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Posts tagged ‘Dogs’

You can’t have too much dog …

I am generally an orderly girl even if that order seems somewhat chaotic to observers and right now I feel the extra need to have pegs to hang each day on.  I also need to discipline my lawless approach to writing.  For these reasons, I have decided to dedicate different days of the week to a variety of new ideas with the strong caveat that when the storytelling muse knocks loud that it will be move over whatever Beethoven is on the menu that day and make way for a bigger post.


Mondays therefore, henceforth and for the next while become the terrain of my motley mutts.  Dog Days if you will.  In due course, they may be allowed to write their own posts but in the interests of some propriety, I will take the lead and write each of their stories over the coming weeks.


Today is simply a little background to how on earth we managed to increase the poundage of our household canines by a factor of almost twenty.  The poundage is the result of three newbies, not more, so I guess one might be credited with a tiny bit of sanity in the mayhem.  Or not.  Your choice on that one ….


The story starts in the summer of 2018.  Our son was staying with us prior to moving to a new flat.  He asked if we minded if he got a puppy.  He wanted the companionship when living on his own and we readily agreed.  Emilia is a cattle-dog cross who was found wandering in Oklahoma City.  She duly arrived, aged about 3 months and The Bean swooned.  This was astonishing.  We had thought she would be reluctant to welcome another dog but since it was temporary I, in the driving seat being home all day, had been happy to roll with the punches.  What a glistening silver lining that there was no antipathy and not even a brush of the boxing glove to contend with.

The love blossomed for two months and then it was time for son and pup to move to their new home.  We waved them off and settled back to being just we three.  The Bean descended into somewhat of a malaise.  She clearly missed Emilia.  It was tragic.  She moped around pathetically and seemed to be a sleep-walking version of her former spry self.  What to do?  Never one to shirk from more dogs I set about persuading HB² that this was really and truly the moment to adopt a dog.  He ignored me awhile, conceded that resistance was futile and acquiesced graciously.  I smiled serenely.


I did copious reading devouring books and articles and decided that The Bean should have a young companion, a maximum of a year old, and one that was no more than three times her weight thus no more than 20-22lb.  A male would be better since bitch fights are always ugly in any context and it seems that pairing opposite sexes works better.

Here in Massachusetts we have very little issue with dogs being ill-treated or rendered homeless.  Which is not to say none but relatively it is not a problem.  Therefore, the majority of shelter dogs come up from Southern States.  Sometimes this is because of inherent problems, sometimes it is because of natural disasters.  But there is a plentiful supply.  The first dog we applied for turned out to be one that would be put on a transport and sent to a collection point with numbers of other dogs.  It’s a bit like a blind date crossed with a lottery.  You arrive at the given time and the driver calls out your name and you meet your dog.  No sending it back.   You’re on your own.  We were not confident that this would work not least because The Bean would have no chance to meet her potential housemate before being required to budge up and share her digs. We slid down the snake and went back to square one.  Rather heavy hearted because Wilma did look like a lovely Beagle though older than we had ideally wanted.  Next we turned to one of the local shelters.  Now, in fairness, our timing was off.  I was about to travel to Europe for ten days and The Brains was joining me for five in France.  Naiveté is a speciality of mine and it didn’t occur to me that if we offered to pay for a dog and it’s keep that it would be a problem to keep it at the shelter til we got home.  The shelter were not impressed when I emailed our delight with a brother and sister called Alexander and Anjelica and said we would take both.  I’m not renowned for being able to make decisions between one thing and another.  For this reason I am always last to make my order in a restaurant – I dither back and forth and eventually am forced by the collective irritation of whomever I am dining with and the person taking the order and the choice will be made by whichever point of the eeny-meeny I am at at that precise moment.  This in part explains why we opted for both not one or the other.  That and the site of them so clearly a pair of attached siblings.  Anyhow, I got rather a brusque rebuff from the manager and got on the plane to London heavy of heart.  I checked their website.  One of them had been adopted.  I remain convinced they should have gone together – they were so bonded.  I cried quietly in my seat as I flew further and further away.  The dogs, incidentally were estimated at a weight of 40lb each when grown.  So each double what I had sensibly understood the maximum optimal weight for a Bean companion should be.


