31 December 2006

A Guru for Christmas

It’s 5.30 in the morning and Loulou, the Jakarta street dog, is howling – just a gentle howl, but enough to say, ‘Get up, I want breakfast.’ Then they all start. Lola, the Border collie mix, is rattling the wrought iron baby gate to my bedroom. Cosmo, the French bulldog puppy, is making baby noises. Tessa, the golden retriever is jumping up and grabbing my nightdress. Hattie and Jessie are whining as only cocker spaniels can whine. I lie there for about thirty seconds but there’s no point. If I don’t get up now, someone will have puddled. Let’s face it, someone will probably have puddled anyway.

Hardy and Hamish - father and son

I throw a dressing gown over my nightdress, stick my feet in a pair of shoes and make for the door, 16 dogs running along behind me. I feel like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Now they are pushing and shoving, each wanting to be the first one out. I edge my way thru a sea of dogs to get the door open. Cosmo is jumping up and scratching my calves. Her claws are like needles. Lola’s barking. I tell her to stop and she doesn’t. Now all the dogs are barking. This won’t work. I can’t let barking dogs out this early in the morning - it’s simply not fair on my neighbours. I walk back to the kitchen counter to get the citronelle anti-bark collar for Lola. She’s the ringleader. She runs away. I chase her with half the dogs following me, the other half wondering why on earth I don’t open the door and NOW. Eventually I get the collar on her. I see two puddles. I don’t know who the culprits are but it’s not their fault - they’d wanted to go out, after all and anyway, there’s always a bucket of disinfectant at the ready. No big deal.

Cosmo, French bulldog puppy

I open the door and the dogs burst out as if a cannon has gone off. I cling to the door frame to avoid being knocked over in the rush. Most run across the terrace and down the steps to the garden but some wait for me. I think how nice it would be if I could simply open the door, let the dogs out and then go and make myself a cup of tea whilst they get on with their calls of nature. If only it were that simple. But there are always insecure dogs who won’t go down to the garden alone. So I go down – the puppy and Pixie, the little poodle, follow. It’s pitch black and three or four more dogs are waiting at the bottom of the steps for me to click the switch that lights up the trees in the lower garden. This is a five-star dog hotel, after all, and Monte Carlo dogs don’t ‘do’ dark.

Welcome to Pension Milou on Christmas morning.

The lower terrace leading to the garden

I’ve too many dogs. That’s how it is at Christmas. For some reason, throughout the year, it more or less works out that I don’t exceed the number of dogs allowed by my official licence – pretty amazing when you look at how many dogs are featured in the gallery of the Pension Milou website. But at Christmas, I have no choice but to turn several valued clients away. And still there are too many here.

Arthur sleeps

Time for breakfast. Most books on canine behaviour and training tell us that the human must eat first to show the dog who is boss or pack leader. Have you ever tried eating breakfast with 16 pairs of eyes glued to your every move? The dogs eat first. Organising this is no small feat in itself but once the bowls are filled according to each dog’s requirement, medication added where necessary, dogs put in various rooms so there are no arguments, it’s done and dusted in no time. Then I fix breakfast for myself. Perhaps you imagine a gently warmed croissant with confiture d'abricots, served with a steaming cup of fresh espresso and taken, sitting on the terrasse enjoying the sun come up over the Mediterranean below. The truth is I make a bowl of porridge, carry it into the study and eat it as I check my emails. Some dogs lie at my feet, others play. Yet two or three others are having a mother’s meeting, doubtless complaining about the management.

Mother's meeting: Athena and Tessa

Time to shower but first I need to move a few dog beds that pretty much cover the bathroom floor. I clear a space, put down a bathmat and take my douche. Sixteen pairs of eyes stare at me through the clear glass and when I’m done at least six tongues lick my legs, helpers in the drying process.

