Monthly Archives: August 2014

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. 

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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. 

52 Mondays #33


This is Ralf. Say hello to Ralf. Will tell you all about Ralf another time. I seem to have missed a Monday somehow – not surprising! – and the summer is almost gone. 

Just as a follow-up, wanted to share some news I got about Smoke yesterday. I obviously don’t need to say how marvellous this news is. It gives me hope for all dogs who have been in refuges across the world for years upon end. 

“He’s good. And his name has changed to Scratch – don’t ask me why, it
just happened! A bit shy – he has to be coaxed a lot, but he is very
happy being stroked, having an ear scratch etc etc. For some reason
he has taken up residence in the hall – he has his bed there, but we
are gradually moving it closer and closer to the sitting room so
hopefully he will be esconced in the warm bit of the house when the
cold weather comes and all doors to the hall are firmly shut to
preserve heat!

He still has the odd accident – usually a widdle during the night –
but the floors are tiled so not a problem. He isn’t part of the pack
yet with Eco and Sophie, but there is a lot of sniffing and
tail-wagging going on so I’m just leaving them to sort themselves out.
Sophie had a bit of green-eye (which surprised me a bit – she is
usually the first to make friends) but we do equal love – just wish I
had 3 hands for 3 simultaneous ear scratches! They co-exist happily
enough, but they aren’t friends yet – and may never be, but they all
appear happy enough which is fine.

We have a system where we set out together for walks, and someone
takes the Labs on for a big walk, while Scratch has a gentle amble
home – he makes me laugh because he is always much more enthusiastic
when he knows he’s on his way home. And he is not at all impressed
when the walk home involves stopping to pick blackberries – he sits,
looks at me with those fabulous eyes and does ‘that’ sigh ……

He only snaps if someone goes for his neck – either grabbing his
collar, or going in for a hug, so I have instructed everyone,
including visiting kids not to bother him too much – a stroke or pat
on the way past is fine, but he is not Eco or Sophie (who are so soppy
it is embarrassing) and can’t be treated the same way. Thus far, no
more snapping ….. and if I do need to round him up if some halfwit
leaves the gate open, I just grab the lead and click it on and he is
fine. We use a harness for walks which I think he finds a bit more
comfortable and there is no problem getting it on.

Taking him to my vet next week for a controle technique – decided to
wait until everyone back at school – he has no pressing health issues
I am aware of – still has the shakes, but that seems to be connected
to needing food, so he gets 3 small meals a day which has helped. He
does drink a massive amount, and his wee is clear which doesn’t seem
entirely right, so I will flag that at the vet. And get his nails cut
which might cut down on the slithering on our hard floors – we have
fixed a runner for the 6 or stairs up to our quarters which has helped
a bit.

Will send some photos once Maya is back from the UK – she swiped my
camera and I have a granny phone!

Hope your lot are doing well, and everyone at the refuge are well and happy.”

If only every dog ended up in such a wonderful, caring and sensitive home!

A story about Smoke: Part II

Yesterday, I gave you a bit of the context of a no-kill refuge and the situation it faces. As it stands, there’s currently one dog, Ufo, who arrived in 2008. After that, there are three dogs who arrived in 2009 and eleven dogs who arrived in 2010. Fifteen dogs who have spent more than four years in the refuge. 

But there were two who languished there from 2003. Smoke and Vodka. In May, it became very obvious that Vodka would not last much longer, and she found a temporary foster home. A month later, she died, having known one month of home life in eleven years. I looked at Smoke and I decided the same thing should not, and could not, happen to him. It was inconceivable. I cried reading Vodka’s “hommage” page and knowing she had such a short experience of real doggie life and I couldn’t sit idly by and watch the same thing happen to Smoke. 

Smoke arrived at the refuge in 2003. I don’t know what kind of a youngster he was – he was two years old. I suspect he was a troubled teen and he quickly had a warning triangle and a red card put on his enclosure. By the time I met him in 2013, he was twelve, a sad-eyed, bewildered little creature who would happily trot alongside you and take treats gently. 


I enlisted a bit of help from Nicky, our resident dog groomer, and Jocelyn, her able assistant, got Smoke a bit of a tidy-up and took some photos. The one I took ended up being the winning shot. 


