Category Archives: Pets

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. 


Quoi de neuf?

It feels like ages since I have been here, properly. Save the odd 52 Mondays post. (See, I can stick things out!)

It is fair to say I have been busier than ever. What with exam build-up from April, then marking in June and July, it’s a four-month slog to the top of the mountain. I still have some clients here and there, but I actually have one whole week off from now until next Monday. One whole week! And a bank holiday as well! I bet I’m twitching by Monday evening.

Mostly, my life has been work & dogs. Work and dogs. Work and dogs. The weather is unspeakably cool for July (shhhh! I’m kind of enjoying it. 23°C and sunny is just my type of weather for outside work!) but it has been a busy time trying to finish things off.

In between, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the refuge trying to capture photos of the dogs there. One of the boss ladies was even getting a bit specific the other day. “Can you get some dog poses like this, or like that?” she asked. In my head, I was thinking, “They are dogs. You get what you get.” especially since the whole purpose of me taking them was that often the dogs only got photographed on entry from the pound, and then really for ID purposes, not for promotion purposes. Now I’ve done so many of the dogs (a good sixty or so have had a ‘re-looking’ – the French for a makeover!) everyone’s a critic.

I do notice that. I wonder if all people face the same thing? People who have a cheap point-and-shoot and no particular photography know-how whatsoever saying ‘you should do it like this…’



I took this photo.

Last week, a lady with a cheap point-and-shoot said “Don’t try and take a photo of them from above.”

Err…. why not? Little Jo looks wonderful for his ‘from above’ shot.

To be fair, you get what you get. Some dogs are happy to sit and pose for a photo. I found the easiest dogs are ones who will sit for a biscuit and look at you when you are doing it.

Like Victor.


Do I have any tips for it?

Get down to the dog’s level if the dog won’t sit and look up for a treat.


Put your camera on a low f-stop like 6.3. Not lower. Then you get the nose in focus, but not the face or eyes. Or you get the eyes in focus but a blurry nose. Then put it on a quick ISO, like 1600 or 3200. Anything less and even in sunlight you aren’t likely to get a clear shot. Zoom in fairly close, and you have to use auto-focus, because manual takes too long and they are gone!


Clean the dog’s eyes of sleep and yuck. I am always forgetting to do this. See above.

Have a good partner. One lady I walk with really loves walking the dogs. But the only time she is still with them, she has treats straight out. Her hands are in all my shots, or her body, or she says “this dog is bored!” and wanders off. Bless her. She means she is bored, of course! If you have someone with you who understands photography, so much the better. They’ll keep hands and legs clear. If you have a certain assistant, she will elicit the kind of looks of blind adoration from dogs that give you super winning shots.


If you are doing it on the lead, hold the lead fairly tight (not straining or pulling – that makes the dog look like a lead fiend!) about a foot away from the dog’s head. The dog’s movement is restricted but they look free.

Take photos after a walk, if possible, so they are happy and a little less energetic. If you have a ball of energy like I had with Rosalie, my toughest dog yet, you may have to find a bit of space and give them ten minutes to tire themselves out off-lead. Every single shot of Rosalie, she was moving too quickly to capture. Plus, she has zero recall and zero interest in treats. Plus, being on a lead is stressful. She has serious and sad weals that you can feel with your fingers where she has been restrained for long periods of time.


But it will happen! This shot took 30 minutes to get, including walk!

If you can take a photo without treats and toys, so much the better. Then they won’t strain at the lead and the pose looks more natural. A miaow is the best way to get most dogs’ attention, especially refuge dogs who don’t know their name. The camera click can give you the money shot… head on one side out of curiosity, and great focus.


Don’t take the shot in full sunlight… it is too contrasty. (see above) Shade is great, though you need a faster ISO and shutter speed.


And it is best if you know the dogs a little, to try and capture a little of their character. When you can catch a little old guy having a rest, it’s fab

usty2I am a big fan of uniform backgrounds. Doesn’t matter if it’s a grey one, a stone one, a path or a load of greenery. But not too much of everything. This is true of body shots as well as close-up portraits.

julietta3And of course, for every Rosalie that takes a half-hour for one decent shot, there are hundreds who give you smiles and eyes and happy faces.


There are also some who are out-and-out posers.


As well as some who are camera shy, who are so upset by the camera that you have to give them a bit of time to do their best

havilaIf you are lucky, you get some great ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots that capture the different aspects of the dog on arrival and after they know they are safe.