Cosmo and Happy

Anthony is coming to lunch. I must clean up as he’s allergic to dogs and dust. Anthony is my computer guru so he’s pretty high up on the list of Important People in my Life. He’s seen me through at least three computers and over the years has become a good friend - he even calls me 'Auntie.' Poor guy – he has to take a pile of anti-allergy pills before he so much as sets off on the journey to me and in the spring it’s even worse when the mimosas are in flower.

Today though is a treat. It’s usual for me to spend Christmas alone. Well, as alone as one can be with 16 dogs. Normally Anthony, who is Canadian, flies home to spend Christmas with his parents and takes his dog with him. He’s always had bichons, who, like poodles, don’t cause allergy problems. This year he has a new puppy called Baka. (Anthony writes Haiku and Baka means ‘clown’ or ‘fool’ in Japanese.) His parents have moved from the country to an apartment in Toronto where dogs aren’t allowed and so Anthony can't take Baka with him. As he doesn't want to leave such a young puppy behind, his parents’ loss is my gain. He's coming to Pension Milou for Christmas lunch

Anthony is a self-employed computer programmer currently writing and selling his own anti-spam software. He also owns and operates the four computers, as well as the wireless network, at Stars ‘N' Bars, a trendy American-style sports bar on the port of Monaco. Great Eggs Benedict there – I speak from experience.

Over the years, I’ve learned so much from Anthony, not least, to try and write what I mean. I’ve learned, when I ask a computer-related question, to be precise and to think logically and sequentially when I explain the problem. This has helped my writing and I’ll be forever grateful to him for this - she said, wafting off in ten different directions.

Anthony and Baka

Two hours later and the house is as clean as it’s likely to get. The floors are washed and most of the obvious surfaces are dusted. The table is ready. I’m providing the first course, Anthony is bringing the plat principal and later I discover he’s brought enough to last me a couple of meals. How many people can boast a computer guru who cooks for them? The Christmas pudding, grâce à Marks and Spencer, is a gift from BooBoo’s owners. And the wine? Another client, a wine collector (are you beginning to see the advantages of looking after other people’s dogs?) has generously given me a ‘special bottle for Christmas day.’ It’s a Château La Nerthe 2000 whose cork has been pulled to give the wine time to breathe.

We are ready. All seventeen of us await Anthony and Baka’s arrival.

- - - - - - - - -

Next week: read the story of Loulou, who was found on the streets of Jakarta.

21 December 2006

Manhattan Chien

We’re always reading in Nice-Matin about the Russian invasion of the Côte d’Azur. Russians have bought up many of the beautiful Belle Époque properties along the coast and have doubtless helped make a few real estate agents very rich. Everyone knows about the Russian billionaire with the unpronounceable name who owns Chelsea Football Club. He’s le propriétaire of the Chateau de la Croe at Cap d’Antibes, the former home of the Duke of Windsor who bought it for Wallace Simpson when he gave up the British crown for her.

Well, it so happens that not long ago I got to know of a rather special Russian émigré myself. Etienne was born in St. Petersburg, Russia to an aristocratic family but with roots going way back to his original French heritage. Etienne is a French Bulldog, who lives, not in the south of France but in New York where he’s very much the dapper young dog about town, enjoying all the good things Manhattan has to offer and playing football with his friends in the park.

Etienne, however, is more than just a bouledogue français living in New York – he's an artist’s muse. An 'artist's muse' brings to mind some voluptuous woman who has inspired an artist to heights of artistic expression. Almost nobody thinks of dogs, yet many artists' dogs have been their 'muse.' Picasso had his dachshund, Lump, who was born in Germany where his name means Rascal. Lump appears in 15 of Picasso’s multiple reinterpretations of Velázquez's masterpiece "Las Meninas.” David Hockney loves to paint his dachshunds. And of course there is William Wegman and his Weimaraners. And now there is Etienne.

Etienne, known as Eti, has a beautiful blog dedicated to him called, naturally enough, Manhattan Chien. As you’ll see, his owner, dear pack leader (PL), is a talented graphic artist who uses 40 layers of colours and textures for his paintings. I bought a framed print of Eti and it’s on the wall to the left of me as I type. On Eti's website you can read about his beginnings in Russia, there are great resources on the breed and on holistic feeding, you can watch many fascinating videos, and in the section called Manhattan Muse you can read what a rather special canine muse does all day.

