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.

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