This is Chance. He was saved from euthanasia in another pound. Here he is a couple of days into his stay. (above) And a couple of days after (below)


And even…


So this is what I have been doing two or three afternoons a week. Oh, and then the evenings, I spend editing. It’s not just a case of take a photo and bang it up on the website. I haven’t time to do a lot of editing, but a simple crop, colour adjust and balance adjust will usually make the most out of most images.

Though I would like to say, yes, animal photographers make it look incredibly easy. But whoever said you should never work with children or animals was right. Especially animals.

So what else? Not to mention a lot of walks with my own beasties. Amigo, my refuge dog, took some time to settle in – that’s another (not very traumatic) story – but he can now come on walks with my own two as well.

IMG_1626And there has even been a little of this:


And some of this:


What a busy few months it has been!








A Dogs’ Dinner

A Dog’s Dinner

by Emma Lee

If you imagined a happy retirement home for dogs, what would it involve? Comfy sofas, log fires, a few good buddies to cuddle up to? However you could imagine it, Twilight retirement home for old dogs is everything you would think of and more. A large, enclosed garden for ambles with doggie pals, a sunny patio space with room for any animal who wants to enjoy a little sunshine on their old bones, a well-equipped bathroom to keep them tidy and soup for those who can’t handle anything more taxing.

Any old dog would love just one of these things. What makes Twilight such a special place is that the dogs here are not just any old pensioners. They had all been left in refuges across Europe, having lost everything they had ever known. For some, that might be a dear and loved master who had gone into a nursing home, or, worse, passed away. For others, that might have been a life of misery and starvation, a life on the streets, unloved and unwanted.  It is often hard to know the stories of animals’ lives before a refuge. The only thing that gives you any clue at all is sometimes the sadness in their eyes, a flicker that disappears when they realise they are now in a place where they are treasured. I never realised though that I’d be in need of Twilight’s help for a dog I had come to love.


Having volunteered for dog walks at the refuge de l’Angoumois in Angoulême, I met a dog named Sirius. This black and white setter cross was always happy to see me and always happy to take a walk. He never grumbled or complained, even though he was sometimes in a great deal of pain. His right ear had been lopped off, probably to remove evidence of an identification tattoo. Sirius had probably been somebody’s loved pet – someone who cared enough to identify him, to want him returned. But when circumstances changed, for whatever reason, he found himself lost and abandoned, earless, in his old age. The refuge is a safe and happy place for many dogs. It is warm, dry and they are fed and cared for. It is not a home. Sirius needed a home, especially after his recent stroke which made it very hard for him to control his legs. Even though he came with 600€ towards any eventual vet’s bills, nobody wanted him. He ran the risk of languishing in the refuge for the remainder of his days. His health was deteriorating. A friend insisted I get in touch with Leeanne and Mike, the couple behind Twilight, to see if they could help. So I did.


It was perfect timing. Luckily for Sirius, there was a place for him at Twilight. Leeanne asked if I could bring him over as soon as I could.

On the morning my friends and I picked up Sirius from the refuge, he knew something was changing. He sat at my feet for the two-hour trip, his head on my lap, looking up at me with a mixture of trepidation and trust. When we got to Twilight, Leanne and Mike took Sirius in like a long-lost friend, and within minutes, he had formed friendships, wagged his tail and went for a sniff around the garden.

I didn’t see him much the rest of the morning; he found a friend in an arthritic labrador called Harold and the pair spent the morning getting to know each other. Later on, I went to take some photos for the refuge and called to Sirius. He looked across the room at me with sheer delight. It was a look that said he couldn’t believe his luck. I’m not sure if he saw in my eyes the look that said “you deserve this, old fella!” but I hope he did. Leeanne tells me he sleeps back to back with Harold now and although he has other friends, he is best doggie friends with the labrador. He deserves nothing less.


It’s not just a story about Sirius. There are around thirty other dogs at Twilight at any one time. Of course, they come here for their final days. For some, this could be a year. For others, less. However long it is, it is a home for them that makes up in more ways than one for any of the heart-break the dogs have suffered in their sometimes, sadly, too-short lives.

