30 November 2005

Jet set dogs

Caroline and Raphie
4 November

One day in October, I had a call asking if I’d take two Bernese Mountain Dogs. Sisters. That was an easy decision. I love the breed and said yes, even without seeing them. As it happened they couldn’t have come for an ‘interview’ as they were flying in from England on their owner’s private jet and coming straight to me from the airport at Cannes/Mandelieu. That’s the local airport for private planes.

Their owners had bought a house in Antibes and as often happens in France, there was a delay with the notaire. They’d already booked a slot for the plane to fly to France, but had no house for the dogs, so Pip and Tess were coming to stay at Pension Milou.

They arrived in the dark. Beautiful dogs. One shy, one a little dominant. The whole family was here - two excited kids in bathing costumes and no shoes, screaming and yelling when the dogs jumped up at their bare skin. They’d not seen each other for a month as the dogs had been in kennels in the UK. Eventually we installed the children on the kitchen counter where they could get away from their happy hounds’ sharp toenails.

I pointed out Raphie, a golden retriever. She’s going to England in November,’ I said. ‘Her owners won’t put her on a scheduled airline and are trying to work out the best way – train, car? - to get her back to the UK.’ Then I grinned and said, ‘Pity, they don’t have a private jet like you.’ Oh, but we hire out the plane,’ said Paul, and so, emails flew back and forth. ‘Caroline,’ I wrote, ‘you'll probably laugh at this suggestion…’ In fact, the cost is nothing as I imagined. With a family and dogs it doesn’t cost much more than a scheduled flight and goodness, what a great way to fly. No cages for dogs, they loll about in the aisle of the plane and munch on dog biccies, living the high life. Jet set dogs, no less.

And so Raphie, the beautiful golden, goes today. Beautiful to look at and beautiful in temperament, I’m going to miss this lovely creature. The family had decided last Spring that they’d move back to England in July and of course Raphie was to go with them but it didn’t work out like that. Raphie couldn’t leave France when they did. Her papers weren’t ready. She’d had the rabies blood test but there was another three months to go before she could enter the UK under the Passports for Pets scheme. Everyone was upset. Hard to imagine family life without Raphie but she came to Pension Milou and as she was a regular here, that made it easier for the family. They know she’s happy here and I emailed pics of her playing, sleeping on the sofa – all this helped to make her seem less far away.

Caroline, flies in from Biggin Hill this morning, will hire a car when she lands, drive here for lunch and then, off she’ll go with Raphie. They can’t actually fly back to Biggin Hill in Kent, as the private plane isn’t licensed to carry animals into England. Paul plans on getting this licence and I know I’ll have other clients who will be interested in this service.

Caroline arrives, everything took longer than she expected (definitely the way to fly, she said) but she just had time to wolf down some mozzarella and tomato salad, had a quick cappuccino – hugs and kisses and off she went with Raphie. She left behind a beautiful card, signed by each member of the family, along with a big box of Leonides choccies, no less. Scrumptious.

My mozzarella and tomato salad:

Buy buffalo mozzarella from Menton market or cross the border to Italy. Forget the horrible rubber cow milk stuff in plastic packets from the supermarket. If you can’t get buffalo, don’t bother. You need good tomatoes and really this is too late in the year but I found some good ones in Latte the other day. Slice the mozzarella and the tomatoes. Cover with good olive oil. I’ve olive oil from Apricale at the moment. So green and so good. Add salt, pepper and lots of chopped up basil. That’s it. No balsamic vinegar, no nothing else. Perfection with good fresh bread and a glass of wine.

It’s sad to say goodbye to Raphie. Sweet Caroline knew I was a sad hatter and later a text message pinged thru to say they’d landed in Calais, where Mark (Raphie’s Dad) had driven over to meet them. And now, they are on the shuttle en route to England and home. And later still a photo arrived showing a happy Raphie surrounded by her three equally happy girls. She is back home with her family and where she belongs.

Pip and Tess are still here. They are divine dogs. Enormous, but they think they are lapdogs and both try getting on my lap at the same time. Hunt the dog lady - last seen under a pile of Bernese. They don't give kisses but lay their heads on me and lean - very hard. And unlike some of the other dogs en pension, they are so calm – well for most of the time. They don't rush about when the other dogs go crazy with excitement over something/anything/nothing. On the other hand, when they play they've got one hell of a bark and they rather like helping me dig up the garden, even if I don’t want it dug up.

26 November 2005

Flavia and a flu shot

Lily and Raphia

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.


My website:
Dog blogs and more:
  • Manhattan Chien - beautiful blog with stunning graphics dedicated to Eti, the French bulldog
French language:
  • French Word a Day - Kristin, an American living in Provence, weaves French words into tales of her family life - excellent blog and a great way to learn a new word each time you read it
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Information websites on France:
  • AngloInfo.com - great resource for anyone living, working or thinking of moving to the Côte d'Azur with a fantastic forum that will answer all your questions
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Dog refuges in the south of France:
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