We returned to the US and I started the hunt again.  Weeks past and I became a woman obsessed.  By then, based on the two we had found, we had decided that it would be better for The Bean if we got two youngsters so that they could occupy each other when she was feeling her age and a little less affable.  The Bean, you see, may look cute and harmless but many is the dog and human who have fallen foul of her less than even temperament.  Bad hair days are unpredictable in world of Bean and we felt she would do better not having the pressure of always being spruce and polished.   I must have looked at and enquired after twenty dogs but many were of the trapeze without a safety net variety coming straight to a carpark near you on a transport.  Others on closer inspection were not the right fit.  Maybe they were known to not be good with children for example.  We have five children and it is inevitable that there will be tiny pitter pattering feet along the way.


And then I struck gold.  A rather oversized crock of the gleaming stuff as it turned out.  I found two sisters aged five months old and we went to the shelter, a different shelter, to meet them.  Unfortunately they had been spayed that day and were not taking visitors but would we like to walk this one ….?   This one was a red coated fellow with the most pleading expression and it was clear that he had decided we were to be his family.   The following evening Red Boy met The Bean and duly bonded, we brought him home.  But what of the sisters.  Well – my husband pretends to be a badass but in fact is extremely soft and he whispered to me as I stood looking at their forlorn post operative forms on their little cots through the wire of their cages ‘we could take all three ….’


Most shelters would not have let us take two let alone three but we were interviewed, a stiff but fair interview. It felt a little as I imagine it might feel for a young man asking a father for the hand of his daughter in marriage.  I have owned multiple dogs all at once and most of the many dogs I have owned have been rescued.  That may have been a factor.  Whatever the reason, they said yes.   People might comment at this point that we have ‘sucker’ tattooed on our collective foreheads and that the shelter saw us coming but this is a highly professional place which has been a place of refuge and rehoming since 1961. We consider ourselves fortunate to have crossed their threshold and privileged to have been given the opportunity to adopt three needy souls.  So the morning after we took The Boy home, we went back with Boy and Bean for the entire potential quartet to meet.  It was deemed a success and paperwork duly done, we squoozed into our Mini Cooper and took our new tribe home.  And the fun commenced but that is a story to be spun over coming Mondays.


PS, the ever present PS:  The title is taken from ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, Gail Honeyman’s brilliant debut novel.  Eleanor is talking about her love of ‘Jane Eyre’ and gives special praise to Pilot, Mr Rochester’s faithful dog, remarking ‘you can’t have too much dog in a book’ – I am happy to paraphrase that as ‘you can’t have too much dog in a life.

An equal pound of your fair flesh …

I’m conscious that one moment I was here in this place and the next, just like that, I was gone. Vanished, and rudely, with no explanation.  I don’t want to labour on about me – I never have in the past and I see no sense nor value in changing that  practice  now.  I simply have never found ‘me’ to be a particularly interesting subject and can’t think of a single compelling reason why anyone else would.  However, I do want to provide some explanation for my evaporation before I start posting my customary drivel once more.

Exactly two years ago, this very day, I drove away from Grenoble, knowing that I would be flying to the US of almighty A to settle for the foreseeable future with my Husband (he of the lauded, virtually vaunted by me, two brains).  It was what I had fervently wished for, wished with all my aching heart and now it was becoming a reality.  But niggling my soaring spirits, was a looming disquiet caused by a spate of blogging friends receiving a poisonous mail from a woman who I could, but will choose not to, unmask.  Suffice to say that her actions  quite literally unhinged me over the course of the following months and although I tried to write, tried to whistle while I worked out my new and longed-for life, increasingly paranoia crept over me, self-doubt and self-loathing wrapped me as a strait-jacket and I shrivelled under the resultant and suffocating weight of what felt like the heftiest, most immovable shroud.

There were other factors – that ocean and the time difference conspire to make one feel very far away; this place is far more foreign to me than France ever was; loneliness a familiar but never welcome guest. But the gaping abyss into which I stared and felt helpless to tackle, was caused by a malicious woman whom I have never met. I am a forgiving soul.  This made it harder.  I choose to live by the words ‘Primum non Nocere’ or ‘first, do no harm’ and I don’t understand enmity.  Many would, indeed have and probably still do, call me naive.  I prefer it that way.  I prefer to believe in the good, in the positive, in the decent, in the lovely.  But it does mean that when caught unawares by the actions of a spiteful and vindictive person, I was entirely ill-equipped to deal with it.  I know who you are.