I know the other volunteers were wary of Smoke, this brute of a dog with his cauliflower ear and odd eyes, his red card and his warning triangle. To me, he was just a sad old guy who I could not bear to see die in the refuge. I walked him every time I went and became more and more convinced that he was deaf. Clap tests and calls made no difference and I hated to think of him in this isolated world. Once or twice, he had gone to sleep in his bed by the time I got to him – he was the last dog I walked for a couple of months. But whatever he had been, he was no longer. He was gentle and confused and there was no malice in him whatsoever. 

He didn’t much like being groomed, this is true, but many dogs don’t. In every other respect, he was wonderful. No aggression to other dogs, not bothered about cats. He never took my hand off. 

I put together a story about Smoke, along with some photos, and hit share. He went on all the groups I knew. Some people re-posted him. He went on the Hope Association page. Evelyn at Dog Links, a website set up to share dogs across France, shared him on her website and Facebook page. I hoped against hope that someone would take a chance on Smoke and give him a little life before he died. Three or four days passed, and nothing. Everyone was sad about his story. I got a couple of emails and then nothing. I resigned myself to the fact that I had at least raised his profile and I had done what I could, but the likelihood was that he would suffer the same fate as Vodka and maybe have a month or so reprieve at his most vulnerable time. I knew Leeanne at Twilight would have taken him, but he was not a Twilight dog. He had spent 11 years living with many other dogs and he needed a chance on his own, or in a quiet, quiet place. Plus, with those warning triangles and cards, I had no idea how easy he would integrate at Twilight, something that it is essential to think about. Leeanne and Mike have no way to cope with an anti-social dog. Despite my assessments of him, I couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t be a problem. It looked like he would see out his days in the refuge. 

A couple of days after, a lady commented on Smoke’s advert on Facebook. I missed it – easy to do when you have photos of 90 dogs in all sorts of places. A couple of days later, I got an email from Evelyn at Doglinks and realised what I had missed out on. I sent a desperate message back, hoping I hadn’t jeopardised his chances by not following things properly. One hurried phone call later and I had a potential adoptant! Fiona and her family live in the Vosges, out towards Germany, and the only problem would be a logistical one. We spent 40 minutes chatting as she told me about her life in the Vosges, her land, her family, the house. She could pick him up in three weeks when she came over for her holiday in the Vendée on the coast and I agreed to take Smoke half way up.

That afternoon, I went into the office with the details. I told Angie and she was almost incredulous.. 

“You told them all about him?” she asked. I think she thought I might have glossed over his behavioural past and his red card and his warning triangle. I nodded. “And they still want him?” and I nodded again. “Waouh!” 

At first, there was something of disbelief among all volunteers. “I found a family for Smoke!” I said. Nobody would believe it. It seemed like something almost impossible, unimaginable, had been said. This guarded excitement spread through the volunteers and I wouldn’t blame a soul for not believing it to be true. I was quick to scan paperwork and get proof of id and address, just to make sure this was really, really real. By Monday, everything was in place. I just had to wait. I went into Smoke’s enclosure and sat with him next to his bed and cried into his fur. They were tears of joy because he had a home, and they were tears of sadness that he had spent eleven years waiting. And they were tears of relief that this little guy had finally a home to call his own. 

As the time grew closer, I confess I grew more like a nervous and insecure bride-to-be with a particularly hot husband in waiting. “I’ve not heard from them for a couple of days,” I’d say, worrying that I hadn’t heard and they might have changed their mind. But I did hear and the days passed. 

I decided to take Smoke home with me the night before his trip up north. We were setting off early and I didn’t want to have any last minute dramas about not being able to get him into the car. Plus, in honesty, I wanted to do a little behaviour assessment as I was worried he might be institutionalised. I wanted an intermediate stop. When I went to pick him up late on Thursday, only the hardcore volunteers were left, with a couple of members of staff. Alain, who walks all the big dogs and powerful dogs, was delighted. Marie, the vet nurse, and I got Smoke out, put him a collar on and put the lead on him to take him from the refuge a final time. 


Nadine, the refuge director, took some photos as we left. I think the photo says just how delighted we were! Smoke didn’t understand – and why would he? 

He hopped into my car with a bit of a shove and I drove back carefully through the forest. He settled immediately and just went to sleep on the back seat. Back home, Heston and Tilly, two of my dogs, had been shipped off to my dad’s for the night, and I kept Amigo here, my most gentle dog, as I supposed Smoke might very well want a bit of doggie company. Some dogs hate to be on their own. 

img_3111He quickly fell in love with Amigo, wanting to play and smell him, though Amigo was less amorous! I kept Smoke attached to me on the umbilical lead, but he was perfectly happy to be by my side and to follow me. When I settled down for the night, he stood by me for ages. His deafness was apparent, but he seemed stressed and wouldn’t sit or lie down. He was almost asleep standing until he finally lay down, right next to me. I petted him and petted him and he had no idea what to make of it all. 

Amazingly for a dog with eleven years in a refuge, or perhaps not, he was almost house-trained. He had one accident in the night, but only a puddle, and every other time outside. I didn’t have my face savaged by this wild beast in the night and we set off bright and early up to Fontenay to meet his new family. 

I picked up a friend on the way and I drove up carefully, over-worried about being on time and not having a mobile number. We joked about how we might be stood up in the car park if his new family saw him and didn’t like him. And I worried about the time and about getting there and about whether it would work and whether Smoke’s behaviour had all been a smokescreen so far. We arrived far too early and stopped at McDonalds for a coffee and an icecream, me marvelling at how Smoke didn’t recognise glass (he kept bumping in to it, but of course, there is no glass at the refuge!) and how he wagged at his own reflection. It is fair to say he didn’t ever wag to see me, but he wagged to see Amigo and he wagged to see the cats and he wagged to see his own reflection in the glass. Verity and I patrolled the car park, me growing more and more nervous that I’d got the wrong time or the wrong day or that it had been a terrible prank. 

Just as I was getting to the point of wondering what we would do and how long we would wait, a car pulled up alongside us and it was it… his family were here! No being stood up. No pranks. No 4-hour round trip and build-up of emotions for nothing. They were here! I barely contained myself from throwing myself at Fiona, Smoke’s new mum. Heaven only knows what she thought of this over-dramatic woman and her stinky dog launching themselves at her. 

The rest is their story. Smoke spent two weeks with them at the beach, not so enamoured last time I heard, with the sand and the sea. Fiona was worried about his health, as we all had been, and he was lined up for a vet check back at home. He made a bid for freedom and didn’t quite like being pulled back so much, but he went to sleep with his head on Fiona’s feet. Fiona said she got to scratch his tummy and he did that wavy leg thing that dogs do and she was delighted. I was delighted too. 

Finally, and this is the way with adoptions, sometimes you don’t hear any more. You tell yourself that no news is good news and that they’d be in touch with any problems. Lives are busy and I have had many other dogs to photograph and to find homes for, to write stories for and to help with paperwork and adoptions. But even so, every now and again, I look at Smoke’s photo and hope to have some new ones very soon of the life he got before it was too late for him to start living. 

It goes without saying that I am incredibly grateful to Smoke’s family for taking Smoke on, even with his warning triangles and red cards. To find a kind, patient and gentle family for his last days is all I could hope for. When you adopt a dog, you don’t just make a dog very happy, you make the volunteers happy too. 



A story about Smoke: Part 1

The refuge where I volunteer is a no-kill refuge, meaning only dogs who are very sick face euthanasia. This situation is fraught with ethical issues and I know I have wondered at times whether it is kinder to euthanise than it is to keep dogs in enclosures. Having just finished a Coursera course about animal welfare ethics, I think I am more firmly in the camp that euthanasia should not be an option, even for dogs who have had a very long stay in the refuge. 

What underpinned the course was the notion of five freedoms of animal welfare: 

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst – to include access to fresh water, and a healthy diet.
  2. Freedom from discomfort – to include a comfortable sleeping area and a place of shelter from the weather.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

There is no doubt that for many dogs out in the real world, many of these freedoms are not met. I am currently involved with a situation in my own village where a few dog biscuits and some water are the only comforts two dogs have. Unfortunately, that is enough to mean they are not mistreated, in the eyes of French law! 

For this reason, the refuge can meet many of these needs – but perhaps not all, for all dogs. All dogs have access to food and water, have a sleeping area, have shelter, have vet checks. Our vet assistant Marie is constantly on site and knows the dogs inside out – especially the poorly ones. There is a small isolation room, a room for operations, a hospital recovery wing and an outdoor area for dogs in recovery. The dogs are vaccinated regularly and sterilisations happen on arrival for many dogs who have been used in the puppy farm industry. Of course, there are occasional outbreaks of kennel cough, always from newer arrivals, and dogs who arrive in a terrible condition are treated immediately and fostered. 

This is often the heart-breaking bit, because these needs are not always met in the outside world. Perhaps these dogs have been deliberately mistreated, willfully neglected or have been straying for a long, long time. 



This is Justin. He arrived a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, his ribs and hips are very evident, as is his head-ridge. No first freedom for Justin, sadly. At least at the refuge, he will get that need met, poor babe. Two months ago, a dog was brought in that had collapsed on a path in the forest in front of some walkers. “Rescue” weighed half of her normal body weight. She couldn’t even be treated until her weight improved. She was quickly adopted, luckily, and has gone on to regain all the weight she had lost. 

The third freedom is also a freedom often neglected. 

This little deaf and blind poodle came to the refuge a couple of weeks ago. 


He arrived with fly strike to the wound on his head, filled with maggots. He’s been cleaned up here, poor lad. The lady who “found” him in her garden, most likely the owner, was going to leave him to die. Well, he’s still alive and now looking for a foster home or home. 


The photo above is the inside of a cocker spaniel’s ear, also hit by fly strike, with the most appalling infection. She has been cleaned up and is no longer at the refuge. She was reserved last time I saw her, so I assume her owners have now claimed her. I worry about Tilly’s ears, my American cocker spaniel, but this really puts my worry into perspective. 

Whilst wounds are one thing, basic grooming is another. Many dogs arrive in a real state of neglect, and part of the refuge job is to get them cleaned up and sorted out. 

The hard freedoms to express in a refuge are the fourth and fifth. There are open spaces where the dogs can roam off-lead and where they can play, and the walking is a fundamental part of ensuring they get to see lots of different sights and sounds. There is a guy called Louis who comes in most days to pet the dogs, our very own ‘Petting Therapist’ and we try to ensure that some normal doggie behaviours like playing and rolling about in dirt are behaviours that are encouraged! It is not easy though. For most of the time, the dogs are just in holding cells and can’t be left toys or chews because they can cause fights. 

And although the dogs here quickly learn to be less fearful, indeed, many of them go on to have some rehabilitation and learn that they are safe, cared-for, fed, sheltered and healthy, for some the refuge is distressing. Many dogs here bide their time. Many are actually in a much better place than they have ever been. A few find it very tough. The poodle above is finding it very tough. He is disorientated and confused enough. My friend Christa is fostering another dog, Arnold, who was very distressed by refuge life. By and large, though, the refuge is not a place of fear for the dogs. It’s a stepping stone where at any moment someone might step in and take them away to a happier (I hope!) life. They don’t understand that, but we do, and they understand there is love and care here. They will always be someone’s favourite. This week, a girl popped by and stopped in on Heaven. Brigitte, a dedicated volunteer, pointed me over to Fidele and asked for better photos and a write-up for him. Johanna has fallen in love with Kayseur and Gipsy, a rottie cross and a setter. Sarah sat in with a setter puppy for half an hour yesterday. Leon and Naomi practically bit my hand off to walk Drack and Amine, two rottie crosses, and the huskies. Jess and Emily love Shadow and Cleo, Harold and Granola. Everybody loves Usty. Mireille adores Cimba to complete distraction. My favourite right now is Justin, with his sad eyes and xylophone ribs, and Victor, an old breton spaniel. Everybody’s favourite is different. Then they find homes and you are happy for them, move on to another favourite as another van-load come in. 

So for most dogs, the five freedoms get met in the refuge, despite concerns about quality of life “behind bars”. It must be remembered too that the refuges are monitored by vets and by department sanitation as well as any other number of officials to make sure standards of care are met. But for some, the refuge becomes their home. 

One of those dogs was Smoke. With 11 years at the refuge, it seemed like he was a hopeless case… but more about that next time! I just wanted to put his stay in context and to give a bit of objectivity to what is a very emotive story. 


