15 January 2007

A decidedly dodgy childhood


Think of Monte Carlo and perhaps you imagine an expensively clad woman sitting on the terrasse of the Café de Paris, sipping a noisette and watching the visitors strut their stuff around the Place du Casino. By her feet, or more likely sitting on her lap, is her sparkling white and beautifully coiffed bichon frisé or perhaps a poodle. There are lots of those in Monte Carlo - cute little pedigree dogs, I mean, but yes, elegant women too – bien sûr.

When Pension Milou first opened, I assumed all my clients would be pedigree dogs – if not little poodles from Monaco, then family dogs: labs, goldens and cockers from around the Alpes-Maritimes. How wrong I was. Quite a few are bâtards (mongrels) rescued from one of the refuges along the coast, although it’s not only cross-breeds who end up in a refuge - that’s for sure. Unwanted, unloved, some have miraculously ended up at the centre of some lucky family's world in Monaco or the south of France.

All of them, though, mutt or pedigree, have one thing in common – a decidedly dodgy childhood – okay, puppy hood then. But unlike many people, and we are each a product of our childhood, be it good or bad, these dogs didn’t look back in anger but forward with optimism and joy and most of all, with love.

Here are the stories of three such dogs.
  • Victoria’s story
In January 2001, a lady was walking her dog through the streets of Monaco and as she passed by the rear of the Annonciade building, a large apartment block, she heard a whimpering sound coming from a poubelle (rubbish bin). There, chucked into the depths and certain death, was a moving paper bag and inside, a tiny and very dirty black puppy. She went immediately to the vet who ascertained this scruffy bundle was about 4 weeks old. The next day, a friend of our gallant rescuer came to visit, fell in love and the rest, as they say, is history. First though, she had to persuade her husband, who was in hospital at the time, that this was a good idea and happily he agreed. The puppy, to be called Victoria, had to be fed with a dropper, as she was too small and weak to feed herself. Her rescuer cared for her for the first week and then she went to her forever-home.

A handbag! (4 weeks)

First she lived in Monaco, then in the medieval village of Roquebrune, in a house just under the church clock. I remember going to great parties in this house where everything stopped when the church bells pealed - they were that loud. Victoria’s favourite pastime was to visit the butcher, where she sat and begged until she was given a scrap of meat or a bone, which she proudly carried home. Her owners have to be careful with what they feed her though, as all her life she’s had a delicate stomach, perhaps because she was never properly weaned.

The family now live in Sospel, a beautiful village high above Menton, but whenever they pay a visit to Roquebrune, little Victoria always remembers the butcher’s shop. She was called Victoria, by the way, because she is the same age as her owner’s grandson, Victor, and she was found on the 100th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death.

A day after she was found, another female puppy, to be named Blackie was found in the same rubbish bin and she was adopted by one of the waiters at a Monaco restaurant. She’s turned out to be the image of Victoria, even down to the little white patch on the chin, but Blackie is smaller and slimmer, perhaps because she was never spayed.

Games with Pumba, the Labrador

Victoria likes life at Pension Milou, especially if there's a dog to flirt with, but basically she’s obsessively attached to her owners and sometimes I'll catch her staring at the gate, hoping the next people to arrive will be them. When I get a phone call to say they are about to arrive, I often open the gate for her to greet them. I’ve never seen a little dog run as fast as Victoria – she’ll almost fly up the track and then she'll run round and round them in circles, wild with excitement, such is her delight at seeing her family again.
  • Arthur’s story:
There used to be a refuge in Menton called Mopsy – now closed because the neighbours complained of noise from barking dogs. Their houses were built long after the refuge was there – but that’s another story. Menton doesn’t have a refuge at the moment and more’s the pity. All French towns with more than a certain number of residents (I forget the number but Menton well exceeds it) must, by law, provide a refuge for abandoned animals and Menton has managed to break this law for some years now.


Arthur’s story starts one October when a lady and her daughter visited the refuge to get a cat. They’d been inundated with rats and mice ever since their old and much-loved setter, Douchka, had died. After choosing their cat – to be named Simba - they noticed a large Italian Spinone who stood in the background, apart from the other dogs. They asked about him and were told he’d been in the refuge for about 18 months. He appealed to them but it was too soon after Douchka’s passing to have another dog and so they left the refuge. His face, however, stayed in the lady’s mind and on the way home she said to her daughter, ‘You know, that dog looked like an ‘Arthur’ to me.’

Four months later she was reading Nice-Matin and found a whole page devoted to the refuge. It was to be closed down and any dogs and cats not found homes would be put down. In the middle of the page was a photograph of several dogs and standing off to one side was her ‘Arthur.’ Mother and daughter immediately drove to the refuge – of course, they couldn’t let him be put to sleep. He was in a pitiful state, dirty, dejected and with all the signs of a dog who’d been beaten. He was so dirty that on the way home, they took him to a salon de toilettage to be clipped and bathed.

Out walking, Arthur shied away from strangers. If anyone raised a hand, he would cower. He didn’t know how to play and he didn’t know what a toy was. At the time the vet thought he was about 5 or 6 years old but now, 4 years later, she feels she was wrong. She now gives his age as 7 or 8.

