3rd November 2005
Click, click go the dogs’ feet on the terracotta tiles. Be nice if someone told these dogs that the clocks went back several days ago. ‘Dogs, it’s 5 in the morning! – go back to sleep.’ Fat chance. Click, click, click. Now Lily, the Springer Spaniel, has come around to my side of the bed, bouncing with excitement. Get up, feed us. There’s not much hope of getting back to sleep so I get up. Anyway it’s nice to have lighter mornings. I won’t think about the dark evenings for the moment
There’s a November chill in the air. I throw a heavy jacket over my night gear and open the French windows to the terrace which leads to the steps that go down to the garden. Flavia struggles. She’s my 15 year old Labrador. She came to me en pension about 5 years ago and never left. She was a Guide Dog for the Blind until she was six years old. Then her owner died. She went back to the Guide Dog school where she was found a home in Nice with a fireman and his wife – not as a guide dog, just a family home. That worked out beautifully except that Flavia put on an enormous amount of weight and then, when Flavia was 9, the couple divorced. She was sent back to the Guide Dog school to await yet another home and along came an 80 year old lady from Monaco. That was a mistake. Poor Flavia had an eye infection and this lady tried drying out the pus with a hairdryer. Fortunately her sister-in-law saw what was going on, realised she simply wasn't capable of caring for her and set about trying to find her a new home. First tho, she took her to a vet for treatment and he recommended Pension Milou. That was how she came here: the idea being she’d stay for six months and then the lady would look again for a new home. I was asked to get her eye right and to get weight off her. She waddled down the track weighing in at 55 kilos - her normal weight should have been around 30 kilos. She looked like a fat pig.
The eye specialist in Cannes saved her eye. It took weeks for it to open properly but eventually it was fine although she’s needed 3 different drops twice a day ever since. After about a month, the lady brought a couple here to see Flavia but I didn’t warm to them. They talked about where Flavia would live, which was outside, and that they needed to think about it – weren’t sure they wanted her. I didn't feel they had any connection to her or she to them, and hey, Flavia live outside? Guide dogs are such amazing creatures and this one deserved a soft chair to sit on for the rest of her life. I told the lady to stop paying me, that I'd like to adopt her and so she’s been here ever since. The lady very kindly brought me several sacks of Hills r/d croquettes, a good food when trying to get a dog to lose weight. Trouble is, all that excess weight, which she lost after about a year on this special regime, left her with weak joints. Why do people overfeed their dogs? That’s not love. Don’t people realise the pain arthritis brings to an older dog. Us too, eh?
Flu jab today. My neighbour down the track, Madame P, has the doctor making a home visit to give her a flu shot. She can’t get out anymore. Bad knees. We share the same doctor so I asked her if she minded if I had mine done at the same time. ‘Bien sûr,’ she said. I adore Mme P. ‘Ma fille,’ she calls me. She finds such joy in life, giggles at the slightest thing, falls about with laughter when telling one of her silly stories. She was born in Algeria and speaks often of her village by the sea. In France you go to the pharmacy, buy the flu shot, keep it in your refrigerator, of course, and take it with you when you’ve made an appointment with the doctor. I don’t need the colds and flu germs that might be in the surgery, so this seems a good idea and, following a phone call, the doc is happy about it
After lunch, I hear Doctor Lamas’ car coming down the track – or rather the dogs tell me. Woof woof woof. I shut the dogs in the house and walk down. Doctor Lamas says she’ll do me first. I roll up my sleeve. I’m a baby. Madame P is falling about with laughter as I sit there, face screwed up to face the needle. Of course it hardly hurts but I think it might. I pick up my purse to pay her but she doesn’t want any money.
Tonight, I’m going to the opening of a new veterinary surgery in Cap d’Ail. Louise, the vet, is Canadian and used to be with the Fontvielle vet in Monaco but now she’s opened up on her own, just across the border, in France. There’s so much traffic crawling thru Monaco this evening because there’s a rather tacky fair on at the port. Incongruous really. Moored opposite the port is an enormous luxury cruise ship yet at the fair they are selling candy floss and cheap trinkets. Seems too down-market for Monaco but the kids love it.
Louise’s clinic takes up the whole sweep of a corner as you go thru Cap d'Ail. The waiting room is massive, I see the immaculate new surgery and another area with four brand new cages, one of which contains three tiny kittens that Louise is hoping to find homes for. Glass of champers in hand, I look about for someone to talk to. This evening's event is for all the people in the area who breed dogs or run kennels or pensions. I see Valerie. She's the trainer who started a training school at La Turbie and who, years ago, trained dogs at the Guide Dog school. She’d known and trained my Flavia when she was a puppy. We have a brief chat and she tells me she only does home visits now as the school has closed. She’s a good dog trainer, uses positive methods and of course is training the owner as much as the dog. She trained Lily for a while. Pity she didn't teach her not to wake me up at 5 in the morning...
Then I see Jan - she’s the Scottish lady who runs the Monaco SPA, which is actually in Eze, in France. She used to work for Princesse Antoinette, who is the late, lamented Prince Rainier’s sister and thru her, the SPA was set up. The problem is they simply don’t have enough space at the refuge. She has 90 dogs currently looking for homes, all in kennels and no land on which to exercise them. They just don’t ever leave their kennels, day in, day out. The cats are better off. They have two large areas and have lots of space to climb and places to hide. Of course there is no land available in Monaco itself – far too small – and whilst the money is available, they can’t find land in France to build a new refuge. Every time Jan finds some land, that local commune refuses them permission to build. They could go further away from Monaco but then Monaco would probably not be happy to pay the money needed. One commune refused permission for a new refuge saying that the runoff from washing down the kennels – that means urine – could find it’s way into the drinking water. Surely there must be a way of containing this and having it run thru a septic tank? Jan commissioned a study on this and indeed there is, but the commune refused anyway.
Jan said that when the Brits go to her for a dog they’ll often ask to see the most needy dog and will give it a home, regardless of age. She said the French simply won't even consider a middle-aged dog. They look upon it as a sort of investment and why go to all that trouble when you only get a few years with the dog? I can see a family with young children preferring a younger dog but I don't understand this thinking with so many older people living here on the French Riviera. Maybe, when Flavia is no more, I’ll go along and see if there is a dog there that likes the look of me.