It’s feeding time and Lin-dha, the little Tibetan spaniel, is nowhere to be seen. I find her on a cushion in the study, pick her up and put her in les toilettes (always plural in French - I wonder why?) with her food bowl. Perhaps not the most inspirational place to eat but as most of the dogs staying at Pension Milou eat separately, the smallest goes into the loo. We might object - they don't even notice. Not all the dogs are shut away at feeding time: the fastest eaters remain in the living room on or the terrace and by the time I’ve got the last bowl down, the first one is empty. These are the vacuum cleaner dogs. Whoosh, it’s gone. Then they go around checking out each others' food bowl to make sure there isn’t the tiniest crumb left. There never is.
Lin-dha (a Chinese name that means 'beautiful and intelligent) doesn’t eat. And she hasn’t moved. This isn’t normal. I pick her up, carry her into the living area and put her down. She remains where I’ve put her. I stand her and she flops down at the rear. I don’t know if she’s hurt her leg, her back or what but then I recall the little cry she'd made when I arrived home a couple of hours ago.
Sylvie was looking after the dogs and we heard the smallest yelp, barely a squeak when Lin-dha jumped up to greet me. Sylvie bent down, picked her up and gave her a cuddle. She got a lick in return and then she put her down again. Lin-dha always jumps up, as do all the dogs, even if I’ve left them for all of five minutes whilst I walk up the track to collect le journal and le courier from the mailbox. Dogs don’t seem to think in terms of time. You get the same welcome after five minutes as you do when you’ve been gone for two hours. Dogs are always happy to see us and ask for so little in return. We feed and care for them and they love us to pieces. I know who I think gets the better bargain.
I pick her up and put her on the table and pull and prod a bit, move her legs right thru the hip joint – nothing seems to hurt her. She licks my face and wags her tail. I can’t believe anything is too badly wrong with a dog who is happily wagging her tail, yet she can’t walk. I carry her down to the garden and put her on the grass. She doesn’t budge so I leave her to see what will happen and later find she’s moved a few yards but it's obvious she’s just dragged herself there. This won’t do. I put her in my bedroom where she can be quiet and away from the other dogs. She’s not in pain and I hope that with sleep, whatever has happened will be righted by the morning.
It isn’t. It’s Sunday morning and again she won’t eat. I call the vet who tells me to give her anti-inflammatory medication. I do and by the afternoon she can walk, or rather she can just about roll along for all of two steps, then her rear flops onto the terracotta tiles. But she’s feeling better and at feeding time, she woofs down her food. She’s not right though and she will go to the vet tomorrow.
Monday arrives and we are back to square one – she won’t eat. At 7.30 I drive down to Carnoles and meet Sylvie who luckily for me lives only 5 kilometres down the valley. Sylvie is my vet’s veterinary nurse and she’ll take Lin-dha to work with her.
Later Louise, the veterinarian, calls and tells me she’s x-rayed Lin-dha. She has a slipped disk and is virtually paralysed at the rear. Because there had been a positive response to the anti-inflammatory medication the day before, she’s given her cortisone and has high hopes it will work. But it doesn’t. The only thing for little Lin-dha is an operation and for that she needs to go to Nice to Louise’s husband. He’s a brilliant veterinary surgeon – indeed it was he who removed the eardrums and repaired the damaged nerves on Beau, the refuge dog – he was on the table for four and a half hours that day.
It’s time for me to call the owner who is in England but there’s no reply. I leave messages on her UK number and at her apartment in Italy. I call a friend who knows her well and he gives me her daughter’s number in France and the phone numbers of a couple of friends. I call them all and no one can reach her anymore than I can and so eventually there is nothing to do but wait. Lin-dha can’t have an operation without the owner’s permission and there is the small matter of cost – vets in France aren't cheap. Will she agree to this?
It’s seven in the evening and still there’s been no call. The plan had been for Louise to drop Lin-dha at her husband’s surgery in Nice, ready for the operation the next day but we have no permission. I tell her to go ahead, feeling sure the owner will get in touch sometime this evening. I hope to God I’m right.
Around eight I try the number again and happily the owner has just walked in the door. She tells me that Lin-dha had a problem with her back in September – she’d jumped off a low wall and then couldn’t move for half a day. The vet has since said this is not the same thing but perhaps it shows there is a weakness in the spine, as there often is in short-legged long-backed dogs like dachshunds. Whilst Tibetan spaniels don’t have backs as long as dachshunds, nevertheless, Louise told me they can be prone to back problems.
At first, the owner isn’t sure about putting her through this operation, fearing that she’ll have back problems for the rest of her life but after a couple of phone calls to Louise, she is persuaded that there's a very good chance for her because although she is paralysed, she still has reflexes. Had her reflexes not worked, then she’d not hold out much hope. Lin-dha is only six years old and such a joyful little dog. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed. She means a lot to her owner and I’m pretty fond of her too.
When Lin-dha first came to Pension Milou, she came with her friend Mimi. Sadly Mimi, who was a lot older, died about a year ago. They liked nothing better than sitting on the coffee table, on top of magazines, sometimes with books between them. I called them ‘the bookends.’
After 3 hours on the table, she spent two days in the veterinary clinic in Nice. Then she came back here, plaster down the length of her back which covered an unimaginable number of stitches. Still paralysed, she had to be carried to the garden for the first two days and then slowly, miraculously, she learned to walk again. Now, a week later, she walks well, has difficult changing direction and still occasionally flops down, but this improves by the day. She’s now out and about in the main house, mixing with the other dogs and I lift her onto the sofa during the evening for a cuddle. All in all, a small miracle.
Today is my aunt’s 102nd birthday. Hilda is her name. You don’t hear that name often these days. My sister, Sally, calls from England. She’s been down to visit her in the nursing home where she lives, taking wine and cake to celebrate the occasion. Several neighbours who live in the apartment building where Hilda used to live have come along to add their good wishes, but she’s not feeling too good and she tells them to go home. She and my sister talk but she won’t eat or drink anything. She’s hot and a nurse comes in and turns down the heating but Sally thinks her breathing is rather heavy. Eventually she falls asleep and Sally takes the train back home. When she arrives, she gets a call to say that our aunt was taken ill shortly after she left and sadly has died. How’s that for timing? Hilda was our mother's eldest sister, a tough old bird who'd never married. She liked to be in control and had been determined to make it to 102 – and, good for her, she did.
I last saw Hilda on her 100th birthday. She was still living in her apartment then and managing very well with regular helpers. She was excited to be getting a telegram from the Queen, which actually wasn’t a telegram at all, but a rather beautiful card. Of course she wouldn’t admit she was excited, people of her generation in England don’t show emotion but she enjoyed that day. As children and as adults, we were never allowed to kiss her. ‘We don’t kiss in our family,’ she’d say. Well, Hilda, I’m blowing you a kiss now.