But I didn't know of Manhattan Chien, until one day, thanks to the wizardry of the Internet, I found that PL had written about Pension Milou and the story of Milou's bench. It was called All the Leaves are Brown and the Sky is Gray. And how had PL found this blog? Simple - he found it because I'd written about a French bulldog in The Day Lou was Stolen.

PL and I started a correspondence. At the time, this blog’s title was shown in a simple header with a teal border and I happened to write one day that it would be nice to show a postcard, perhaps jutting out of one corner of the border. The next morning, what should arrive in my mailbox but a beautiful graphic of an old postcard – and a little later, stamps and postmarks to go along with it. No ordinary stamps, mind you, but a Pension Milou stamp depicting a spaniel and another stamp showing two champion Old English Sheepdogs I’d bred in a former life. Take a look at the top of this page.

I love New York. I spent time there in my twenties and last year I stayed for four or five days in TriBeCa, en route to the Centennial Show of the Old English Sheepdog Club of America. Who knows if one day I won’t be walking in Central Park and see, in the distance, a black masked red fawn French Bulldog who’ll come running when I call out - ‘Eti, Eti, Eti…’

Eti, on my study wall

Update on Lynda, the Tibetan spaniel, click here and scroll down page

13 December 2006

The Book End and Aunt Hilda


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.’

Mimi and Lin-dha

It’s a day later –and Lin-dha is at the surgery in Nice. She’s had an anaesthetic and a dye injected so that Dr. El Baze can locate the problem. The operation is to take two hours. Later I hear it's gone well and that it was urgent as there was a badly slipped disc with a large hernia and had he not operated quickly, there would have been deterioration in the tissues. As soon as she is well enough, she’ll come back here and I gather that will be sooner rather than later, as she is making her presence felt with rather too much barking… sounds like sweet little Lin-dha is very much on the mend.

Update:Lin-dha, two days after the operation - unable to walk...

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.

...a week later - walking again


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.

04 December 2006

Interview technique

Louis, the Cavalier
Dogs who come to stay at Pension Milou live freely in the house with me, so I need to meet them first to make sure they’ll get along with others and at the same time, the owner can see how it all works here. It’s a mutual thing. There are exceptions – if a new dog needs to stay at short notice and it’s a puppy, well, what can a puppy do wrong except wreck the place, pee everywhere and keep me thoroughly amused? Today an 8-month old bouledogue français called Beebop is coming to stay. I couldn’t resist – I’m soppy about French bulldogs.

Normally, though, I have four questions:
  • If a male, is he castrated?
The majority of male dogs who come to stay belong to Brits and Americans simply because it doesn’t occur to the French to get their males ‘fixed.’ When I ask if their dog is castrated, they say,’Mais non, pourquoi?’ Ask a vet in France, especially on the macho Mediterranean, to castrate your dog and you will notice his hand moving (not literally, of course…) to protect his male bits and pieces. With a horrified expression on his face, he’ll say,‘Oh, no it’s not necessary to castrate a male - we only sterilize the females.’ I wouldn’t mind 10 euros for every time I’ve heard that. My neighbour planned on getting her dog castrated when he was 8 months old but the vet refused, saying it would ‘spoil his coat’ so now he runs around, 4 years old, endlessly mounting poor old Pepita, their spayed Berger Pyrénées. If you want your dog castrated in France, you need to be very definite about it otherwise the vet will try and talk you out of it. Or go to a lady vet. Funny that…