Providing such a home is an enormous task. When I was here, I got to thinking about the huge food and cleaning bill that Mike and Leeanne face each month. I thought about how much it might cost to feed the dogs for a day. I figured around 20€. Then I thought about how much we could support Twilight if we could find people who would help to pay for a day’s food and cleaning by direct debit each month. It would only take 30 other people to help cover their food and cleaning costs each month. That didn’t seem like an insurmountable task to me. Thirty people would surely want to help? If not 20€, then 10€ a month would buy breakfast or dinner for all the lovely puddings like Sirius. It would mean that Leeanne and Mike can continue their amazing work knowing that their basic doggie bills are covered.

I know that certain days and certain numbers are very special to many people. For me, I will always choose the number 29 in memory of my Gramps. He would be very happy to see all the old dogs in such contented retirement. That’s my number. To know that on the 29th of each month, I’m feeding the Twilight “puddings” and doing a little something to honour his memory will make the day even more special. For this reason, I want to ask if you would like to contribute a dog’s dinner, and if you would like to pick a calendar date for your donation. To this end, if you could let me know that you have committed to a monthly direct debit or virement and if you have a special day of the month that you would like the dogs to know is your day. I’d like to add these to a calendar so that I can share it with Leeanne and Mike because I am sure they will let the dogs know whose day it is.

In order to set up your direct debit or virement monthly, you can either do this via the Twilight website by contacting Twilight directly to ask for bank details, or in contacting me at If you would like to get in touch to let me know whether you intend to buy breakfast, dinner or a day’s food, as well as letting me know any days of the month that you would like to be your personal dogs’ dinner day.  This is my way of saying thank you on Sirius’s behalf to Leeanne and Mike, who do what so many of us would find so hard. Sometimes, donations make little difference to the efforts of a charity or campaign; in this case, donations will make a real and immediate impact.

Thank you for reading, and please, if you can, share!

Emma (and Sirius) x



Chasing Pheasants

Almost three years today, I got a little American cocker spaniel, by way of the Hope Association. Same sad story. Owners going back to the UK and leaving two dogs behind. I took both of them and although Saffy died only two months after arriving here, I like to think she had a happy time. She certainly seemed like she did.

Tilly took ages to settle, though mostly she seemed fairly content. That first walk she went on, she collapsed after a couple of kilometres and just lay down in protest. Two months later and she was happily managing the occasional 10km walk without a whimper. I can’t even remember the last time she lay down on a walk.

DSCF0665when the girls first arrived

Tilly is perhaps not a typical American cocker, but given that my only other experience of American cockers has been my Nana and Gramps’ dog Sunny, I’d say she is so like him it is untrue. She is a massive bin-dipper and will faire les poubelles or ‘do the bins’ at any opportunity. Her favourite way to spend a half hour if I’m out is in shredding the recycling bag to get at anything I might have forgotten about. She will happily climb on the table the moment I leave the room. We got so used to this with Sunny that we became habitual chair-pusher-inners. She is incredibly loyal and it took her a while to get used to me but now her favourite place to sit is right next to me and her favourite place to sleep is right next to me. I’m not allowed to touch her though, and she grumbles if I do and moves away, but she likes to be right up next to me.

Anyway, Tilly has never been a playing dog. She is not interested in sticks, balls, chasing, running or catching. She had a stone she quite liked to skid across the floor, which was a little sad, but she has never been a player. Apart from rolling in unpleasant smells like manure and fox droppings, she doesn’t have much by way of doggie behaviours at all.

Or, she didn’t.

She will chase after a deer or a wild boar if one crosses her path. And the other week, she joined in a chase with Heston after a hare.

Bless her.

DSCF1731But a couple of weeks ago, she started to get really cocker-y. She even ran into a field to have a look at a bird.

IMG_0074You can just see her in the middle of this field – typical cocker stance – back legs wide, staring up at the bird she’s just scared off. And this was the first time she’s ever taken the initiative to seek out game. It’s the first sign I ever really had of the cocker within.

But last Saturday, we were pootling along down by the hedges and Tilly got all excited. She even ran into a bush. She is a very obsessive little dog and she wasn’t for coming out, even when I called her – and she usually has excellent recall. She was just in and out of the bush trying to find different ways to get at whatever was in there. Personally, I thought it was a rabbit, since there are often rabbits down on that part of the walk. But no. Two minutes later, she found a way in and out flew a huge male pheasant, taking a little while to get into flight. They are such ungainly birds. And then out popped my Tilly. She chased him over two fields until he came to rest in a tree, and she worried around that tree for about twenty minutes, trying desperately to get at Mr Pheasant. In fact, I had to grab her and carry her off in the end. She wasn’t for giving up.

