The vacances scolaires (school holidays) are the busiest times at Pension Milou and it’s full house at the moment with two Jack Russell terriers, a bichon, a miniature pinscher, a dachshund, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, several golden retrievers and Hattie and Tessa, who belong to a young family from La Gaude.
Hattie, the cocker spaniel, was their first dog and then, when little Charlotte was about two, along came Tessa the Menace. Tessa is a beautiful golden retriever and in some way, it’s my fault the family ended up with her. Ailsa had asked me where to buy a golden. I suggested a breeder in the mountainous hinterland of Nice who I knew had good ones – in fact I’d been up there to help my neighbour choose a pup for her son. Shadow is now 5 years old and a beautiful dog. I can hear him, right now, barking in Agnès’ driveway.
Ailsa called the man and was told that no puppies were available but that he had an 8- month old bitch for sale. She asked what I thought. ‘Good idea,’ I said, ‘no house training to do.’ And so she went and bought Tessa, who, she soon found out, wasn't house trained. The bigger problem though - and I should have known how it would be - was that Tessa hadn't been socialised. She’d been living an isolated life except for a few other dogs and so she was desperately needy when she landed on Ailsa’s doorstep. She was nervous of noise and traffic. She was destructive – she’d grab anything and tear it to shreds or worse, eat it. She grabbed your clothes when you came in, ‘Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me!’ When she came to stay at Pension Milou, food disappeared, books got chewed, papers eaten. She ate her way through two watchstraps, five dog beds, towels galore, cushions, duvets, chair covers, gardening gloves. Her poop would be multi-coloured with bits of plastic or undigested fabric. And she’d vomit the excess. And don’t even ask how many toilet rolls she got through. I thought the Andrex pup was a Labrador, so someone obviously forgot to tell Tessa she was, in fact, a golden retriever.
Ailsa was fantastic and put in so much time, patience and perseverance with Tessa. She did everything she could, eventually taking her to a professional trainer. I think if almost anyone but Ailsa had given Tessa a home, they’d have given up and she’d be another statistic: yet another dog whose owner couldn't cope – she'd have been sent to a refuge never to be released – or worse.
In the early days, I’d get messages from Ailsa, such as: 'Tessa managed to destroy the mattress from the garden chair and get my mobile out of my bag and break the screen! If I didn't know any better I'd say she was on drugs!'
In fact, sometime later, the vet did put Tessa onto a calming drug for a while but I don't know that it made a lot of difference. I coped with Tessa for a year or so. Each time Ailsa would ‘text’ me from England. ‘Is everything OK?’ ‘What has she eaten today?’ – the phone was busy in those days.
Eventually, after one particularly fraught stay, I was exhausted with Tessa and so with a heavy heart, I told Ailsa, ‘Enough is enough.’ During the next school holidays, Ailsa put Tessa and Hattie into kennels but it really didn’t work out and Hattie came out sick. Time passed, I relented, the dogs came back and miraculously since then, Tessa has been an angel.
Oh lordy, what’s that loo roll doing all over the floor? 'Tessa, leave that box of tissues ALONE!' Sorry, gotta go…
If you're interested, you can read a piece I wrote about Ailsa’s move to France at this link: