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.
He 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.