On Sunday, we went on a new walk and every time we went past a hedge, she was ferreting about near it. Then she got all cocker again, racing round and round one hedge, trying to get at what was inside. I couldn’t see anything and there was no movement. I put her on the lead to get her to move off and just as I was doing so, out popped two pheasants – a male and a female – and flapped off after a bit of a run up.

Now Heston is not bothered by birds. He likes to chase crows and swallows, admittedly, but I’m not sure what that is about. He has even brought me back a bemused duck. That Sunday, he was totally uninterested in the pheasants. Give him a deer and he’ll chase it for miles. Likewise a hare. But a big pheasant doesn’t flap enough for his liking and just isn’t his cup of tea. Maybe he thinks it’s just a big chicken and he is very fond of my chickens, who put up no protest and squat down as if he is about to mount them. He sniffs them and runs off.

So the only place that little pheasant chasing instinct has come from in Tilly is right inside her.

I think we have Heston to thank for discovering her inner dog. She is very much his sidekick and on virtually every picture I have of the fields round these parts, he’s off in front and she is chasing along behind him.


See? Big black smudge, smaller blonde smudge.

Who knows – maybe one day she’ll learn to be a real little dog after all! Not bad for nine years old though. I’m pretty impressed. And had I been of the hunting persuasion, had I got a loaded gun, had I listened to Tilly’s flushing instincts, I could have bagged myself a handful of pheasant this weekend!

What has been funny though is walking past bushes and hedges after this – she’s been desperate to have a look for any bird life.

Funny little dog.


Looking back: Heston

I was looking back over old posts from last year with pictures of my lovely Heston and it’s amazing how much he’s both grown and developed (or not!) He was such a little puppy when I first got him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was the photo that made Verity and I fall in love with our boys. I’d like to remind everyone that V asked for the runty one. She likes runts. I’m not sure what that says about her strapping husband. Perhaps his brother is a giant.

DSCF2271And on the first day, he could sleep under the couch with his little feet and his puppy ears. He slept most of the day and played the rest of it. He even played with Tilly, which doesn’t happen so much these days.

He could fit on the couch with my little American cocker, no problem.

heston and tillly

And he had a love for his brother that I think only brothers can really share, where you’re the same kind of size as each other and you can play hard, knowing each other’s limits. They only fell out one time and even straight after, they were friends.

DSCF2325We had all kinds of speculation about how big they’d end up, and whether their ears would stand or not. Heston’s sometimes do, and they always do when carried by the wind.

He has the same collar, on the biggest setting. It was on the smallest setting here. And the biggest surprise was how feathered their tails got. Here, it’s just a normal dog tail. He looks so little with his baby fur and his big body and little head. He was about 12 weeks old in the photo below.


I can’t even really remember his tail feathering out – or when he started to get his big dog coat. The photo below is Heston’s first off-road experience in September, and his tail is starting to fill out. Definitely not labrador as the vet first thought. And probably a lot of border collie. Still looks more like a miniature Groenendaele crossed with a miniature flat-haired retriever as well. It’s like someone thought ‘Let’s take the three most energetic dog breeds we can find and make an unruly mixture of them.’ And this is what we got. He definitely does the collie headtilt in a ‘what you talkin’ bout Willis’ kind of a way.

DSCF2805This was the first off-lead experience and Heston realised that he LOVED water. Not only that, doesn’t bat an eyelid when there’s gunshots right up close. Cyclists coming past the house, well they just might steal from my dead corpse the amount Heston barks, but gunshot, well, that’s just the sound of the forest.

Charlton and Heston

By the end of the year, Heston has full-on feather tail and reached 18 kilos. He’s one heavy dog. He’s now 24. He is a beast. He likes to jump on top of me at 6.45am and this is how I know his weight.


His favourite things, in no particular order, are: puddles, rivers, lakes, snow, digging, burying balls, barking at cyclists, eating tomatoes, chasing chickens, getting up at precisely 6.45am, sleeping under the bed, going on car journeys, his lead, his rope, his selection of popped footballs, chasing the lawnmower and trying to play with it, visitors who’ve been here for more than two days.