And Arthur now? He adores children, his fear of strangers has gone, and he plays with his toys and proudly carries them around. He’s a totally different dog to the one who was rescued and everyone loves him, including me. Arthur comes to stay at Pension Milou every Christmas and sometimes in summer. If all the dogs were like Arthur, I’d have an easy time. He’s such a relaxing dog to be around, like a big old bear and so good to cuddle up to. If you go to my previous posting you can see a photograph of him asleep on the daybed in the study.
  • Loulou’s story:
Loulou’s life started on the streets of Jakarta, which is probably as bad a start as you can get. She was picked up by a German lady, starving and in a dreadful state. The German lady had two dogs already and asked the French husband of another German lady if they’d like the dog. In fact, he gave the puppy to his wife for Christmas. Three months old, terribly thin and in bad condition she immediately attached herself to his wife, who’d never had a dog before and she found this rather disconcerting. After three days, unable to cope with this needy little dog, she sent Loulou back to the lady who’d found her but to her surprise, she found herself really missing the little dog. Two days and one phone call later, Loulou was back forever. That's how a love affair with a dog can start.

Loulou on the kitchen chair

Loulou looks like a fox with the most beautiful red coat and tail - apparently typical of the street dogs of Jakarta. She’s now 13 years old and has had a much-travelled life, from Asia to Africa and eventually, to France where she now lives in Nice.

When the family left Indonesia to go to Gabon in West Africa, all the servants came to the airport, including Harti, the cook and her husband, Kodrad, the driver – they’d looked after Loulou when the family had gone home to France for their holidays. Harti gave Loulou a big kiss amidst her tears of farewell.

However, servants weren’t always kind to Loulou and on one of her owners’ trips back to France, she was left with the servants in Africa. When they returned from France, a femme de ménage (maid) told them that some boys had tried to drown her in the swimming pool. Since then, unsurprisingly, she’s always been nervous of people. Not all the servants were cruel though. In Gabon, they had a driver called Amidou who, when Loulou was barking or being naughty, would say ‘Non, Loulou, ne fais pas ça, tu es mon amie,’ and Loulou would calm down immediately. Amidou was a nice, kind man from Burkina Faso, north of the Ivory Coast. Relations, however, were not so good with Hortense, another maid, as she liked to chase Loulou with the vacuum cleaner.

Sunning herself on the terrace

When Loulou comes to stay at Pension Milou, she likes to sleep in the kitchen, behind the baby gate. The kitchen isn’t shut away as it’s an open plan kitchen – so she can see what's going on but appreciates the protection offered by the baby gate. Loulou is a beautiful, feminine creature who funnily enough – considering her starved state at the beginning of her life – doesn’t grab her food but is a fastidious eater, delicately taking one morsel of meat or one croquette at a time from her bowl. I had to earn her trust but now she come to me for a caress but she’s wary of most of the dogs, always stands back, would never go for another dog but if they approach, she’ll gently warn them away. An exception to this is Pickle, the Jack Russell, with whom she loves to play. She lets me know when she wants to go in the garden and when she wants to come back in but is happiest in her little domain on the comfortable chair there. And, of course, she’s happiest of all when her owner arrives to take her home to Nice.

How lucky are these dogs to have found such wonderful homes? But hey, how lucky are their owners?


Anonymous said...

Hi Jilly,
I'm travelling incognito today, too lazy to sign in.

You tell their stories so very well I'm (again)tearing up. Such beautiful dogs glowing with health and happiness. It makes it even more heartrending to think of the ones that were left at the refuge.
Thank you for sharing their stories.

Anonymous said...

It is very sad to hear stories like this. Although it happens in all countries, in some places it is worse than others. I lived in the UK for 11 years, where fortunately such abuse is relatively uncommon. I could always find kind people there to look after my animals when I had to travel on business. I know they treated the animals well because I could see how the animals behaved with them when I came back. Unfortunately, since leaving the UK, I find it very difficult to find people that I will trust my animals with.

Natasha said...

Hello Jilly!!

I am siting here with Paul on the sofa, sqeezed together so as not to disturb the two slumbering hounds, whos territory we are obviously infringing upon... Pickle is upside down, after a gruelling of chasing pigeons, birds and other offensive sounds, and Pumba is trying to beat the canine snoring world record. As we read your column, we got a lillte bit chocked up, and felt simultaniously happy and sad.
Indeed, we feel so blessed to have been chosen by two such incredibly amazing dogs, and cherish every minute in their company. But we feel sad and powerless when we hear stories of all the other pups we can not help. Thank goodness you are here to remind us of our responsabilities...

All our love,

Tasha, Paul, Pumba and Pickle...

Anonymous said...

Well, I am back. And this time I looked and read this blog about dogs. I love dogs and told you about my Autumn Eve. Anyway, I linked this blog to my website at http://www.oldmanlincoln.com/. I hope you don't mind. I want people to read these stories if possible. I really liked Arthur and Loulou that I just finished reading.

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