Who needs a dog who mounts other people’s legs, who masturbates on cushions and who smells? And here at Pension Milou, who marks his territory and who would probably get aggressive with other males too. I explain to owners that the main reason I don’t take uncastrated males is because they pee absolutely everywhere in the house. ‘Oh, but my dog is absolutely clean at home,’ they say, ‘he’d never do that.’ Of course he’s clean at home but put him in an environment with other dogs and it’s his instinct to mark territory, which means peeing on my furniture. He can’t help it and chastising him simply doesn’t work. I once had a Llasa Apso and counted the number of times I cleaned up his little tinkles against a chair, a curtain, a table leg. By the time I got to fourteen and it was only noon, I gave up. So now no uncastrated male gets past the first phone call.
  • Does the dog get along well with other dogs?
When a dog arrives for his or her interview, I keep the rest of the dogs in the house whilst I let the dog and owner through the gate and onto the terrace. The dog’s lead is removed and then the others are let out, one by one, to greet the new arrival. This can be daunting to some dogs, especially the shyer ones, as suddenly they are having their nether regions sniffed by all and sundry and understandably, some of the bitches don’t always like it. The flirts do, of course – they love it and think Christmas has come all at once. If a dog warns another dog away at this time, that’s fine. They have every right to do so. Some though, simply won’t accept the attentions of the other dogs and don’t even warn with a low growl. They snap or worse, attempt to bite. Looking after other people’s dogs is a great responsibility and I can’t risk taking these dogs. They need to get their interview technique sorted and are not accepted at Pension Milou.

En route to the garden
  • Is the dog house-trained?
Almost everyone says their dog is house-trained but it’s not always so. Some of the small Monte Carlo dogs are trained to urinate on the balcony of their apartment so when they come here, they use the terracotta tiled floor – after all, to them, it probably looks and feels the same. Or they’ll get as far as the terrace and pee. I’ve had dogs who will happily trot down to the garden – we’ll be down there for an hour playing – they’ll come back and immediately pee on the terrace or in the house – they just don’t ‘get it’ because of what they are used to. Others have been trained to pee and defecate in their owner’s shower. Words fail me here. Perhaps they should get a cat and a litter tray. Dogs need to go out and sniff all the delicious, unmentionable smells of this world – and then come home and give us a lick. Bien sûr.
  • Does the dog bark a lot?
Most dogs bark, that’s normal but there are some dogs who are happy to stand on the terrace and bark non-stop at absolutely nothing. Smaller breeds are worse than the big ones and terriers, especially, like to make their presence felt. Because the door to the terrace and garden is open all day, a continually barking dog makes life difficult because it’s simply not on to disturb the neighbours and it’s useless telling a dog to stop barking - he just barks more because he’s getting attention. I have an old and battered Bushells’ tea tin from Australia, printed with drawings of old Queenslander homes. It’s filled with coins and when I rattle it – like magic – dogs stop barking. Distraction - that’s the way to go. Some dogs go down to the bottom of the garden and we are talking down the steps, way along the lower terrace and then down several levels of garden. Holly, the beagle used to do that. Taco still does but he has special privileges 'cos he's an old man now and all of sixteen. Given the chance, he'll go down and stand and bark for hours - presumably he can smell the sangliers (wild boars) in the valley below the fencing. Really, a barking dog shouldn’t bother me, as I’m completely deaf in one ear. It’s something I recommend actually – so useful if a window rattles or you’ve a bed mate who snores – simply turn over and sleep on your good ear. Continually yapping dogs though, are a no-no.


Louis was one dog who didn’t come for interview. He couldn’t, as he was at sea with his owners, en route from Australia to the south of France. They needed to fly to the UK soon after mooring in Antibes and so planned his stay with me in advance. Louis couldn’t go to England because he’d not had the necessary blood tests and as he was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel I knew he'd be just fine here. I could have 40 Cavaliers here and not know it. They are probably the easiest dogs to look after. Give them a comfortable chair or a cushion and they’ll lie around looking beautiful. Louis was not only adorable but he was such a good-looking dog with the softest look in his lovely eyes.

Now to make the place as puppy proof as possible (fat chance) and await Beebop’s arrival. Oh dear, perhaps I should have interviewed her first?

Only kidding…
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