has a nosey about the visitors and then she comes back. Three weeks ago, she took a friend with her on her trip: Ralf. 

Ralf is also former guard dog and he was allowed freedom to wander at the refuge – mainly because he and Belle are great dogs who are super-socialised and who never grumble or growl or get shirty. They don’t chase the cats who live in freedom, and they don’t growl or grumble at visitors. I’d seen him maybe once or twice hanging about, but during the day, he is put in the parks so he is out of the way – only Belle has the privilege of being out in the main part of the refuge full-time. 

One lunch-time, something or other had got into Belle’s head and she decided to go for a wander. Most unusually, she took Ralf with her. It was a busy afternoon that day and there were a fair few adoptions. One of our oldies & toughies, Magic, was adopted and I hung around waiting to see him off. Some Saturdays, since the refuge director and the vet nurse were there late anyway, feeding the cats, When I was waiting for Magic’s owners to come back to pick him up, Christiane told me that Ralf and Belle had gone AWOL since lunch and that they’d been last seen in the forest between the refuge and my house. It was now eight hours later and neither had returned.

The route where they had last been seen is the route I usually go home by, so I took it a little more slowly, driving through the forest shouting for Belle out of my window. At one point, there was a flash of something Ralf-coloured behind me in my rear-view mirror and I stopped and turned around, but whatever it was had long gone. By the time I got to the other side of the forest, some 10km from the refuge, I figured they were not to be seen. I planned on going and feeding my dogs and turning back to see if I could find them. 

When I got to Les Granges d’Agris, there was a flash of dog trotting across the road by the mechanic’s. My only thought was that it was the mechanic’s dog which is often outside the garage and always free. He isn’t a wanderer so I slowed down anyway to check. He and Ralf are about the same size and a similar colour. And there, in the courtyard, I saw Belle. Ralf was just a little further on. Had I not seen Belle, I would have assumed it was the mechanic’s dog and just kept driving! 

Catching these two is about as easy as it gets. “Belle, Ralf!” and they are in the car. I drove back to the refuge, but it was locked up for the night, so I took them back to my house. 

Now had they been any other dogs, I’d have just left them in the laundry and kept my dogs separate, but it seemed like a good opportunity for Heston to meet some sociable dogs who know how to diffuse any doggie tensions. Heston needs to meet more dogs like this – so often he is met with unsocialised dogs behind fences who bark and bark, or dogs who don’t go out much and don’t have much social etiquette. I just thought it seemed like a great opportunity. 

And it was!


Think you can see from this shot, Ralf is on his best doggie behaviour, avoiding eye contact, wagging his tail, letting Heston have a look at him – non-threatening and non-aggressive. 


He’s so chilled that he was completely underwhelmed by Heston’s “play with me, play with me” approaches, gave him a bit of a power hump and generally just behaved like the great, social dog he is. Mission accomplished. 

Now, in my head, I thought I would get some good photos, advertise him everywhere and find him a home. And I did all of those things. I took some good photos and advertised him everywhere. “What a lovely dog!” everyone said. No bites. 

By Friday, I was seriously considering giving Ralf a home. At 12, for a big dog, he might only have two years left, four possibly. He doesn’t have any medical issues (though I am subsequently wondering if he is deaf) and the 600€ vets’ bill fund from Fondation 30 Million’s d’Amis makes a big difference in the decision. Nobody wants to adopt a dog and face endless medical bills. I am sure it is one reason why oldies don’t get adopted. It’s sad though, because oldies are so great. Zero house-training. Zero rule reinforcement. Often well-socialised, calm and not overly energetic. 

I chatted to a couple of friends about it and I knew then that I had made up my mind. “If you can, you should!” one friend said. She was right. He wasn’t going to cost me much other than food and the usual doggie treatments, and I have the space. Amigo never needs to walk on the lead, but at a push I can walk four dogs on leads, especially when two are Tilly and Amigo. I figured Ralf could have some debilitating accident or medical need and even if it were to stretch to 1000€, much of it would be covered. And 1000€ is a big vet bill usually seen for serious road accidents. If you don’t have health problems at 12 that have already cost that much, you are unlikely to get them. Arthritis, hip dysplasia, diabetes, epilepsy, heart murmurs… all conditions that appear in much younger dogs. Even little Calîne, my friend’s foster dog, had only cost 450€ for removal of several tumours and hernias, as well as a huge bladder stone. She had major surgery and there was still a little left to spare. 

Having chatted about it with my friend on Saturday night, I got in and my facebook wall was covered with Ralf. I don’t know why. I think the universe was giving me the nod. I sent a message to the refuge saying if he hadn’t gone by Monday night, I would adopt him. Of course you know he hadn’t gone and I brought a Ralf home with me. 

That is my limit though. Seriously. When Ralf goes, there won’t be a replacement. He is here because of that visit and because I knew he was fine with my others. He had already had a taster session and passed with flying colours. It was because it was Ralf rather than knowing I could manage another dog. In reality, I could not have managed just any other dog. This was very much about Ralf just being able to slot in and be no bother. 

And he isn’t any bother. Not a stick of it. He is a big bouncy baby and if you ever see big dogs frolicking, you’ll know why I love him so much already. He is a very playful dog, but he does a lot of sleeping. Mostly, he spreads out in doorways and across the floor, taking up space with his big seven stone body. He is not so good off lead – especially since I think he is deaf, or at least hard of hearing. No response to claps, name calls, whistles. No ears pricked up. No response when he hears other dogs, just only responses to smells and sights. Still, he has plenty of garden to run in. 


And the other dogs love him. Amigo gave him a kiss yesterday. Tilly sleeps on the couch with him. Heston thinks he is the best dog ever. Heston doesn’t have to be number 1 male dog any more and he can let Ralf lead him a little. That’s good because Heston is only two and he could do with learning some manners. Amigo doesn’t mind. Ralf is not bouncy or in his space or aggressive or unpredictable; he is not a thief of toys or treats and he is not a threat. 

So that’s how I got a Ralf. As for Belle, I get the most affectionate kisses ever. I like to think Miss Smarty-Pants knew exactly what she was doing. I suspect she knew I had space in my life for a Ralf and I suspect she knew exactly where I would be going. She is still at the refuge, watching out over all the goings-on. I like to think too that Belle is the first dog all of the pound dogs see when they get here, and that she lets them know this is the beginning of their journey to the best homes ever. She is one clever dog.