But I, being the richest poor girl on the block am fortunate that I had the unerring and may I say remarkable love of a good man to support me as I first lay thrashing at the bottom of, and then climbed slowly out of, often slipping back and disturbing yet more toxic shale, the mineshaft I had tumbled into; that I found a wonderful and talented psychoanalyst to guide me through what turned out to be a mire of influences from the very beginnings of my tenure on this earth, the bevvy of issues, unresolved and packed in trunks to languish under the stairs, which every so often lurched out and knocked me sideways, the noxious flotsam and pernicious jetsam from my own clumsy attempts at living a decent life and a need to find the Me clamouring to breath the clean fresh air of a guilt free existence and to love Me so that I could, in turn, be loveable.  It turned out that I had sorely neglected Little Miss Me, Me, Me and it was time to give her a spit and polish, a hug and a caress and to reassure her that I can be proud of who she is.  That bit is a struggle but I repeat my mantra daily.  Oh.  And dogs.  In a moment of what most would call low-level insanity, we adopted three dogs to join The ineffable Bean on the same weekend about eighteen months ago.  I believe and The Bean has proved more than once in her life, that dogs are the greatest therapy to humans and, the need being great, the cure surely had to be plentiful.  We don’t profess to be sensible, we understand it might be construed as excessive to increase the poundage of a canine entourage from 7.5lb to nearly 150lb overnight.  But we aren’t hurting a soul and we have saved three harmless souls from a fate far worse than having to reside with us in perpetuity.

Now that I have dealt with it all, I am comfortable that, I am, as they say here, all set. Reset if you will. And what I emphatically know is that in order to be the person I am, the content version of her, that I have to write again. I have to do what comes naturally to me – plague the world with nonsense. And you, you if you choose to, can read it and your opinion will be valued, whatever it is.

Join me as I start spinning stories once more. I’m rather excited. I just couldn’t bring myself to enter the room, blinking wildly, mane on end like a wholly deranged, if recovering, nag. Well I could, but it didn’t seem decorous and I might as well at least pretend for a tiny while that I can be teeny bit refined.

PS. Because there must always be a PS: The title is taken from Shakespeare. Shylock to Antonio, striking his bargain as he lends him needed funds in his desire to win the hand of Portia. The woman I speak of hurt me mightily. I am not vengeful but a pound of flesh taken without the spillage of a drop of blood appeals. Pens and swords, eh?


The Bean is a well travelled dog.  Her mileage by road and air (and a little by rail) is boggling for such a small canine.  To facilitate her cross-border maraudings she has to abide by rules and she holds a European Pet Passport which logs her necessary vaccinations and rabies shots and, if she wants to visit the country of her birth, it registers the worming tablet demanded by the British to be administered not less than 24 hours and not more than 120 before travel by a certified veterinarian.  To partake of this delight, we toddle chez le veterinaire in our nearest town and the vet jokes with her that it is just a little French sweetie (she is bored with the joke, has been since the first time when she discovered the depth of the lie) and with me that it is ironic that he, a Frenchman, takes money (35€) from me, an Englishwoman to allow my British dog to travel to our own country.  I smile my beatific smile and nod and wonder why it is necessary at all and count my blessings that I don’t have to be wormed as well.

Yesterday, we pottered into the ‘Cabinet Veterinaire’ a little after 9 and were greeted warmly and asked to take a seat.  The newly upgraded surgery is  bright and cheerful with a row of  radiant yellow alternating with dazzling orange plastic chairs and a vast and jubilant tub of plastic plants in the centre.  I sat remembering the last time The Bean and I were in that spot in August.  A frail old man, driven by his strapping hard muscled from hard work 30-something grandson  struggled to carry his best friend, a sheepdog once bursting with energy now simply desiccated with age, into the surgery.  They were expected and were ushered silently straight into the treatment rooms.  I waited a while and then took The Beligerent Bean in for her vile pill which she spat out a few times to keep the vet on his toes, as is her custom, whilst he made his joke about the irony of it all and I attempted to be beatific but achieved instead a handsome grimace.  Afterwards I stepped back into the reception to pay my bill and there was the old man his grandson standing sentinel next to him as he pulled his chequebook out to pay for the demise of his best friend.  Cheque written, the lovely lady who presides cheerfully and appropriately over her domain began to explain what would happen to the dog and the old fellow shook his head and signalled his young protector to take the details.  He simply couldn’t and wouldn’t take in any more.  I caught his eye and said ‘I am sorry for your loss’.  He crouched on his creaking haunches and caressed The Bean, told her she was beautiful and such a goooood girl in cracked gutteral Auvergnat French which takes years to tune into accurately even if you are a Parisien.  He looked up, the depth of sorrow in his eyes so cavernous that I could not hope to reach the bottom and he thanked me.  Thanked ME.  The grace of ordinary humans never ceases to astound me.  Never.