He is not a fan of men, tall men, very tall men, men who he forgets, the breton spaniels up the road, rainy non-walk days, peppers, apples and walking to heel. It is hard when you are a bouncy dog with a slow owner.

hestonaprilHe is also not a fan of lie-ins.

IMG_0382He is a very energetic dog and sometimes this drives me to despair. He also has learned to bark at every dog he meets, simply because we must walk past 20 houses where that’s what the dogs do. It’s sad. He is generally very good when he meets new dogs though if Tilly barks, he barks. She’s definitely boss.

IMG_0625And he still loves to play all day. He just can’t fit under the couch any more. God love the Heston. He is a funny, crazy, bouncy creature. I just wish he would bark less at people. I sense this may take some time in the unlearning. I also wish the following things weren’t prompts for Heston thinking we are going on a walk: me putting my socks on; me putting flip-flops on; me even looking at my boots; me picking up my keys; 8pm. 7am. Do a thing twice and it becomes a signal to my funny boy. Bless him!

Oh the things I can do…

I’ve dropped Man and Boy off at the airport. Hopefully they have winged their way Liverpool-side and I have two weeks of … quiet… Aaahh!

Things I can do. In no particular order.

  • a naked dance. I’m not going to because no more than 10 cm squared of my flesh is exposed at any one time from now until March, but I could do, if I wanted to.
  • listen to the KIIIIINGS very loud. Whoo-hoo-hoo.
  • Get even more baubles out.
  • Eat cake for breakfast. I could do this before, but it seems such an inappropriate lesson for a child to learn.
  • Dance with the dogs. I do this anyway and Stephen laughs. A Lot.
  • Watch girlie things. Glee is on download and I DO NOT CARE if you think that is funny for me to do because I’d quite like to see Dr Spencer Reid’s Mum being a PE teacher bitch.
  • Work at any time of the day, not just when Boy is asleep.
  • Use one plate for all meals.
  • Cycle round and round in my garden. I won’t, but I could if I wanted to.
  • Commandeer all the hot water bottles and duvets and sleep under ALL of them.
  • Eat chocolates without having to share.
  • Get anally-retentive with the housework. That’s how I roll.
  • Watch Criminal Minds again, from Start to Finish. And maybe again. Yes I know who’s done it. No I don’t care. I loves me a Penelope Garcia and a Prentiss and a JJ and a Dave and a Dr Spencer Reid and a Hotch and a Derek Morgan. And then I might watch NCIS again. Just because I can.
  • Watch me some French stuff without having to put the subtitles on for Steve.
  • Listen to Brazilian and Cuban music without feeling Stephen’s music snobbery breathing down my neck
  • Play Bing Crosby from dawn until dusk
  • Break out the festive because as Steve said yesterday, he’s a man’s-man and baubles aren’t very manly. Apparently. I think a real man’s man would be comfortable with his festive side and not be such a miserable Grinch, but there you go.
  • Go to bed at half past eight without anyone laughing at me. What’s that about??! It’s like a competition in this house to see who can see as much of the night as possible. Who wants to be awake at the time you feel all rubbish and tired??! I want more daylight!
  • Keep a clean kitchen.
  • Eat veggie food every day without anybody passing comment about lentils.

But I will miss them a little bit. I won’t miss them bickering. I won’t miss having my head pecked or being laughed at or being the butt of the joke. Give me two weeks and I might have got over my urge to make them live in the cabin at the end of the garden.

The dogs, unfortunately, already have Man and Boy sized holes in their life. Moll is unlikely to vacate Steve’s chair. Tilly spent half an hour looking for him when I drove back. I suspect long walks and a bit of girl time are needed. Besides, Moll will forget all about Steve once my dad breaks out the pork crackling for her. Poor doggies.

My gorgeous boys

Before I start, I need to say that Fox and Bird had bloody big paw-prints to fill. Basil was a whimsical, petulant spoilt king who I adored. He’d been with me through so much and I still miss his little furry body next to me in bed. I miss him poking me to wake me up, and I miss his constant chatter. He was a very chatty cat.

So Fox and Bird had to follow in the wake of this great beast, well worthy of TS Eliot.

But they’re so endearing and so lovely, it’s impossible not to love them to pieces.

I worried about them coming here – if they don’t have good road sense, they’re not going to get far. Plus, Basil was so distressed when I first got him, he ran away for 5 days. I worried these boys would do the same. I worried about them with the dogs and with me and with new space.