Come back tomorrow to read about how this little fella found a home after 11 years of refuge life. 


52 Mondays #31

Okay – we’re way past the 31st week of the year (isn’t that depressing?) and I’m playing catch-up, so here is 31…


Judging from the colours, it was late in the evening; pretty sure this was the evening that Heston and Amigo chased a deer across three fields. That was Heston’s last shot at freedom for a while! To be fair, I can hardly blame him. That deer was just standing about waiting to be chased. 

That was a busy refuge-y week and the same week that I took long-time refuge veteran Smoke up north to meet his new family. He is worth a post of his own, so I won’t say too much about it. 

I have been pretty busy with new clients, strangely enough. One family are down here from Paris for the summer. Not much of a summer if you ask me – this week doesn’t look like it will get up past 24°, and last week didn’t either. More sun next week though. Feels like early-onset autumn. Guess that is what happens when you don’t have much of a winter. I keep looking at log piles and thinking it’s time to put an order in, and get my chimney swept. That’s how I know I am proper rural French these days. The vines are already losing leaves here. The apples are in and the pears have been and gone. 

I’m also teaching a guy off to Las Vegas with his friends to open a catering business. Visas are all agreed – he just has his language interview to get through. Seems a bit harsh. His English is way better than many people I know. He leaves at the end of September, having had an illustrious career in Paris and Avignon already. He is a patisserie chef and no doubt his macarons will charm the Americans. 

Tomorrow, you might well get this week’s 52 Mondays… if you are lucky!


August Flowers

IMG_2678 IMG_2679 IMG_2680 IMG_2681 IMG_2682When I was little, the house on the corner of our street had a hydrangea bush in the garden. I have distinct memories of the little boy who lived there doing a wee up against it. I can’t have been more than five, but I found it very disgusting. Now I live in France, I am used to men, boys, girls and yes, even ladies, taking a wee in public. I have even seen people get out of their car at the supermarket, take a pee in the carpark and then go into the shop. It always makes me wonder whether they really can’t make it to the very nice toilets in the supermarket, only 50 metres away. 

Anyway, it’s not just the memory of the young boy taking a wee up against said hydrangea, but the fact that I was utterly convinced the bush was made of toilet paper; It was just that shade of pink that made it look like loo roll. That thought stayed with me for forty years and I have never been enamoured of the pink/blue standard hydrangea. 

Now, though, I have changed my mind. Look at these glorious flowers. 

IMG_2678 IMG_2695 IMG_2696 IMG_2697 IMG_2698The hollyhock is probably the flower I associate most with summertime France – they are everywhere. The ones in my garden start small and end up like triffids, towering two metres high or more. It has been so wet, the wisteria has had its second bloom. The roses are still going strong and the roadside flowers are everywhere


The Charente in summer

I’m all out of sync and backed up, but I have been out and about. A week last Sunday I took the dogs down to the river at Lichères for a play. There is a gorgeous church in Lichères, right at the top of the hill. Right now, it is surrounded by sunflowers. It is chocolate-box Charente at its best. Then we went for a bit of a splash around just upriver in Bayers. The river is wide and gentle at both bits, shallow enough for paddling. Amigo had a great time chasing the fish.

licheres licheres2 licheres3sunflowersunflower2IMG_2693

Tomorrow… or sometime in the near future…  I’ll upload the photos I’ve been taking in my garden. Lots of beautiful flowers.


52 Mondays #30

Yes, I am a lot behind. Been a manic two weeks and just catching up. Will be trying to make up in August for all the time I have missed.

This is now 12 days ago…


In fact, I think I took this on the Tuesday. I’d gone out on the Monday evening to take the photo, but a deer disrupted our trip and Heston came back from his chase far too tired to continue any further.

IMG_2493Wouldn’t have been so bad if Mr Seed Pod hadn’t taken off a little friend.


But my little Tilly decided chasing a deer was a much too energetic a pastime and even the thought of it tired her out.

IMG_2500In the end, a very short walk and I ended up going back the following day to take the photo. At the moment, the landscape is changing daily. Crops are harvested, fields are filled with haystacks. The sunflowers are in bloom.