Just ahead of us yesterday was an old lady.  Immaculately turned out in her best coat and shoes, shoes that have seen service for as many decades as I have taken breath, I would vouch, mended, remended, polished and serviceable, a scarf draped at the neck she was as pale as moonlight  in midwinter.  She had arrived in a taxi driven by a young woman of similar age to the grandson in summer.  In the interests of lightening this sombre piece I will tell you that our local taxi firm is magnificently named ‘Taxi Willy’ which obviously makes a girl born in England quiver like an ill-set jelly as I stifle my inevitable sniggers.  The driver was deferential and warm as she looked after her passenger who was as stiff as a board not in hostility but in the way of someone holding herself together because she must.  I surmise that this young woman drives the lady often.  Taxis (Willy’s taxis) are the only means of transport for a woman widowed who doesn’t drive and lives probably some miles from town.  It’s the nature of rural life when bus services cease to operate because we all have at least one car.  All of us that matter.  It’s the nature of being left behind in the place that you have always lived as it sheds it’s young to the cities and quietly erodes around you.  She was nestling her cat when they went in to see the vet.  When they came out some 10 minutes later there was no cat.  The vet, a lady explained to the woman the different options for cremation (the French word is ‘Incineration’ which to English speaking ears is jarring and rather unfeeling) …. she listened, she acknowledged, she fumbled in her handbag for her purse and the driver gently helped her find the money to pay.  She walked to the taxi and she climbed stiffly into the backseat and as they drove away I was struck by the enormity of her holding herself together.  I imagined the young woman seeing her into her silent home.  Making sure she was comfortable, offering to drop in and see her later.  And I imagined her, coatless and tiny walking to her chair as the taxi drove away, allowing herself to shed the tears that no man nor woman outside of her house must ever see.  And I thought of us all preparing for the holidays, the hubub of excitement, the coiled spring of anticipation of the gluttonous festivities, the plethora of brilliant sparkling lights lifting our spirits high, the overspending and the overeating and the overdrinking and the overmerrying.  And I thought how dreadfully sad it is to be on your own with your companion about to be incinerated and your life spent.  And I thought of the dignity of the old man, the ramrod buttoned up stoicism of the old woman and the kindness paid back by the muscular vital grandson and the paid taxi driver.  Nothing will make up for losing those best friends, I can hope that new best friends arrive to comfort them but life trickles away and it is so easy in this time of overindulgence to forget.  So I care to remember.

And my picture, offered in response to the Photo Challenge titled ‘Anticipation’ is The Greedy Bean anticipating cheese when we were picnicing on a hike last winter.  Pulling tongues, she assumes is cute and she always stands on her hind legs when anticipating these delectable morsels prompting me to almost title this piece ‘Stand Up, stand Up for Cheeses’ as a nod to the Sally Army and their wonderful work at this time of the year.  Her anticipation, by the way,  is always gratified just as the shadow of a sheepdog and the cherished cat were.   She, like they,  is a good best friend.  You can indulge in all the other dandy entries to the gallery here.


PS:  Two Brains remarked after yesterday’s poignant encounter that it is so easy to be a little scornful and supercillious of people’s relationship to their animals but that the sad vignette finely illustrates the enormous importance that our domestic pets have in the lives of others and of us.  Later, wading through an enormous 5-course lunch including wine and coffee for the princely sum of 13€ each, the door of the Auberge burst open with the force of a hurricane but accompanied by no bitter wind and the light seemed to briefly dim as a leviathan with shaven head, sporting khaki t-shirt to expose his magnificent tatoo-adorned muscular arms and hunting trousers with a pair of positively combatitive laced boots and hefty leather and chrome belt to stash his beefing blades strode in and over to his fragrant, coiffed and chicly attired wife waiting decorously for him.  In the arms of this middle-aged goliath snuggled the tiniest Yorkshire Terrier, born with such tenderness and passed to his spouse with a care normally reserved for a scrunched up new-born and the identical kiss to the teeny canine forehead bestowed before he let his precious bundle go.  Comic and touching all in one we found it hard not to stare like a pair of uncouth Pinnochios.

And because it’s Christmas and the title has no relevance whatsoever, being, as it is, stolen from Frank N Furter in Richard O’Brien’s now legendary ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ as he makes his raucous entrance to the unfettered alarm of the stranded Brad and Janet, here is Tim Curry to play us out as I wish you the Happiest Holidays, le plus bon fête de Noël or the Merriest Christmas depending on where in the world you are.   ‘I see you shiver with antici…..pation!’