But they’re brilliant. It’d be impossible to have more fantastic cats.

Fox always leads the way: he’s the brave one. He’s the one who first came in the house and the one who first curled up on the sofa, claiming it as his own:

In fact, he quickly started claiming wherever he wanted to lie as his own, not even caring about silly Tilly – and she’s really glad to have a new friend. She’s so waggy when she sees them, despite chasing them for  a couple of days:

Fox is so playful. He spends half his time racing round the garden, sticking his head into holes. He’s caught two mice that I know of and he seems to love catching moths that gather near the windows.

He’s so full of playfulness it’s delightful. Whilst some cats (like Clint, our ex-foster revival) are savage as well as playful, he’s so gentle. He is very happy to be petted and purrs so loudly. He will clean anything that gets near him: hands, dogs’ heads…

Birdie was less confident – and still is a little timid. He spent the first couple of days in the barn, nowhere near as adventurous as Fox, and he would come down for food then go back up again. It took him a while to want to venture near the dogs, but this afternoon he was sitting with Molly and Tilly under a tree – rolling on his back and enjoying their more peaceful company. He’s spent the last two nights getting happier about coming in, and spent the last two nights curled up on my bed trying desperately to wash my hands when I’m trying my best to re-read Annie Hawes’ Extra Virgin – a book about a woman who bought a house in Italy in the 80s – by house, I mean a rustic old summer house up in the mountains. It’s a great book. Whenever I think I’m roughing it, she reminds me I’m really not. Plus, I read it in England whilst dreaming of a life like the one I have now, so it’s so much nicer to read it with a little more sympathy and ‘insider’ knowledge. She’s a great writer.

Anyway, I digress.

My little Bird seems to channel the spirit of Basil, curling up next to me, demanding attention and, fondly, shitting in a corner. He pulls my hand to him to be petted. And that’s where the Basil similarity ends, because Basil would lock on and claw me to shreds, and Birdie just washes my hand.

Birdie got just enough confidence to come in and say hello, and now he won’t leave! What I love about the boys is how they play together and how they cuddle up to one another. They really are the best brothers. I love it how they sleep in Saffy’s old basket on the windowsill, arm in arm.

By far the cutest, though, was when both got into bed with Molly. Molly likes to put herself to bed when she’s decided it’s late. She doesn’t bother waiting for us, just takes herself off and that’s the last you see of our lazy dog. But a couple of nights ago, Bird and Fox decided to join her. Excuse the unmade bed. I’ve no excuse.

Why oh why…

Did I want two more dogs??

I might as well have Dog Slave and Boy Slave written on me in permanence. I do nothing but pander to the whims of the various animals from dawn to dusk.

First is Moll waking me up by wanting to get under the covers and then get out again. Because I’m blanketed up, she’s got three to get under or out of. Thus, I have to be fully awake to unwrap and re-wrap her. This is Steve’s fault for letting her sleep in the bed. Now she’s entitled.

Second is navigating cat shit. Basil no longer wants to go outside on account of the other dogs and so he’s back on litter box duty. However, he misses. Today he shat in my last box of card from The Card Factory.

Third is navigating Tilly’s ‘girlie accidents’ (according to the ad about her from her previous owners – actually, completely un-housetrained… hmmmm)  and mopping up before letting them all out, having safely secured Basil in a dog-free eating environment so that he can eat his precious cat food in peace without being molested by Saffy or Tilly. Molly wouldn’t dare, but Saffy and Tilly are greedy and their eyes are bigger than their consciences or fear of punishment.

Then comes petting Tilly after she’s weed and congratulating her on weeing outside or doing a big shit. I’m going to start congratulating everyone for shitting where they should. I might stand near my brother and go “Good Aim!” when he gets it in the bowl.

Following this, I have to then retrieve Basil from his cold dog-free buffet and settle the dogs down again.

Mostly, things are fairly calm until I need to go out. It’s not so much the going out that’s the problem, it’s the coming back. Tilly sits on the back of the settee so she can look through the window, which is very cute and thus I am heart-broken upon leaving. Then when I get back, I have not to greet Tilly until she’s weed, and fuss Saffy who barks until you do and pet Molly who I like fussing when I come back because she doesn’t wee or bark. Then they rifle through my bags.

I then have to have three dogs underfoot in the kitchen until I send them all packing. I do a good line in ‘Out! Out!’ until they all disappear, before sneaking back in. Then the whole rigmarole again.

