The dogs are barking, not that there are many here at Pension Milou at the moment, as I’m still recovering from my fall and Doc says - NO dogs. Of course I’m not obeying her but I only have a few small easy ones. I’m doing OK, lying flat on my back for much of the day and with Lou, the French bulldog, playing Nurse Fuzzy Wuzzy on the bed with me. The dogs don’t stop their noise so I put on the support belt the doctor prescribed and walk slowly to the gate. The daughter and grown-up grand-daughter of my neighbour, Monsieur Cocular, are standing there and with them, attached to a piece of rope, is the thinnest pointer I’ve ever seen. Marie-Christine is trying to hold onto a bag of dog food and the dog is tearing into it as if she’s not eaten in weeks.
Marie-Christine tells me she found the dog stuck in thick brambles, unable to move, under the autoroute. She tells me how difficult it was to get her out and points out the scratches and dried up drops of blood on her arms and legs. She asks if I know to whom she belongs. I don’t. ‘Perhaps she’s one of the hunters’ dogs,’ I say but looking at her again I think she’s probably too old. Marie-Christine says she doesn’t know what to do with her and asks if I can help.
The pointer looks like an abandoned dog to me and she too is scratched from her ordeal in the brambles and has what looks like a large tumour on one side. I well know the refuges are full: indeed, there isn’t a Menton refuge anymore. There should be. It’s a law in France that any town over a certain size – certainly Menton is well over that size - must have a refuge. We used to have one way up in the Fossan but it was closed down because neighbours complained of noise, which is a bit rich when you know that the refuge and the dogs were there long before anyone bought land and built on it. Since then there has been no land available for a refuge. No one wants a refuge near them.
The Monaco refuge, the SPA de Monaco, has a similar problem. It’s located in Eze, which is in France - between the Principality of Monaco and Nice but is funded by Monaco. You’d think all good and proper, wouldn’t you? Well, no, the dogs, whilst well cared for, live in very cramped quarters and are never ever taken out for walks. This is because anything that causes more barking than the basics of cleaning and feeding has to be avoided. The place isn’t big enough for the number of dogs incarcerated there and there is no way they can expand on the present premises due to lack of space and again there are neighbours who complain. This refuge was built many years ago, it’s has out-of-date facilities and it’s simply overcrowded. There is money to build a new refuge but every time the marvellous Jan, the Scottish lady who runs it, manages to find a piece of land, permission is refused by the commune that owns it. Princesse Antoinette, sister of the late Prince Rainier, started the refuge all those years ago, and you’d think land could be found with that sort of influences. But no. Jan found land in Castellar, a village above Menton, and permission was refused. They found land above Gorbio, my village, and permission was refused. It was felt that when the runs were washed down, there would be urine run-off into the water system. Indeed, someone went up to the hills above the village and put a dye into the water table and it did indeed filter down into the water supply. Sounds a bit like Manon des Sources, doesn’t it? In fact, plans have been drawn up for a new refuge for Monaco which include a completely sealed water run-off that goes back, via a pump, into a tank to be cleaned and re-cycled but nothing would convince the Mayor and his team and so a large fat NO came back.
So, no refuge in Menton and an overcrowded one in Eze and a needy dog standing before me. The last thing I want is another Rescue dog. I had three and then Columbo had to be put to sleep. Now I have Bimbo (re-named Beau) and Rox – all three came from a refuge and believe me, I sure don’t want another one at the moment. But what can I do? I look after dogs - that's my metier and my conscience is working overtime, dammit. I take the rope lead and tell my neighbours I’ll let them know what happens.
I take the dog downstairs (I don’t want her mixing with the others in case she has a disease or perhaps has fleas or ticks). I get her a big bowl of water and put down a dish of dog food, which she scoffs in an instant. I’ve a feeling I’ve just taken in yet another unwanted dog. Oh dear.
Nevertheless I call the police and they tell me that yes, there is a dog missing from Gorbio village. I call the number I've been given and it turns out it is the owner of the bar in the village but no, it’s not his dog. He’s lost a male dog. The one I have here is female. I ask if he knows about a pointer missing from the village but he doesn’t.
Maybe Carla, who looks after dogs like me, will know what to do? She lives in the commune of Gorbio too. I call her and she tells me she’s seen several notices for missing dogs way over on the back roads that lead to Weldon, a big hard-ware store in Menton. She also tells me there is a notice in the Weldon store itself for a missing dog but she hadn’t noted the breed. I call Weldon, it’s almost closing time, but they tell me they threw out the notice two or three weeks ago and no, they don’t remember what breed of dog it was.
I want to go and find the notices Carla saw on the back roads but I’m not allowed to drive until my back is healed and that’s a long way off. Carla tells me she is really busy but will go and look in the morning. I call my neighbour, Agnes, who lives in the house below me and she says she is happy to go and look at the notices right away. What a star she is. When she gets back, her news is no better - no, none of the dogs fit the description of the thin pointer. Someone has lost a shih tzu, someone a German shepherd, someone else a Brittany spaniel. Goodness, where on earth have these dogs disappeared to?
I wonder if perhaps the pointer has a tattoo. It's the law in France that all dogs must be tattooed or micro-chipped but not all are. Success! Why didn’t I think of this before? It’s hard to read the number and she won’t keep still. I probably wouldn’t either if I’d been stuck in brambles, frightened and with no food or water for goodness knows how long, and a stranger is trying to look at the inside flap of my ear. Anyway we get there eventually: 5 of the 6 letters are legible, one is debatable. I note down the probable letters and numbers.
I call my vet and Sylvie, her assistant answers. She tells me I should call the afore-mentioned SPA in Monaco and they will look up the owner of the dog on their computer. It’s now way past closing time and I assume I won’t get an answer but Sylvie said there is always someone in charge at this refuge and indeed there is. The lady takes my name and number and says she’ll ring me back.
Only 15 minutes later the phone rings and I have a name and phone number. Whoopee! I call the number I’ve been given and a female voice answers. She sounds familiar but I can’t quite place her but she recognises my voice – well that’s not difficult with my accent when speaking French. It’s Crystelle, the factrice (post lady). I know she lives in the village with her husband and baby son but I never knew she had a dog. She says she’ll drive down right away.
Crystelle arrives, takes one look at her dog and bursts into tears. ‘She went missing last night,’ she tells me, ‘and we’ve looked everywhere in the village for her. ' I tell her my neighbours fed her and so did I and venture to ask why she is so thin if she only went missing last night. ‘Oh you mustn’t feed her,’ she tells me. 'She is diabetic, epileptic and has cancer and because of the diabetes we have to keep her thin to keep her alive.’ I apologise of course but say she looked and acted like a starving dog. She tells me she is always hungry because of the diabetes.
So, a happy ending and accomplished very quickly too. I have to say I’m relieved. I’m simply not ready to take in yet another Rescue dog. Not yet anyway…