Wordless Wednesday – Dogs never bite me, only humans




Don’t be sad – he loves his job which is hunting

PS:  The title is a quote from Marilyn Monroe

You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming

Spring!  The very sound has excitement embossed on it … it has sprung, it springs – it evokes newness, freshness, joy.   This is my first Spring here and it has leapt out of the shadows and entirely taken my breath away.  Driving North-East towards Lyon a couple of weeks ago I was overcome with the most curious sentation.  It took a little while to understand what it was that  was confusing my eyes.  It was colour!  Vivid new colour – green of course, yellows,mauves, pinks all baudily vying with one another for centre-stage.  At that point in Cantal, high up as we are,very exposed in places, nothing much was happening.


The trees were still sleeping and the palette of hues was all taupe and grey with only the bravest flowers and those in the most sheltered spots showing their faces.  Even though the temperature was warm (heading up to and above 70 degrees in the village which is only 500 m up and sheltered all around by the high hills), the plants were showing due caution.  Roll on two and a half weeks and everything has burst forth … vibrant green, abundant flowers, heaps of blossom.  The beeches are tardy, of course but then they always like to save the best til last!  Of course in village gardens there were flowers, blossom on trees, the mad fools that are magnolia showing off.  Mad fools because invariably they expose themselves only to be frosted out resulting in sad oily brown remnants of flowers on the ground.   but what takes my breath away is the sudden explosion in fields and woods.  The wild stuff roaring in.

With the colour come the baby animals.  They have been there, of course, for a while.  The calves in the more sheltered areas out in the fields but many still contained in their byres.  The lambs likewise protected from the likelihood of frost and more snow.  The horses – the local Auvergne breed sometimes deep bay but more often flaxen-maned and fake tanned to rival any high maintenance Footballers wife, and the Percherons whose babies are born black of white parents – the horses are foaling and the bambi-legged young are finding their feet in the uneven pastures.

Cows in fieldDSCF5811

Driving back from Aurillac with my friend Isa, having triumphantly obtained the Carte Grise for my car now formally French, he begged for a Gaelic name to celebrate – he – because my cars are always boys – is a bright yellow Ibiza Sport … and is now resplendent in the monicker ‘Franck’,  we watched a truck with the co-driver taking in the snow poles.  ‘Fin de la neige’ she declared and then laughed when I asked if that really does mean the end of it … it can snow in May here but it seems less and less likely as we stride purposefully towards summer.


And amongst all the newness, all that new life, all those skipping jumping Spring-ing babies one has walked out of our lives.  When I moved here it was with a single dog.  But the founding member of the dog-pack that the girls and I shared our lives with for years, the gracious, wise and unyeildingly gentle Tally who had stayed behind, the fear being that she wouldn’t make the journey, nor thrive at her great age (14 human which is 98 dog) to look after my elderly mother, decided that a new Spring was a Spring too far.  She went with dignity and quietude.  But I am certain that when she crossed into the  next place she found Achilles and Hector, the whippet and the don’t-know-what that we aquired from the Dogs Home when she was three and welcomed burglars into our house while we slept upstairs – even showing them where the fridge was so that they could have a snack before they denuded us of anything instantly fencible up the M40 in Tottenham.  She never barked.  Barking was not something she cared to master (unusual for a labrador) though twice she startled herself when a deep bellow emanated from her at the sight and sound of a clearly threatening hot air balloon overhead.  She will also have found Joshy, my parent’s last dog – a feisty tri-colour collie who once rescued through the Dog Trust lived seemingly for ever earning him the knick-name ‘the indestructable Josh-machine’  And with them she will have found my father – the girls papa who will at this moment be stoically attempting to order the dogs on a chaotic walk.  Tally will help him.  The boys will be running in every direction as he shouts vainly at them – gentle man, they knew he would never, could never hurt them.


Being a labrador, she of course had Prader Willi Syndrome and never ever knew that she was full of food. A bowl-full of food would be hoovered up in seconds flat and moments later she would look at you accusingly, silently saying ‘I do believe it might be supper time’.  She put up with The Bean who would often spend hours lying on her back, she allowed countless children to roll around and pull her ears, she counselled troubled teens, both her own and the endless streams of visitors those chaotic years were marked by.  She was our sense in a senseless world, our rock steady tiller, our lumbering graceless friend and we miss her. So today, as I spend a solitary Easter Day with no chocolate eggs, no Easter Bunny and just The Bean for company, I will smile when the Bells ring out because somewhere out there, watching over us all, is the old girl who moved over to give the new babies a turn.

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PS:  The title is courtesy of Pablo Neruda