28 December 2007


A word of advice. If you want a dog that will trot obediently behind you - off lead - then whatever you do, don't get a hound. Hounds are born to hunt. Their sense of smell and their need to follow a scent is all-consuming.

One of the many joys of owning Milou, an American cocker spaniel - and the dog of my life - is that once we were away from a main road, he could be let off his lead - he'd explore but he never went far - always keeping an eye out for me. He'd wander about Gorbio village whilst I had a coffee in the bar and he loved walking in the hills above the village, amongst the olive trees and the wild thyme - especially when his best buddy, Candy, was visiting from America. My Milou went to doggy heaven a couple of years ago and I miss him still.

When I adopted Beau from the refuge in April 2006, the furthest thing from my mind was the word 'walkies.' I just got sucked into the look in his eyes and how needy he was. And he was. Once home and following three weeks on antibiotics, he had to have both eardrums removed - 4 and half hours on the operating table. It took a year for him to get reasonably healthy but still - every four months - he got massive abcesses below each ear. Things are better now and since July, he's not had another abscess and that's because they've never quite healed - each day both sides drain just a little. The vet suggests this is a good thing and I agree. It's a simple matter to wash the areas each morning - far better than painful abscesses for the poor dog.

So when it came to walking - and I did take Beau on several walks soon after the swelling had gone down and the stiches were removed - what did he do? As soon as I let him off lead, his long big beautiful nose went down and off he dashed into the undergrowth. Beau is a Bruno de Jura which is a Swiss hunting dog - bred to hunt, bred to follow a scent. Fortunately I was with a friend when he ran off and we managed, between us, to get him back. Since then I tried a couple of walks with him on an extension lead which wasn't much fun cos he'd dive into the undergrowth and the lead would get twisted around twigs and rocks and he'd need to be rescued. Now he walks on a normal lead, albeit quite a long one, with me getting dragged into the woodland everytime he wants to 'follow his nose.'

And then suddenly things changed. Some of you know I have several photo blogs. One of them is Menton Daily Photo and I decided to photograph the Promenade le Corbusier which goes from the point of Cap Martin all the way to Monaco - a walk and takes about 2 and a half hour each way. It has to be one of the most gloriously beautiful walks in the world and you can take the walk with Beau and me on Menton Daily Photo in January. It occurred me to me that perhaps Beau wouldn't run away on this walk because in the first place, it's right by the sea, so hopefully no wild boars about, and secondly, it's fenced on the inland side of the walk - ie all the beautiful houses and gardens protect their wildly expensive properties with wrought iron railings. So off we went. Beau had a breakthrough - and so did I.

We parked by the sea, and I walked Beau, on lead, to the beginning of the 'walk.' There were several other dogs running about and I knew I had to let Beau off as dogs feel vulnerable when meeting new dogs if they are on a lead and the other dogs are running free. He stopped dead, allowed the other dogs to sniff him and then I called him to follow. Beau, whilst he has no eardrums can - amazingly - hear a little. The vet explained there is some mechanism left to allow him to do this. Certainly when the other dogs at Pension Milou bark, he pricks up his ears and follows them - barking along with them. So he followed me for a bit. Great. We continued the walk and soon he was ahead of me, but every so often, he stopped, turned and looked around for me. A miracle. As soon as he saw me, he'd continue. Sometimes he'd take off down one of the little tracks to the rocks and the sea, then he'd stop and look for me again. One time, it was the other way around - I was ahead of him, went around a bend - later I looked back - no Beau. I ran back. No Beau. Ran further. No Beau. I asked people if they'd seen a large black dog with very long ears and they pointed down a track. There he was, on the rocks just waiting and when he saw me, he bounded over - so joyful. And then I knew. Miraculously I have a dog who wants to be with me. He's become 'my' dog. Now I know we can go for walks together - I can trust him off lead so long as there's no traffic and he can trust me to look after him.

I'm looking at him now. He's sitting in MY chair. Yes, I lost my chair soon after he got here. He doesn't move his majestic head but I know, if I were to walk past him, his eyes would follow me around the room. This dog loves me. I look at this beautiful dog and remember that poor old dog I first saw in the refuge. Beau is about ten years of age. I remember how he staggered out to greet one of the volunteers, then slunk back to his corner of a filthy carvan where he lived because he was so sick, the sides of his head massively swollen with infection. The filthy caravan I might tell you was considerably better than the kennels the other dogs had, which were only airline crates giving no protection from the cold and rain. I didn't want to take him. At the time I had two other rescue dogs and they were a handful. I hesitated - twice. Imagine if I'd left him there?

If ever you are given the choice between buying a puppy or giving a home to a refuge dog, don't hesitate, please give an unwanted dog a home. You'll never know the joy you will get when you nurture a dog to full health and then watch him grow into his potential. And then there's the love you get back - and sometimes it's overwhelming - but I'm not complaining. I was told Beau had had four homes before being put in the refuge and he'd been in the refuge a long time. I really don't know if this is true or not but I can't imagine anyone giving up this beautiful dog. Anyway - it's all worked out beautifully. We suit each other, my dog and me.

I must go - from the terrace I see the sun shining over the sea - and Beau wants a walk. So do I.

This is a watercolour of Beau by British artist, Katie Lancaster. Katie is based in the South of France and creates contemporary dog portraits from photographs. Each drawing is an original piece of artwork, drawn with sensitivity and focused attention to detail. Katie also designed the Pension Milou website. To see more of Katie's beautiful dog portraits (in water colours or pastels) please click on Pet Portraits | Katie Lancaster.
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