Tilly, not being house-trained, likes to sit near the door knowing full well whenever she does we’ll let her out. Then Saffy follows her, not wanting to miss anything. Tilly used to go out to drink – both dogs are compulsive drinkers, because they’re so used to it and doing it out of boredom. Tilly goes outside to drink from the laundry basket and then comes in and wees in Jake’s room or the dining room, or the kitchen, or some other place I’ve yet to find and I mop again. Saffy barks every time she goes outside because she’s so excited to be outside and nobody has ever told her not to. So if they go out, I have to follow – firstly to inspect peeing and nervous drinking – and secondly to stop the barking and chicken chasing.

Molly also has got into the habit of sitting in Steve’s chair, behind him. The chair isn’t big enough for both of them, so Steve usually falls off the edge as Molly shoves her way in. Tilly sits near the door desperate for some extra water or a sniff at some cat food. Saffy, thankfully, is sleeping.

This is obviously not even including the walking and the fussing and the constant attention to dog psychology.

But, I must say, I love it really.

New beginnings and not being lost

Is it a tradition that Boxing Day and New Year’s Day should include walks? I guess it’s to walk off the excess of the festivities! I managed not to get lost today, after having managing to get lost on an epic, two-hour, scale yesterday. That’s always an achievement.

The Beast, the Ewok and Madame Cholet, wombling about

I took the dogs down to the forest again – a different part this time. It definitely seems that the bit north of the main road is a lot less accessible and that the devil has a lot of business with the signposts, and the south-side is a whole lot more organised and Godly. We parked up by the Maison Forestière at Le Gros Fayant and just did an hour trail. However, after yesterday, this felt like a simple stroll and not worthwhile. I suspect my Achilles tendon won’t have that ripping feeling tonight, and if your Achilles doesn’t feel like it’s fabric that’s been stretched to within an inch of its resistance, it’s not really a walk, to me.

Moments later, they decide to 'off-road'

It was bitingly cold by the time I got there – bit of Vent du Nord going on, and the sky was that grey crime writers always call ‘gunmetal’ and I love. The forest is mostly deciduous and so I spent most of my time marvelling at how green some stuff is. It was quite a bit above freezing, but it was still cardigan, hat and scarf weather. Speaking of scarves, I have had a hair-brained idea (why do they call it hair-brained? Or is it hare-brained? I need to know this!) to take up knitting. I haven’t knitted since primary school, but I spent much of last night looking at knitting videos on Youtube and believe I can do it. Plus, I’m from a family of knitters. I sense hand-knitting will return in a big way. Anyway, I digress, and I’m back on my ‘yule’ theme…

New Year Gloom

I can kind of see why we have ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ as a pseudo-Christmas carol – though let’s face it, we all know Holly and Ivy had nothing to do with Jebus or his birth. Still there was lots of fabulous shiny holly dotted about in between trees, lots of ivy and then occasional bunches of mistletoe here and there. Very yuleish. If I wanted to bring something green in to remind me spring was on its way, I’d go for a Christmas tree and some holly, some ivy and some mistletoe. There was only the bright green swathes of broom alongside that, and let’s face it, that’s not photogenic at all. Nobody is going to make up a carol about broom.

Holly - nothing whatsoever to do with Jebus

Still, had a good (if short-feeling) walk with the dogs, spent much of the walk getting giddy with Moll about sticks. The other two are not bothered at all about sticks. Saffy goes crazy for a ball, but Tilly just ambles along looking like an Ewok and being cute when she gets batted over by Moll. It’s almost regular, now. Madame ‘Cuisses de Tonnerre’ – Molly Dog – will turn around, find Silly just behind her, jump over her – or attempt to – not quite clear her and knock her flying on to her back. Silly Tilly always looks at me as if to say ‘Make this indignity stop!’ but after she chased my cat today, we’re not best of friends.

Molly de-molly-ishing a stick and Saffy, looking on, bemused

Moll, it must be said, takes no prisoners when she’s giddy. She quite often – pardon my French, but it’s the only word that works – twats me on the back of the calves with a ficken great stick. She did it again today. Sticks are part-toy, part-weapon to the Moll. They’re all weapon to me. Now all three girls are asleep and cute and clean – Moll and Saff snoring, and Tilly cute as it’s possible for a blonde dog to be.